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 rebirth | The ultimate “500” playlist | David Letterman, pit reporter | Indy 500 on Atari 2600 | On “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:
“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.
“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.