Paul Newman’s decades-long off-screen association with racing began here, with his role as a driver so obsessed with winning the Indianapolis 500 that he steers his neglected wife (played by the real-life Mrs. Newman, Joanne Woodward) into the bed of his rival (Robert Wagner). Newman trained for the film at the Robert Bondurant racing school (the same institution that trained James Garner and Yves Montand for Grand Prix), eventually taking those skills onto real-world tracks as a racer and later, as a race-team owner. (Woodward, trying in vain to understand the appeal that the dangerous sport held for her husband, took a spin around the Indy track herself, at 40 miles per hour.)
Here, Newman’s driving is folded into footage shot during the 1968 edition of the Indy 500. (The 17-car pile-up seen in the movie was filmed during the 1966 race.) Among the real-life drivers who appear in the film are Bobby Unser, Tony Hulman, Bobby Grim, Dan Gurney, and Roger McCluskey. Director James Goldstone, a TV-trained helmer known for his fast pacing and frequent cutting, brings those techniques to bear here — as if the racing footage wasn’t thrilling enough already. Making his film debut, as Woodward’s son and Newman’s stepson, was Richard Thomas, soon to become famous as John-Boy Walton.
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