Le Mans (film)

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Le Mans
LeMans.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Tom Jung
Directed by

Lee H. Katzin

John Sturges Uncredited
Produced by Jack N. Reddish [1]
Written by Harry Kleiner
Starring Steve McQueen
Music by Michel Legrand
Cinematography René Guissart Jr.
Robert B. Hauser
Edited by Ghislaine Desjonquères
Donald W. Ernst
John Woodcock
Production
company
Distributed by National General Pictures
Release date
  • June 23, 1971 (1971-06-23)
Running time
106 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $7.6 million (est.)
Box office $5.5 million (North American rentals)[2]

Le Mans is a 1971 film depicting a fictional 24 Hours of Le Mans auto race starring Steve McQueen and directed by Lee H. Katzin. It features actual footage captured during the 1970 race held the previous June.[3]

Released in June 1971 and given a G rating.[1]

Plot[edit]

Top flight Le Mans racing driver Michael Delaney spots former rival Piero Belgetti's widow Lisa buying flowers in the days before the 1971 race; he then drives to the scene of the accident which killed her husband the previous year. He has a flashback of Belgetti losing control of his Ferrari, forcing him to crash as well.

Like many others, Lisa appears to feel Delaney was responsible, at least in part, for the accident. At the race she is understandably downcast while working through her emotions. In an awkward scene, Delaney looks for a place to sit in a near empty track commissary, only to ask Lisa if he may join her. There is obvious tension between them, but also respect and a hint of mutual attraction.

After 13 hours of racing, Erich Stahler spins his Ferrari 512 at Indianapolis Corner, causing teammate Claude Aurac to veer off the track in a major accident. Momentarily distracted by the flames of Aurac's car, Delaney reacts too late to safely avoid a slower car, striking the guardrail and then bouncing several times across the road, striking the guardrails on each side of the road multiple times, totaling his Porsche 917. Both survive, but Aurac's injuries are extensive and he is medevaced to a hospital by helicopter. Lisa appears at the track clinic where Delaney is briefly treated. She is distraught at his crash, which stirs up emotions from Piero's passing she had been seeking to put in the past. Delaney consoles her and rescues her from a horde of reporters. After he puts her in a waiting car, a journalist asks Delaney whether his and Aurac's accident can be compared to the one with Belgetti in the previous year's race. Delaney merely stares him down.

Porsche driver Johann Ritter senses that his wife, Anna, would like for him to quit racing. He suggests it, thinking she will be overjoyed. She demurs and says she would like it only if he likes it. He chides her a bit about not being entirely honest. Later the decision is taken out of his hands when team manager David Townsend replaces him for not being quick enough on the track. Anna tries to comfort him, reminding him that he was planning to quit anyway.

Lisa goes to Delaney's trailer to talk with him. After his brush with death she is even more drawn to him and despairs that he may meet the same fate as her husband, but Delaney finds the thrill too addictive to quit. Townsend enters and asks him to take over driving Ritter's car. After a moment's unspoken communion with Lisa, he follows Townsend who tells him "Michael, I want you to drive flat out. I want Porsche to win Le Mans."

In the closing minutes of the race the two Porsches and their rival Ferraris vie for the win, with Delaney in the #21 car and teammate Larry Wilson in #22. The Ferrari leading the race retires due to a flat tire, leaving Wilson in the lead and only Delaney's archrival, Stahler, to contend. The faster pair quickly catch Wilson. Delaney passes Stahler for second place.

Slower traffic in his lane forces Delaney to brake, allowing Stahler to overtake on the left. Delaney drafts the German, then both move alongside Wilson. Rather than try to pass Stahler, then possibly Wilson, Delaney drops back and bumps Stahler, forcing him to throttle back to avoid spinning out when the Ferrari goes partially off the pavement. Delaney then uses the guardrail to block the aggressive Stahler's last ditch effort to overhaul, ensuring a win for Porsche. The teammates cross the finish line 1-2.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Le Mans was filmed on location on the Le Mans circuit between June and November 1970, including during that season's actual 24 Hours of Le Mans race in mid-June.[3] McQueen had intended to race a Porsche 917 together with Jackie Stewart,[4][5] but the #26 entry was not accepted. Instead, he is depicted as starting the race in the blue #20 Gulf-Porsche 917K driven by Jo Siffert and Brian Redman. The race-leading white #25 Porsche 917 "Long tail" was piloted by Vic Elford and Kurt Ahrens, Jr..

The Porsche 908/2 which McQueen had previously co-driven to a second place in the 12 Hours of Sebring was entered in the race by McQueen's Solar Productions, complete with heavy movie cameras capturing actual racing footage. This #29 camera car, which can be briefly seen in the starting grid covered with a black sheet (at approximately 17:51) and again at just before the 79 minute-mark (at 1:18:42) racing past the starting line, was driven by Porsche's Herbert Linge and Jonathan Williams.[6] It travelled 282 laps, or 3,798 kilometres (2,360 miles) and finished the race in 9th position,[7] but it was not classified as it had not covered the required minimum distance due to the stops to change film reels. It did, however, manage to finish 2nd in the P3.0 class.

Additional footage shot after the race used actual Porsche 917 and Ferrari 512s, in competition liveries.[6] In the crash scenes comparatively expendable technologically obsolete Lola T70 chassis were fitted with replica Porsche and Ferrari bodywork.

Though depicted as the factory-backed Scuderia Ferrari team, the 512's used were borrowed from Belgian Ferrari distributor Jacques Swaters after Enzo Ferrari balked at supplying cars due to the script's Porsche team victory.

McQueen had wanted to employ Christopher Chapman's new multi-dynamic image technique in the film, as had been done at his instigation with The Thomas Crown Affair, in which he starred in 1968. Chapman advised against it, much to McQueen's disappointment; in Chapman's words, "it was much too big a film, with too many writers; it wouldn't work that way."[8]

Steve McQueen and Director John Sturges long worked on the project and originally had the film set up at Warner Bros. as "Day of the Champion". But with Warner Bros selling the studio McQueen's company, Solar Productions multi picture deal was cancelled. After securing a deal with Cinema Center Films and National General Pictures the project was reborn "Le Mans". After a troubled pre-production and partial production Sturges quit the film and the studio took over the project.

Documentary[edit]

Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans is a 2015 documentary film, detailing the actor's quest to make the 1971 film Le Mans.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Le Mans". Milwaukee Journal. (advertisement). June 22, 1971. p. 13. 
  2. ^ "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976 p 46
  3. ^ a b Huber, Jim (July 4, 1971). "'Le Mans' gives a gripping insight into racing world". Spartanburg (SC) Herald-Journal. p. D6. 
  4. ^ "McQueen may join Stewart". St. Petersburg Independent. Associated Press. March 2, 1970. p. 5C. 
  5. ^ Bell, Derek (April 22, 1988). "McQueen: The main man of LeMans". Palm Beach Post. p. 9C. 
  6. ^ a b Williams, Jonathan (June 27, 2011). "Le Mans 1970". AutoWeek. Crain Communications Inc. 61 (13): 24–28. ISSN 0192-9674. 
  7. ^ "F2 Register - Index". www.formula2.net. 
  8. ^ The Personal Vision of Christopher Chapman, CM, RCA, CSC, CFE, Ontario Film Institute; 1989 interview published March, 2010, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-03-10. Retrieved 2012-05-11. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Michael Keyser, Jonathan Williams, A French Kiss With Death, Bentley Publishers, 1999 - A lengthy, profusely illustrated and very readable history of the making of the movie

External links[edit]