Tuesday, July 21, 2015

PIT STOP (1969) (Arrow Video Blu-ray Review)

PIT STOP (1969) 
Label: Arrow Video 
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: 12 Certificate 
Duration: 91 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio: English MONO 1.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Director: Jack Hill
Cast: Brian Donlevy, Richard Davalos, Ellen Burstyn, George Washburn, Ted Duncan, Beverly Washburn

Street racer Rick Bowman (Dick Davalos) is recruited by fat cat racing promoter Gavin Willard (Brian Donleavy) into the dangerous world of figure-eight stock car racing, which until this movie I had never even heard of before. Drivers race around a figure-eight race track at the risk of smashing into one another at the intersection - as if stock car racing wasn't already dangerous enough! Fresh on the circuit Rick makes a fast enemy by way of the reigning figure-eight champ Hawk Sidney (Sid Haig), a certified nut who struts around the track with his sprightly gal Jolene (Beverly Washburn), super-cute with a sassy short hair style. After a few early lossless Rick hones his skills on the figure-eight, making a name for himself as the hot tempered new guy, and before long he starts racking up a few successive wins, embarrassing the increasingly angry Hawk who lashes out at the newcomer. The victory earns him a chance to race second-fiddle alongside champion racer Ed McLeod (George Washburn) in the nationals. Along the way Rick swipes Hawks girl and seduces McLeod's lonely wife, played by an impossibly young Ellen Burstyn (The Exorcist), earning the trust and respect of Hawk's while betraying McLeod at every turn, however, his star-turn is laced with tragic consequences.

On the surface this is a pretty straight-laced stock car racer movie, there were a ton of 'em in the sixties, but with Hill in command he does manages to infuse the gritty racer with some unexpected depth and a few unexpected turns, what we end up with is the compelling story of a street smart racer on his way to the top, at the expense of his soul, and it's pretty good stuff.

Shot on a shoe-string budget the thrills captured with a gritty realism, those crashes are real and you can feel it. The racing scenes are loud and in-your-face, the roar of the engines and the sound of high-speed Detroit steel smashing into one another is just fun stuff to watch, what I wasn't expecting was the snappy dialogue and the subtle depth of the story, but then again this is a Jack Hill movie so maybe I should have expected more than just cheap crash n' burn exploitation, the man made some damn fine films, and you should be watching them. 

Haig and Davalos are a fine pair as racer rivals turned comrades, there are some great dialogue exchanges tossed back and forth between 'em and absolutely nobody does lunacy quite like Haig does, those crazy eyes and menacing Cheshire grin are a potent combo. It was great to see Ellen Burstyn looking so young and fresh, even back them she has a presence about her, but it was the somewhat boyish charm of Beverly Washburn that won my heart, there's just something about her I find so appealing. 

Audio/Video: Pit Stop arrives on Blu-ray from Arrow Video with a brand new HD transfer supervised and approved by director Jack Hill sourced from his very own 35mm answer print. The monochrome image is slightly soft from time to time but overall this it top notch with a wonderful amount of natural film grain and contrast, offering some minor fine detail in the close-ups. The English PCM 1.0 Mono audio option does the job with a certain amount of authentic flatness about it, the roaring engines and clang of steel sound great, as does the pretty great Davie Allen-esque fuzzed-out guitar score.

Arrow have put together a fine selection of extras beginning with a new audio commentary from Jack Hill moderated by his biographer Calum Waddell and it's quite good listen, as are most of the director's commentaries, They go into the history of the film, the production and the many facets of the director's career prior to and after Pit Stop. 

Additionally there are 45-minutes of new interviews with Jack Hill, producer Roger Corman and actor Sid Haig that go further into the making of the film, with Haig offering high praise to the underrated director who seems not to be the great self promoter Hollywood has ever know. Hill himself speaks about making the film, with Corman wanting a standard stock car cash-in, while the director wanted to make more of an art film with little interest racing, but in the end the two met in the middle and I think it turned out pretty great. 

There's also a brief but informative restoration demonstration by Technical Supervisor James White who explains the process of restoring the film for the gorgeous Blu-ray. we also have a theatrical trailer for the movie. 

Separate from the disc extras we have a sleeve of reversible artwork and a collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Glenn Kenny and musicologist and writer Gray Newell on the film’s soundtrack, illustrated with original stills and artwork. 

Special Features:
- New High Definition digital transfer supervised and approved by director Jack Hill
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD (PAL format) presentation
- Original mono 1.0 audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
- New audio commentary with Jack Hill moderated by his biographer Calum Waddell
- Crash and Burn! – Jack Hill on the making of Pit Stop (16 Mins)
- Drive Hard – actor Sid Haig speaks about his experience of acting in Pit Stop (17 Mins)
- Life in the Fast Lane – producer Roger Corman on the genesis of Pit Stop (12 Mins)
- Restoring Pit Stop – restoration demonstration by Technical Supervisor James White (4 Mins) 

- Original trailer (2 Mins)
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jay Shaw
- Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Glenn Kenny and musicologist and writer Gray Newell on the film’s soundtrack, illustrated with original stills and artwork.

The new Blu-ray from Arrow Video does Pit Stop proud with a fantastic A/V presentation and a wealth of quality extras, and a damn fun stock car racer with some surprising nuances peppered throughout. I sincerely hope you younger folks out there will not put off by the black and white cinematography, if you enjoy the other films of Jack Hill and skip this solely because it's black and white you are doing yourself a serious disservice. 3/5