BADass SINema Unearthed - Blu-ray Review

Pit Stop (1969) - Blu-ray Review

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Pit Stop - Blu-ray Review

4 stars

Criminally overlooked and often undervalued in the film community, Pit Stop is one hell of a gritty film that effectively carries its viewers to another time in America, back when the angst of the teenager had little voice or impact on popular culture. It is also one of the few films to correctly portray the cost of certain male attitudes that continue to plague our sex. Produced by Roger Corman and written and directed by the marvelous Jack Hill, Pit Stop tackles professional Figure-8 racing through the eyes of a young amateur at odds with the world around him. Praised by critics for its realism but dismissed by audiences at the time of its original release, Pit Stop is due for a reevaluation.

Starring the superbly uncompromising (and all too often undervalued) acting talent of Richard Davalos (East of Eden, Cool Hand Luke), Pit Stop tells the story of a young and eager Rick Bowman as he crawls from the gutters and throws himself into the competitive and dangerous world of stock car races in Southern California. He is financially backed by the ruthless Grant Willard (Brian Donlevy in a very engaging performance) who banks on these young street toughs and their hell-bent drive to destroy themselves. In spite of the love around him (provided by Spider Baby’s always adorable Beverly Washburn), he continues to take chances and eventually exchanges blows with a lunatic rival driver named Hawk Sidney (Sid Haig in an especially wild performance).

Co-starring George Washburn and Ellen Burstyn (in her film debut), Pit Stop is a noirish character study on machoism and its aggressive price. There isn’t a funny bone in this movie and, honestly, the film doesn’t suffer from it. The film is brutal and critically crisp on its dog-eat-dog commentary. Winning at any cost has never received this kind of unsentimental treatment. Hill hones his skills as a director and never misses the target with each piercing stab. He and his cast are honest – there is no stock footage used in the film as all of the crazy demolition derby races are REAL – and remain steely-eyed as moody machoism is dismantled.

Cinematographer Austin McKinney shot the film in glorious black and white. The mood is all about heavy metal and stark shadows as winners come and go and, ultimately, losers are crowned race after race. He keeps the atmosphere dark as the searing pandemonium of the races are unleashed against the growing rage of Davalos and Haig. Taking the only break with a desert sand dune trek, the picture is tightly-focused and dangerous. One need only reference Haig’s brutal attack against Davalos and his car after losing a race to see just how much realism is loaded in Pit Stop. It’s metal-minded madness to the extreme and, in my opinion, should be taught in film school across the world as an example of just how penetrating film can be.

Truthfully, Pit Stop is a film that is all too easily dismissed as a B-movie when everything about it – the gritty and unsentimental black-and-white cinematography, the punk-minded acting, and the wild race car scenes – suggests otherwise. Some print critics recognized this fact and, understandably, celebrated the film by labeling it the best thing that Jack Hill has ever done. It was not; however, properly promoted at the time of its release and quietly slipped out of the theaters. Now, thanks to this blu-ray release by Code Red/Kino, you get the opportunity to weigh in on Pit Stop and the impact of its roaring engine.

Pit Stop - Blu-ray Review

MPAA Rating: R for some language.
Runtime:
92 mins
Director
: Jack Hill
Writer: Jack Hill
Cast:
Brian Donlevy, Richard Davalos, Ellen Burstyn
Genre
: Action | Drama | Sport
Tagline:
Flesh Against Steel!.
Memorable Movie Quote: "I'm trying to find myself a winner. Racing is a tough business. It's strictly the survival of the fittest. It's just like war: You got a winner and a loser and nothing in between."
Distributor:
Distributors International
Official Site:
Release Date:
May 14, 1969
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
July 7, 2015
Synopsis: Grant Willard sponsors drivers in a "new" form of race car driving called The Figure Eight. The rise and fall of one such driver is the whole story behind PIT STOP.

Pit Stop - Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - July 7, 2015
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles
: None
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: 25GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: A

While there is quite a bit of debate on which version is better Corman’s or Hill’s (released through Arrow), my money is on this single-disc release from Code Red which boasts using the Corman’s original camera negative for its 2k restoration. Grit sand grain has never looked this inviting. The details through this black and white feature are simply scrumptious. From fabrics in the clothes of the actors to the facial imperfections of Haig, this AVC encoded image (1.78:1 aspect ratio) 1080p transfer gets the look of realism right. Supported by the groovy guitar-driven tunes of the Daily Flash, the moody score – presented here in a 2.0 DTS-HD sound mix – sounds perfectly excellent.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • Unfortunately, Hill’s commentary is not available on the Code Red release (which is why I am keeping my DVD version).

Special Features:

Featuring two new interviews – one from Roger Corman and the other from Sid Haig – Code Red’s release of Hill’s Pit Stop also features a drive-in styled introduction and outro featuring Katarina Leigh Waters.

  • On-Camera Interview with Roger Corman (5 min)
  • On-Camera Interview with Sid Haig (15 min)
  • Drive-In mode (4 min)

 

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