Thursday, 17 April 2014

Pit Stop (1967)

Arrow Films continues in its valuable work of resurrecting, dusting down and sprucing up neglected cult movies that are well worth the effort of watching with PIT STOP. Originally called THE WINNER (and that’s what we have on the title card here) the movie was renamed for the usual reasons - to avoid confusion with another, entirely different, bigger budget but similarly titled picture, and to ensure maximum exploitation value of the finished product.
I had never heard of PIT STOP before receiving this release. Its director, Jack Hill, is one of the great unsung heroes of American exploitation cinema, being responsible for quirky hits like the marvellous SPIDER BABY, and THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, which remains for some the ultimate Women In Prison film. He also ensured exploitation immortality for Pam Grier by knowing exactly what to do with her in her starring vehicles COFFY and FOXY BROWN.
PIT STOP is a movie about stock-car racing. As far as financier Roger Corman was concerned, that was all it really needed to be about - that, and the hero winning. What makes Hill such a treasure is that he agreed to that but decided that in his film the hero would win but lose his soul.
Which is exactly what happens. Rick Bowman (Richard Davalos, looking a bit like a mid-career Val Kilmer trying to impersonate James Dean) gets rescued from jail by sleazy racing car promoter Grant Willard (Brian Donlevy, not looking quite so the worse for martinis as he did in Don Sharp’s CURSE OF THE FLY two years earlier). Willard wants Bowman to drive in something called the Figure 8 - a lunatic, and obviously very real, race that involves the lanes crossing over one another at a crucial point. Oh, and Bowman’s main rival is going to be Sid Haig (playing Hawk Sidney). We all know anyone sane would run for the hills but Bowman has something to prove, even if it means he’s going to lose his friends, his girl (Beverly Washburn from SPIDER BABY) and his self respect doing it.
Arrow Films presents PIT STOP in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. This new transfer was approved and supervised by the director and the image is bright and clean with minimal print damage. Extras include a brand new commentary track from Jack Hill moderated by Calum Waddell. Both acquit themselves admirably here - Waddell’s questioning style is pleasantly convivial and Hill responds accordingly, talking not just about PIT STOP but giving us an overview of his career at the time.
We also get three short featurettes, all talking head pieces featuring Jack Hill, Sid Haig and Roger Corman respectively talking about the making of the film. There’s a restoration demonstration so you can see what a great job Arrow has done with this, and the usual trailer, booklet and newly commissioned artwork.

PIT STOP belongs in that interesting sub-genre of race car pictures that try to do something a little more with the subject matter than just show vehicles banging into one another (although there’s plenty of that as well). It doesn’t blur the line between exploitation and art as effectively as movies like Monte Hellman’s TWO LANE BLACKTOP, but if you’re a fan of the slightly off-kilter, and especially if you're a fan of the work of Jack Hill, Arrow’s new Blu-ray transfer of PIT STOP is an essential purchase.

Arrow Films released Jack Hill's PIT STOP on double disc Blu-ray and DVD on 7th April 2014

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