Why hero and why last? This film was adapted from a series of articles by Tom Wolfe on the NASCAR driver Junior Johnson and collected together in the spectacularly-titled The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. It’s sometimes referred to as Hard Driver but this tale of true grit and individual drive epitomized a vanishing native heroism at the turn of the decade of Vietnam. It’s a story of a man battling his way out of the backwoods through skill and determined bravery someone perhaps Wolfe lionized too much but… sportsmen are heroes too, right?
It’s also an early starring role for Jeff Bridges at a time when few thought he might match let alone eclipse his father Lloyd’s acting achievements… The Dude abides but first; he drives.
|All the Young Dude|
He’s sent down – the cost of business – leaving the boys with nothing to do. Junior decides to try his hand at stock car racing – he needs to provide for the family and also to raise the money to pay his father’s legal fees. His first race shows his talent as he comes out a winner, impressing local impresario Hackel (Ned Beatty). One race leads to another and all exceptionally well filmed by director Lamont Johnson along with cinematographer George Silano; convincing on the speed, unpredictability and danger.
Elroy calls her only for the leading driver, Kyle Kingman (William Smith II) to answer the phone – he’s married but he’s also top dog and playing the field… King-man indeed.
As he starts to challenge Kingman on the track he’s more competitive off as well, especially after Kyle’s wife shows up and tries to put Marge in her place. She can’t get the better of her but even so, Marge is led towards the younger driver and the two come together in her motel room only to get caught – after the fact – by Kyle…
warming up nicely now and yet Elroy needs to make up his mind what he wants in
life if he is to avoid the mistakes his father made. Can his competitive edge
win through and get him the prizes and the girl… it’s not quite as easy as
|King of the Road?|
|On the grid|
Based on actuality the story is perhaps a little predictable and one paced – surprising given the speed of the races. Maybe it’s the lack of real dramatic tension: we kind of expect the races to be won and the girl to be got… but not everything pans out… sacrifices need to be made if Elroy is to win big. There’s no half-way house.
The film is available from Amazon and others on DVD and, whilst not essential, is compelling viewing for fans of Mr Bridges and Ms Perrine especially.
The Last American Hero was based on the true story of American NASCAR driver Junior Johnson. Only the names of the cars have been changed to protect their identity.