Sunday, 29 September 2013

Death Drives Through (1935)
Filmed at the legendary Brooklands motor racing circuit, Death Drives Through tells the story of two friends - Kit Woods )played by Robert Douglas) and John 'Nigger' Larson (played by Frank Atkinson) who design a new engine for racing cars, only  for their design to be stolen by Douglas's love-rival, fellow racing driver Gary Ames (played by Miles Mander).
Robert Douglas & Frank Atkinson

Miles Mander
The object of the two men's affections is Kay Lord, played by Chili Bouchier, a British actress described variously as 'British cinema's first sex symbol' and 'Britain's answer to Clara Bow'.
Chili Bouchier
I won't go into details of the plot (written by the young John Huston), but as you might imagine, it isn't the most challenging storyline.
However, there are a few points to note:
The shots of the motor racing and the exterior crowd scenes shot at Brooklands are fascinating as a historical document ...

...however for some curious reason the producers decided to insert some rather unconvincing crash scenes. The first crash shows a very basic model crashing on the track:
However, this is followed up with genuine footage of a crash that even shows the driver's body thrown from the car and sliding down the track:

With such good footage available one wonders why the model shot was used at all since it adds nothing to the scene. A similar shot is used in the closing race scenes and somewhat devalues the other far more authentic shots elsewhere in the film:
Genuine race footage

Model shot
Maybe they wee inspired by a scene set in a club for racing drivers in which the drivers play on a giant Scalextric set:
The standard of the production leaves rather a lot to be desired with one sequence including the shadow of the camera appearing on the actors:
Robert Douglas & Chili Bouchier
and the shadow of the microphone boom appearing in the background:
Also of note were a couple of cheeky jokes played by the production team: We are shown bookmakers taken bets on the race.

Two of the listed drivers are Clifford and Taylor. The name of the film's producer? Clifford Taylor. Then a board displays the race positions, including a driver named Chown, another member of the crew.
Robert Douglas
Of further interest is the career of Robert Douglas: after a less than spectacular film career he moved into television before making the move behind the camera. He eventually directed episodes of programmes such as Mission Impossible, Columbo and Quincy, before retiring at the age of 73 after directing an episode of Fame.
Chili Bouchier also had a long career, working on stage in London into her eighties.
Death Drives Through is currently available on DVD in Volume 3 of Network DVD's Ealing Studios Rarities Collection.

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