By David G. Firestone
For the first of four Wheel Reviews in 2019, I am going to focus on The Racing Strain. Released in 1936, The Racing Strain was written by Dorothy Davenport, Betty Burbridge, and Willis Kent, who also is the producer. None of the writers were credited for their work. The Racing Strain was directed by Jerome Storm, and was produced by Willis Kent Productions, and distributed by Maxim Productions. It is a public domain movie, with a run time just under 58 minutes
The movie starts with some racing footage, which appears to be shot from several completely different locations. There is a roll over crash, and driver Jack Westcott is injured. Westcott is confronted by his son, Bill Westcott, who may be played by his real son, and the elder Westcott claims he is “all right” and “he will be back of the track soon, and promptly dies, his son screaming and crying over his body.
The scene then shifts 10 years later, to a dune buggy, racing through the desert. Bill Westcott has established himself as a great race car driver. As Westcott and King Kelly drives through the desert, he comes across a stranded car, occupied by Marian Martin. It’s revealed that Kelly has quit drinking after being suspended from racing. Martin is a racing fan, who takes a liking to Kelly. There is a really stupid and pointless scene with Martin’s chaffeur, Togo, who is apparently scared of cows.
Westcott and Togo tow the car with Kelly, Martin, and Aunt Judy to a gas station. Its revealed that Martin is the daughter of a wealthy oil magnate. The scene shifts an unknown amount of time, where the Martins pull in to a gas station, and Marian sees Kelly, and they hit it off. It’s revealed that Kelly has taken the job to help get his racing career back on track, while Westcott is in school, and wants to be a pilot.
The scene shifts again to Westcott, who is piloting a plane, even though he can’t be older that 16. He handles the plane quite well. The two airplane michanics are amazed by his skill. The scene shifts to the Martins, who are reading a newspaper with the giant headline WILD KING KELLY REINSTATED, which is apparently a big story. It’s mentioned that Kelly needs to say sober or he’ll be banned for life.
The next scene is at the track, where Westcott is adding to a scrapbook. Kelly has him look at his race car, which is the Gilmore Lion Club Special, sponsored by Gilmore Oil. Another racer, Speed Hall, is getting his car ready at the same time. He talks with Marian, who he is clearly in love with. Westcott and Kelly get his car on track, and begin racing each other. It’s at this point that Westcott’s racing skills become apparent, though he has reservations, after his father’s death. Westcott chickens out, Speed mocks him, which leads to a fight. Togo and Westcott start a friendship.
Kelly and Marian go on a date at the amusement park, which is accompanied with the most annoying background music possible. Westcott and Togo go for a flight in an airplane. This scene also established that Togo is a stereotypical Asian. Back to the amusement park, where the music is slightly less awful, for the love birds on an airplane ride, the back to the amusement park, then back to the airport, where Togo does jiu jitsu on one of the mechanics.
Then, the movie shifts forward to Togo, who is stil woozy from the airplane ride, and Westcott, sitting in a car,, and Marian and Kelly dancing to dubbed music, which clearly wasn’t the music being played during filming. The date ends mercifully at 1 AM, when Kelly and Westcott meet up with their respective drivers.
Speed Hall, who I had forgotten was even in the movie at this point, is scheming with his sponsors, trying to stop Kelly from racing. It’s decided that to get to Kelly, they have to use Westcott. At the track, Kelly is handed a letter, frantically checks the time, and consults the racing schedule. He borrows a car, and drives away.
He drives to a hotel in Tiajuana, leaving the note behind. Marian finds he note. The note was written by Rose Westcott, who is demanding the return of his son. Marian, realizing where he’s gone, races to get him. Rose is revealed to be a selfish drunk, who only cares about himself. She orders a whiskey and the waiter brings two shots. Kelly falls off the wagon, with a little help from Rose. Marian and Westcott fly to save Kelly. Rose is revealed to be a worker for his sponsor, who drugs Kelly, so he can’t race.
Westcott and Marian find Kelly, and take him out of the bar. The races have started, and Kelly is flown back to the airport, and driven to the track, Legion Ascot Speedway. Kelly is clearly in no condition to race. Westcott decides he’s got no choice, climbs in the car, and gets ready to race. Westcott has trouble getting started.
Westcott races, haunted by the memories of his dad’s death. Westcott moves his way through the 40 lap race. A crash is shown, though the race continues. As the laps wind down, Westcott and Speed race for the lead. Kelly and Marian watch nervously. Kelly wins, Marian reveals that Mr Martin is her dad, and the movie ends.
The movie itself is decent. The plot is good, but there are a lot of problems. The movie just ends after the big race. Kelly is somehow never noticed in the crowd. It’s never explained how or why Westcott has access to fly a plane at his age. It’s also odd that while Speed Hall, who is supposed to be the main villan, is opposed to taking out King Kelly, yet his sponsors have no qualms about potentially ending his career. The story is decent, but there is a lot of blandness. Togo is in the movie just to teach Westcott how to do a take down, other than that, he’s useless.
My final grade here is a D+. It’s less of a racing movie, and more of a movie with racing in it. The subplots aren’t great, and some don’t add to the movie. I just can’t enjoy this.
Next week, a movie from the 1940’s.