Monday, April 25, 2011

Bicycle racing movies: no, the men are not safe (But the 70s and 80s produced a couple classics)

There haven’t existed a lot of important movies about competitive cycling, but in 1985 in Dallas I saw a particularly moving epic, “American Flyers”, which sounds like it could be about model railroading. Directed by John Badham and from WB, it opens with sports doctor Marcus, played by a then younger Kevin Costner, arriving back in St. Louis to bring his kid brother (David Grant) back in line, putting him through every aerobics test known to man to get him to race. The film transports us to widescreen Colorado scenery, when it’s Marcus who has a medical catastrophe in the middle of a championship race (“The Hell of the West”), probably having crossed Independence Pass (which I have driven over). There’s a funny line where David tells Marcus he doesn’t want to be told to shave his legs, and that got taken out of the TV reruns.  It probably wouldn’t get taken out today.  Marcus winds up with no mustache.

Back in 1979, 20th Century Fox had released “Breaking Away” (dir. Peter Yeats), where Dennis Christopher plays Indiana University student Dave Stoller, who overcomes economic class lines by becoming a champion bicycle racer.  I seem to recall that this film was shown free on PBS in Dallas shortly after it was released in theaters.  There’s a cute scene were Dave plays Tootsie in a bathtub with the cream and the razor while singing an aria from Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro”, as if to note the risks of heterosexuality.  That scene did not get cut out of the TV rerun.

Both of these films were written by Steve Tesich.

Daniel Stern from AFI talks about "Breaking Away".

No, you don't race with mountain bikes, even with the seat too high from the store. 

By the way, the cult classic of motorcycle movies isn't "Easy Rider"; it's "The Born Losers", 1967, dir. Tom Laughlin, from American International (of course!)

BW pictures: from my parents' albums, from the 1920s and 1930s, digitally captured.  

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