Now Playing: The Indy 500 in Hollywood’s glory days

Published On April 14, 2016 » 2225 Views» By Jeff Vrabel » Blogs, IMS, IMS History, Indy 500

We’re chronicling 100 days of Indy 500 history on #SpeedRead leading up to the historic 100th Running. With 45 days to go, Jeff Vrabel continues exploring the many tie-ins between the Indy 500 and pop culture.

More Vrabel: A.J. Foyt has a secret | Late-night TV hosts at Indy | The “500” in reality TV shows | In old TV | In silent movie | In “Cars” | In “Turbo” | The Beatles at IMS | Pace Car drivers | Snake Pit rebirthThe ultimate “500” playlist | David Letterman, pit reporter | Indy 500 on Atari 2600On “Jeopardy!”More 100 days blogs

Back in Hollywood’s golden age, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was quite the movie star. The race and the track provided background and environment for a host of films that took place on or around The Brickyard, almost none of which had titles that would make a rational human think, “Oh cool, this is a racing movie.” Here’s a few to dig up in your Netflix queue before Race Day:

"Winning" with Paul Newman (as Frank Capua) is the definitive vintage Indy 500 movie.

“Winning” with Paul Newman (as Frank Capua) is the definitive vintage Indy 500 movie.

“Speedway” (1929): Silent screen superstar William Haines (for a while the No. 1 box office draw in the country) plays the magnificently named Bill Whipple (seriously, what is it with driver names in movies?). He’s a hotshot racer, mechanic and pursuer of Anita Page, who plays the woman he tries to woo with his speed and mechanic powers. The film includes early footage shot at the actual 500, featuring — wait for it — sound effects.

“Indianapolis Speedway” (1939): This is a remake of the 1932 film “The Crowd Roars,” which starred James Cagney. “Indianapolis Speedway” is also known as “Devil on Wheels,” which is good, since at least one version of this movie should have a decent title.

“The Big Wheel” (1949): Mickey Rooney plays the son of a hotshot daredevil race car driver who was killed in the 500. Rooney’s Billy Coy then goes and causes the death of another driver, causing the rest of the field to probably want to be really careful around him.

“To Please a Lady” (1950): Clark Gable and Barbara Stanwyck star in a film about a hotshot daredevil race car driver who’s blamed for the death of another driver. If you’re thinking a lot of these movies are about hotshot daredevils and death, yes.

Barbara Stanwyck and Clark Gable brought major star power to the 1950 Indy 500 while promoting "To Please a Lady." Note Wilbur Shaw driving and Tony Hulman riding shotgun.

Barbara Stanwyck and Clark Gable brought major star power to the 1950 Indy 500 while promoting “To Please a Lady.” Note Wilbur Shaw driving and Tony Hulman riding shotgun.

“Roar of the Crowd” (1953): In the second Indy 500 movie in this list to prominently involve audience noise, Howard Duff plays Johnny Tracy, a driver who promises his girlfriend he’ll retire from the sport after JUST ONE MORE RACE, then gets hurt and changes his mind.

“Winning” (1969): The iconic Paul Newman/Joanne Woodward/Robert Wagner film. Newman is Frank Capua, a hotshot daredevil driver who dreams of winning the 500 so much he almost loses his wife (Woodward) to his hotshot daredevil racing rival. The film includes footage from the 1968 race and a crash scene from the 1966 running; it also features Bobby Unser, Tony Hulman and other folks associated with the Speedway. In 2015, “Winning” also served as the title to a documentary with the subtitle “The Racing Life of Paul Newman.”

Editor’s note: There will be a screening of “Winning” at IMS on May 19 hosted by Indy Film Fest. For more information and to reserve a seat, click here.

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About The Author

Jeff Vrabel

I’m an Indiana native and former resident of Chicago and Hilton Head Island who’s written for for such outlets as GQ, Men’s Health, Success, the Washington Post and my hometown Indianapolis Monthly. I spent decades listening to the 500 on the radio and have run two Mini-Marathons around the IMS track, but only dropped a packet of energy beans on Turn 3 during one of them. And I live near Indianapolis with my family; my oldest son just stole bacon off your plate and the youngest was personally approved by Springsteen (long story). Find me at the cleverly named http://jeffvrabel.com or http://twitter.com/jeffvrabel.
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