Grand Prix (1966): Frankenheimer’s Stunning Race Movie with Yves Montand, James Garner, Eva Marie Saint

Epic in scale, locations, visual and especially sound effects, Grand Prix is one of the greatest racing spectacles ever to reach the screen starring James Garner.

John Frankenheimer (“The Manchurian Candidate,” “Birdman of Alcatraz”) directs a superb international cast in this epic saga of four Formula 1 race car drivers gunning for glory on tracks around the world.

Filled with high-octane excitement and authenticity, the film won three Academy Awards: for Editing, Sound and Sound Effects.

Heading the all-star cast are James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, Yves Montand, Toshiro Mifune, Brian Bedford (Nixon), Jessica Walter (Play Misty for Me, TV’s “Arrested Development”), Antonio Sabato (Desert Warrior), Fran ßoise Hardy (Masculine-Feminine), Claude Dauphin (Barbarella) and Genevieve Page.

Using 65mm Cinerama cameras, Grand Prix was shot in locations throughout France, Italy, Monaco, England and Belgium at a series of races, winding up at the British Grand Prix, where glory awaits one champion and tragedy another.

The film also offers a glimpse inside the Ferrari factory in Maranello, Italy. The split-screen images in Grand Prix capture the overlapping drama involved in racing and you-are-there POV camerawork intensifies the hard-driving thrills.

Nearly 30 top drivers of the day took part in the adventure.

Narrative Structure

The story follows four Formula One drivers during a fictionalized version of the 1966 season:

Jean-Pierre Sarti (Ferrari) – A Frenchman who has been world champion twice, he is nearing the end of his career and feeling increasingly cynical about racing itself.

Pete Aron (first Jordan, then Yamura) – An American attempting to repeat past successes and overcome his reputation as a reckless, second-tier driver, he signs with the newcomer Yamura Motors.

Scott Stoddard (Jordan) – A British driver recuperating from a bad crash that left him hospitalized, he becomes dogged by recurrent pains while dealing as well with the emotional turmoil of his rocky marriage.

Nino Barlini (Ferrari) – A charismatic yet arrogant Italian racer, he’s Ferrari’s No. 2 driver, being a promising rookie and former world motorcycle champion.
Subplots in the film revolve around the women who try to live with or love the racers with dangerous lifestyles.

The married Sarti begins an affair with an American magazine writer, Louise Frederickson, who initially has little interest in motorsports.

Aron has a brief romance with Stoddard’s unhappy wife Pat, while Stoddard deals with living in the shadow of his family’s history, being unsure if he can live up to the prestigious racing legacy of his late brother.

The story concludes at the Italian Grand Prix, its winner likely to become world champion.

Sarti’s cold, vindictive wife Monique shows up, facing Louise and telling Sarti that she will never grant him a divorce as he wishes.

Experiencing technical difficulties at the race’s start, Sarti is suddenly killed in a spectacular crash. His Ferrari team mate, Barlini, is flagged off the course by team leader, Manetta, resulting in a tight race between Aron and Stoddard to the finish line, with Aron getting the checkered flag.

While a jubilant Aron magnanimously invites Stoddard to the winner’s platform to join him, the shock of Sarti’s death takes its toll on the celebration.  There is a poignant shot of the victorious Aron looking up the sky, observing the black clouds caused by Sarti’s fatal crash.

The story ends on a melancholy and ambiguous note, showing in a long shot Aron in civilian clothes.  All alone, he walks along the long circuit of the final racetrack, contemplating about the price, as if asking himself, “was it worth it?”

Highly innovative, Grand Prix introduced methods of photographing high-speed auto racing that had never been seen before, mounting cameras on the cars at full speed, and putting the stars in the actual cars, instead of against rear-projections.

Oscar Context:

Grand Prix won three Oscars:

Sound: Franklin Milton

Film Editing: Fredric Steinkamp, Henry Berman, Stewart Linder, Frank Santillo

Sound Effects: Gordon Daniel

Behind the Scenes

Due to their contract with the German production, Frankenheimer had to turn over 27 reels shot there to John Sturges, who was planning to make a similar movie titled Day of the Champion with Steve McQueen. Frankenheimer was ahead in schedule, and the McQueen/Sturges project was called off, while the German race track was only mentioned briefly in Grand Prix.

Cast

James Garner as Pete Aron
Yves Montand as Jean-Pierre Sarti
Brian Bedford as Scott Stoddard
Antonio Sabàto as Nino Barlini
Toshiro Mifune as Izo Yamura
Paul Frees as Yamura’s voice
Adolfo Celi as Agostino Manetta
Claude Dauphin as Hugo Simon
Jack Watson as Jeff Jordan
Donald O’Brien as Wallace Bennett
Albert Rémy as a field doctor
Eva Marie Saint as Louise Frederickson
Jessica Walter as Pat Stoddard
Françoise Hardy as Lisa
Enzo Fiermonte as Guido
Geneviève Page as Monique Delvaux-Sarti
Rachel Kempson as Mrs. Stoddard
Ralph Michael as Mr. Stoddard

Credits:

Directed by John Frankenheimer
Produced by Edward Lewis
Written by Robert Alan Aurthur
Music by Maurice Jarre
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Edited by Fredric Steinkamp, Henry Berman, Stewart Linder, Frank Santillo
Production company: Douglas & Lewis, Joel, John Frankenheimer, Cherokee Productions
Distributed by MGM
Release date: December 21, 1966
Running time: 179 minutes
Budget: $9 million
Box office: $20.8 million