Steve Grayson (Elvis Presley) is a successful race car driver. He lets old friend Kenny Donford (Bill Bixby) manage him and handle the finances, despite the fact that Kenny doesn’t really have a knack for keeping the money around.
The two spend their time being womanizers, though Steve is a friendly womanizer, always willing to help a friend in need.
During a winning streak, Steve meets a mysterious woman named Susan (Nancy Sinatra) who seems resistant to all of his charms. But Susan isn’t just your ordinary race car enthusiast: she works for the IRS, and she’s come to collect.
Norman Taurog directs 1968’s Speedway, a musical action-comedy that was accompanied by an Elvis record of the same name. The film was written by Phil Shuken and originally intended to star Sonny and Cher in the lead roles.
I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that I’m not big on motor sports, so this was an odd choice for me to spend time on during TCM’s Summer Under the Stars programming, but with Nancy Sinatra costarring, I couldn’t resist.
Speedway does a good job of showcasing the exciting, high energy mood of the competition, but it could do without some of the early, drawn-out racing scenes. Eventually races are shown with purpose, but early on in the film they seem like fillers that give the character of Steve a chance to be a show-off. They don’t do much to advance the plot until the final couple of races.
In addition to getting the viewer hopped up on the excitement of the sport, the film also showcases a very stereotypical version of the ’60s. Bright colors! Mod fashions! Rock ‘n’ roll music! Hot cars! Groovy dancing! Even the font and style of the opening credits has a very distinctly ’60s look. To the modern viewer, it almost seems like a caricature of the period because there are so many ’60s cliches going on at once. However, this works somewhat to the film’s benefit, because it’s certainly fun and eye-catching.
Speaking of that good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll, the music of the film is quite good in general. The title song is catchy, and fans of Elvis will enjoy his performance scenes.
Nancy only gets one song of her own, but it’s one of the film’s best in terms of both sound and character development. Susan Jacks is a pretty stuffy character. She’s stern, tough, smart and very sassy. Nancy’s performance of “Your Groovy Self” showcases a completely different, much more fun-loving side of her character.
Nancy’s performance as an actress is just as enjoyable as her song. She plays up her character’s mysterious edge and gives a lot of attitude.
In terms of story, Speedway is a bit slow-moving. It spends a lot of time trying to set up the fact that Steve is a “nice guy.” He saves girls from his creepy manager, helps a poor family by buying them food and a new car and generally acts like a stand-up guy. Because so much time is spent on this type of action, it takes a while to get to the real heart of the plot. The viewer’s attention is held despite this, but much of the film’s early portion seems to have no point other than to make Elvis look like a nice fella.
Speedway is a visually pleasing film that delivers a few laughs, a bit of drama and a bit of romance. It’s a very fun piece of late ’60s musical fluff, but the story itself leaves a lot to be desired. The score: 2.5/5