Written by: Michael Den Boer on July 17th, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: USA, 1969
Director: Jack Hill
Writer: Jack Hill
Cast: Brian Donlevy, Richard Davalos, Ellen Burstyn, Sid Haig, Beverly Washburn, George Washburn, Steve Pendleton, Robert Krist, Ted Duncan, Titus Moede, Don White, Ray Thiel
BluRay released: June 23rd, 2015
Approximate running times: 91 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Sound: LPCM Mono English
Subtitles: English SDH
BluRay Release: Arrow Video USA
Region Coding: Region A,B / Region 1,2 NTSC
Retail Price: $29.95
Synopsis: A former drag strip racer reluctantly agrees to participate in a new kind of racing called figure eight. After a few races which end baldy with his car being demolished his pride kicks in and more determined than ever he continues to race the figure eight. From there he eventually rises to the top figure eight racing circuit and he is asked to participate in more prestigious race as another driver’s wingman. Unfortunately things don’t always go as planned and he recklessly takes the chance when the opportunity presents itself for him to win the race.
Pit Stop was written and directed by Jack Hill whose other notable films include, Mondo Keyhole, Spider Baby, The Big Doll House, The Big Bird Cage, Coffy, Foxy Brown and Switchblade Sisters. Key collaborators on Pit Stop include The Daily Flash an American folk rock and psychedelic band who contributed to this film’s soundtrack and cinematographer Austin McKinney (The Love Butcher). Pit Stop’s original title was going to The Winner, but it was changed when another similar titled film came out around the same time.
Though there have been numerous films about racing, it is safe to say that there has never been before or since a film like Pit Stop. First off instead of taking racing staples like drag racing or stock car racing. This film takes a lesser known type of racing called figure eight, where the track is shaped like a number eight and the intersection where cars pass each other is a center of the eight.
Another way that this film sets itself apart from other racing themed films is how the actually racing moments take a backseat to the characters which ultimately drive this film’s narrative. With this film’s choice of figure eight racing proving to be an inspired choice as this type of racing and the path this film’s protagonist is on are mirror images of each other. Also is not surprising that this film is filled with subtext. Since it has been well publicized that the director wanted to make an Art House film, while the producer wanted to make an all-out exploitation film. And the end result is a perfect fusing of what both wanted.
From a production stand point the Noir like visuals are rock solid. Even more impressive is how effortlessly the film cuts between pre-shot racing footage and footage with the cast. Other strengths include the well-defined characters, brisk pacing and a narrative with a handful of timed surprise for good measure.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this film is how great the performances are. With this film’s standout performance coming from Sid Haig (Spider Baby) in the role of Hawk Sidney, the king of figure eight racing circuit. The transformation his character undergoes from start to finish is nothing short of remarkable. Another performance of note is Richard Davalos (East of Eden) in the role of this film’s protagonist Rick Bowman. Other notable cast members include Brian Donlevy (Hangmen Also Die!, Kiss of Death) in the role of Grant Willard, the man with the money who backs all the racers and Ellen Burstyn (The Last Picture Show, The Exorcist) in the role of race car drivers wife.
Pit Stop comes on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. For this release the transfer was created from Jack Hill’s own 35mm answer print and there has been extensive restoration work done for this transfer. There is even an extra which details the restoration. And though there are some instances of fluctuations in regards to image clarity. These prove to be minor and never too intrusive as for the majority of the film details generally look crisp. Also there are no issues with DNR or compression and grain looks natural throughout.
This release comes with one audio option, a LPCM mono mix English. The audio is in great shape as dialog comes through clearly and everything sound balanced. Also the more ambient aspects of the soundtrack like the cars racing and crashing are well represented and what music that does appear in the film sounds robust. Also included with this release are removable English SDH subtitles.
Extras for this release include, a trailer for the film (2 minutes 4 seconds – 1080 Progressive), a restoration demonstration (3 minutes 53 seconds – 1080 Progressive), three interviews – the first interview with screenwriter / director Jack Hill (15 minutes 31 seconds – 1080 Progressive), the second interview with actor Sid Haig (16 minutes 48 seconds – 1080 Progressive) and producer Roger Corman (11 minutes 36 seconds – 1080 Progressive) and an audio commentary with Jack Hill and moderator Calum Waddell.
Topics discussed in the interview with Jack Hill include, how Roger Corman approached him to make a stock car racing film and how he got Corman to allow him to make an art house film about figure eight racing, how he seamlessly incorporated actual racing footage with additional footage with the actors, the cast, how the film was released as a double feature due to it being shot in B&W and why the film changed its original titled from ‘The Winner’ to Pit Stop.
Topics discussed in the interview with Sid Haig include, why the film was shot in B&W, collaborating with Jack Hill and how he is very underrated as a filmmaker, his thoughts on Hawk the character he plays in the film, the cast, product placement in the film and his thoughts on Pit Stop.
Topics discussed in the interview with Roger Corman include, how the Wild Angels and The Trip lead to him leaving AIP and venture out on his own as a distributor, working with Jack Hill on Pit Stop and how they were able to make a movie that both of them could agree upon, he also discusses the ins and outs of making exploitation films.
Topics discussed in the audio commentary include, why the opening title card says The Winner and why it was changed to Pit Stop, the look of the film and how he was able to achieve so much on a very limited budget, the cast, proposed remakes of films that he directed, locations featured in the film and his thoughts on the film.
Rounding out the extras is a reversible cover art option and a thirty two page booklet with cast & crew information, two essays – the first one titled ‘An Art Film About Stock Cars: The Unique World of Pit Stop’ written by Glenn Kenny and the second essay titled ‘Flashback: A Brief History of the Daily Flash’ written by Gray Newell and information about the transfer. Also included with this release is a DVD that has the same content included on the Blu-Ray included as part of this combo release. Overall Pit Stop gets an exceptional release from Arrow Video.