Grand Prix (1966 film)

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Grand Prix
GrandPrix op.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Howard Terpning
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Produced by Edward Lewis
Written by Robert Alan Aurthur
Starring James Garner
Eva Marie Saint
Yves Montand
Toshiro Mifune
Music by Maurice Jarre
Cinematography Lionel Lindon
Saul Bass
Edited by Henry Berman
Stewart Linder
Frank Santillo
Fredric Steinkamp (supervising)
Cherokee Productions
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • December 21, 1966 (1966-12-21)
Running time
179 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $9 million
Box office $20.8 million[1]

Grand Prix is a 1966 American action film with an international cast. The picture was directed by John Frankenheimer with music by Maurice Jarre and stars James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, Yves Montand, Brian Bedford, Jessica Walter and Antonio Sabàto. Toshiro Mifune has a supporting role as a race team owner, inspired by Soichiro Honda. The picture was photographed in Super Panavision 70 by Lionel Lindon, and presented in 70 mm Cinerama in premiere engagements. Its unique racing cinematography – in part credited to Saul Bass[2][3] – is one of the main draws of the film.

The film includes real-life racing footage and cameo appearances by drivers including Formula One World Champions Phil Hill, Graham Hill, Juan Manuel Fangio, Jim Clark, Jochen Rindt and Jack Brabham. Other drivers who appeared in the film include Dan Gurney, Richie Ginther, Joakim Bonnier, Bruce McLaren and Jo Siffert.[4]

One of the ten highest grossing films of 1966, Grand Prix won three Academy Awards for its technical achievements. The film was previously released on DVD and HD DVD and on Blu-ray Disc in May 2011.[3]


The story follows the fate of four Formula One drivers through a fictionalised version of the 1966 Formula One season:

Yves Montand as Jean-Pierre Sarti
  • Jean-Pierre Sarti (Ferrari) – a Frenchman, twice world champion, nearing the end of his racing career.
  • Pete Aron (formerly with Ferrari and BRM) – an American attempting to repeat past success and overcome a negative reputation, signs with newcomer Yamura.
  • Scott Stoddard (BRM) – a Brit, recuperating from a bad crash during a race.
  • Nino Barlini (Ferrari) – an Italian, Ferrari's No. 2 driver, a promising rookie and former world motorcycle champion.

Sub-plots in the film revolve around the women who try to live with or love the racers with dangerous lifestyles. The married Sarti begins an affair with a magazine writer, Louise Frederickson, while Aron has a brief romance with Stoddard's unhappy wife Pat.

The story concludes with one last race, its winner becoming world champion. Sarti's wife, Monique, shows up just before it begins, coming face-to-face with Louise and telling Sarti she will never grant him a divorce. Sarti's car has technical difficulties at the race's start. He then is killed in a spectacular crash. His racing partner, Barlini, is flagged off the course by Ferrari's team leader, Manetta, resulting in a tight race between Aron and Stoddard to the finish line, Aron getting the checkered flag. Sarti's death takes its toll on the winner's celebration.


Uncredited Cast

Non-actors appearing include broadcaster Raymond Baxter, who interviews Nino Barlini after he wins the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch.


John Frankenheimer later said when he made the film he had the "choice of making a Grand Hotel type picture or a Test Pilot type picture" and he chose the former.[5]

The making was a race itself, as John Sturges and Steve McQueen planned to make a similar movie titled Day of the Champion.[6] Due to their contract with the German Nürburgring, Frankenheimer had to turn over 27 reels shot there to Sturges. Frankenheimer was ahead in schedule anyway, and the McQueen/Sturges project was called off, while the German race track was only mentioned briefly in Grand Prix.

The F1 cars in the film are mostly mocked-up Formula 3 cars made to look like contemporary F1 models, although the film also used footage from actual F1 races.[7] Because Yamura Motors is a fictional race team, the producers struck a deal with Bruce McLaren's newly-formed McLaren team to have his car, the McLaren M2B, to be painted with Yamura's colors. Some of the footage was captured by Phil Hill, the 1961 World Champion, who drove modified camera cars in some sessions during the 1966 Monaco and Belgian Grands Prix.[8] This was some of the earliest experimentation with in-car cameras for Formula One.

The actual level of driving ability of the actors varied wildly – Bedford couldn't drive at all and was only ever in the car for close-up shots. Sabàto was very slow and nervous. Montand was fast but got scared very easily early in filming and was often towed rather than driving the car after he crashed during one of the filming sessions. Garner, on the other hand, was very competent and even took up racing and entering cars as a direct result of his involvement in the film. So impressive were Garner's driving skills that some of the real Formula One drivers, including Graham Hill and Jack Brabham, reportedly told Garner that he could have been a successful Grand Prix driver if he had not gone into acting.[9] Garner's car was fitted with a higher rollbar and had no seat, since he was too tall to fit in a contemporary F1 car.

The helmet design that James Garner's character uses is that of then-Grand Prix race driver Chris Amon from New Zealand. The only difference was a silhouette of a Kiwi bird that was normally on the side of Amon's helmet that was left off Garner's, as his character was an American. Brian Bedford's character used a helmet design that was the same as that of real life 1966 BRM driver Jackie Stewart. As Bedford couldn't drive, this was done so that they could shoot footage of Stewart driving the BRM (with a balaclava over his face to hide that it wasn't actually Bedford driving) and pass it off as Bedford.

Circuits featured in the film include; Circuit de Monaco (Monaco), Clermont-Ferrand (France), Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium), Circuit Park Zandvoort (Netherlands), Brands Hatch (United Kingdom),[10] and Autodromo Nazionale Monza (Italy). The Nürburgring (Germany), Watkins Glen International (USA), and the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez (Mexico) were all mentioned in the film but there was no footage shown.

The camera car used on the tracks was a Ford GT40 driven by Phil Hill. Cameras were mounted at the front and/or rear of the GT40 with front and rear body panels being removed as necessary. Aerial shots were filmed from an Alouette III helicopter.[9]

During the making of the film both Frankenheimer and Garner were interviewed by Alan Whicker for the BBC television series Whicker's World.[9]


The film earned $7 million in North American rentals in 1967.[11]

Upon its 1966 release, Bosley Crowther called the film "a smashing and thundering compilation of racing footage shot superbly at the scenes of the big meets around the circuit, jazzed up with some great photographic trickery...Mr. Frankenheimer belts you with such a barrage of magnificent shots of the racing cars, seen from every angle and every possible point of intimacy, that you really feel as though you've been in it after you've seen this film. Furthermore, the director and Saul Bass fill that mammoth screen from time to time with multiple graphics and montages that look like movies at a world's fair. Triple and quadruple panels and even screen-filling checkerboards ... hit the viewer with stimulations that optically generate a sort of intoxication with racing. It's razzle-dazzle of a random sort, but it works."[2] However, Crowther concluded "the big trouble with this that the characters and their romantic problems are stereotypes and clichés....You come away with the feeling that you've seen virtually everything there is to see in grand-prix racing, except the real guys who drive those killer cars."

Forty-five years later, upon its release on Blu-ray Disc, The New York Times reviewed the film again, with Dave Kehr saying "considered purely from a technical point of view, the new disc is a beauty, with crisp, richly textured images that do justice to the original 65-millimeter Super Panavision format, and a roaringly dimensional soundtrack...As a movie, though, Grand Prix was never that grand. First shown as a reserved-seat, road-show attraction in Cinerama theaters, it is little more than a 176-minute version of the roller-coaster ride This Is Cinerama that introduced the format in 1952, a high-speed tour of the principal stops on the Formula One tour, with the spectator, as often as possible, strapped into the driver's seat."[3]


At the 39th Academy Awards, Grand Prix won Oscars for Best Sound Effects (Gordon Daniel), Best Film Editing and Best Sound (Franklin Milton).[12] John Frankenheimer was nominated for Outstanding Directing by the Directors Guild of America.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Grand Prix, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved April 16, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Crowther, Bosley (December 22, 1966). "Flag Is Down at Warner for Grand Prix: Drama of Auto Racers Stars Yves Montand". The New York Times. Retrieved September 5, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c Kehr, Dave (May 20, 2011). "Start Your High-Def Engines". The New York Times. Retrieved September 5, 2011. 
  4. ^ Grand Prix (1966) – Full cast and crew. IMDb
  5. ^ Mann, R. (1982, Sep 26). FRANKENHEIMER SPEEDS ON. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  6. ^ My Husband, My Friend, Neile McQueen Toffel, A Signet Book, 1986.
  7. ^ Armstrong, Stephen B., ed. (March 22, 2013). John Frankenheimer: Interviews, Essays, and Profiles. Scarecrow Press. p. 102. ISBN 978-0810890565. The only race shoot that did not occur at a "live" race weekend was the film's French Grand Prix. The real French race in 1966 was held at the flat and featureless Reims circuit, and so Frankenheimer staged a mock race at Clermont-Ferrand, which allowed the luxury of time to fill in many of the story elements and flesh out some of the characters. 
  8. ^ "Phil Hill". Motor Sport magazine archive. Retrieved February 23, 2016. 
  9. ^ a b c Pushing the Limit: The Making of Grand Prix (DVD). New Wave Entertainment Television. Retrieved October 24, 2011. 
  10. ^ Kent Film Office. "Kent Film Office Grand Prix Article". 
  11. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1967", Variety, January 3, 1968 p 25. Please note these figures refer to rentals accruing to the distributors.
  12. ^ "The 39th Academy Awards (1967) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved August 24, 2011. 

External links[edit]