By David G. Firestone
While short silent films are easy to watch, there are also longer, multi-reel full movies that without audio can be difficult to watch sometimes. This is also true when it comes to more serious movies. One such example is the 1919 Wallace Reid classic The The Roaring Road. It’s a decent movie, but can be difficult to watch.
The movie starts with with a title card describing “the four hundred mile Santa Monica race, known as the grand prize, has long been a classic event in motor-dom, but has never been won three times by any one make of car.” Short aside, I should use the term “motor-dom” more often. There is a brief shot of racing before we get a title card introducing “J. D. Ward, nicknamed “the Bear,” President of the Darco Motor Company. Theodore Roberts.” Roberts is the actor playing Ward. The shot then turns to footage of an actual bear sitting at a desk, which fades to the character of J. D. Ward. Another title card states that he has won the Grand Prize with the Darco Ninety, and he wants to win a third one.
Ward gets a phone call telling him that his cars will be in town later that day. Ward meets with the drivers, and they talk about the race. We are then introduced to Wallace Thomas Walden, better known as Toodles, who is Ward’s best salesman, and played by Wallace Reid. Toodles wants to race in the Grand Prize, but Ward won’t let an amateur race in his cars. Toodles enjoys taking his anger about this situation out on motor cops. He proceeds to outrun a motorcycle cop.
Then we get introduced to Dorothy Ward, referred to as “The Bear’s motherless cub.” Toodles wants Dorothy’s hand in marriage. Dorothy and Toodles meet and talk, and then The Bear calls Fred Wheeler in to explain his resignation. The scene shifts between Fred and The Bear , and Dorothy and Toodles. Toodles gets suggested to replace Fred, and The Bear gets a test. While Toodles passes the test, he quits in anger. Tom Darby, a Darco mechanic is introduced. As if this isn;t bad enough, the tran carrying the race cars has wrecked, and Darco is out of the race.
Inspecting the wreckage, Dorothy, Tom, and Toodles hatch a plan to enter a Darco in the race, by salvaging the three wrecked cars into one car. The Bear is not happy, but because Toodles owns the car himself, The Bear can’t stop him from entering the race. The 400 mile race starts. The Bear is not sold on the “Three-in-One” but the car starts to show speed. The Bear is still negative about the situation. As the race continues, Dorothy tries to convince The Bear that this isn’t an act of revenge, but Toodles and Tom really trying to win the race.
Then The Bear gets a signed contract from Toodles, and The Bear. The letter contains a threat to slow down on lap 40. The Bear doesn’t want to sign, but by lap 38 out of 40, Toodles is in the lead. Toodles goes through on his threat to throw the race by slowing on lap 40, but then roars back into first. Toodles wins the race, and The Bear and Darco win their third Grand Prize. All is forgiven between The Bear and Toodles, but there is tension, when Toodles asks for Dorothy’s hand in marriage. The Bear responds by saying that she won’t get married for 5 years.
This does not sit well with Toodles, who vents to Dorothy, without realizing that The Bear is listening. As this is happening, we learn that Rexton, the main competitor to Darco has been disqualified from the record from San Francisco to Los Angeles, supposedly with Toodles behind the wheel. The Bear is furious, and calls Toodles into his office, demanding an explanation. Before he can talk, Toodles tells The Bear that the wedding is next week. The Bear shows Toodles the newspaper, and demands answers. Toodles quits and messes up The Bear’s office, and leaves. The Bear calls his pro drivers to beat the Rexton San Francisco to LA record. There will be a total ban on road racing soon, and none of the pro drivers can make it, so The Bear enlists the help of Toodles, who rejects him.
The Bear tries to convince Dorothy that she and Toodles are done, and they are moving starting that night. This is part of a plan hatched by The Bear to get Toodles back in a car for the record attempt. It’s then revealed that Toodles has been jailed for 10 days for speeding. After a long scene of Toodles in jail, he is broken out by Tom. Tom provides Toodles with a stock car, and the chase is on. While Tom pretends to send a telegram, he officially records the start of Toodles’ attempt. It’s at this point, that I notice that Toodles and Tom are racing while wearing sunglasses AT NIGHT! The Bear is nervously chain smoking.
While racing, Tom and Toodles have to deal with hazards, such as roads closed, and getting stuck. The run continues into the night. The Bear and Dorothy continue their train trip while Toodles continues his run. Eventually, the two vehicles meet. The Darco races in front of the train, and makes it to San Francisco. The Rexton record is beaten by an hour, and The Bear allows Dorothy and Toodles to be married.
I really liked this movie, though the lack of sound made it hard to follow sometimes. The only real thing I didn’t like was J.D. The Bear Ward. He isn’t a true antagonist in certain points. Also, I don’t like that every time he is on screen, he is smoking a cigar. Still, I like this movie so I’ll give it an A-.
Next Week, the sequel to The Roaring Road, Excuse My Dust.