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The Big Wheel (1949)

Approved | | Action, Drama, Romance | 4 November 1949 (USA)
A brash young midget car race driver lives in the shadow of his famous father, a drunken womanizer, who was killed in an accident years earlier.



(original screenplay)

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Complete credited cast:
Minnie (as Hattie McDaniels)
Lina Romay ...
Richard Lane ...
Reno Riley (as Dick Lane)


Billy Coy comes to Carrell. His late father's mechanic Red hires Billy as a mechanic. Soon, Billy gets a job as a driver. Written by Daniel Ljungberg <meen@df.lth.se>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Action | Drama | Romance | Sport


Approved | See all certifications »




Release Date:

4 November 1949 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Thundering Wheels  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


Home video versions of the film run under 89 minutes. See more »


When Billy chases Happy Lee to tell him that his wheel is coming loose, Happy's car dies and Billy crashes into him. Both men are driving midgets, but the cutaway to stock footage of the wreck shows a roadster rolling over in flames. See more »


Arthur 'Red' Stanley: The way I figure it, another $1000 and she'll be ready for Indianapolis.
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Arthur 'Red' Stanley: Reno, this is the fastest rod in the business!
Reno Riley: How many years have you been takin' this pile of junk to the race, Red? Six? Seven?
Arthur 'Red' Stanley: Eight.
Reno Riley: And you never even qualified.
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Referenced in American Pickers: What Happens in Sturgis... (2012) See more »


Que Bueno
Written by Kermit Goell and Fred Spielman
Sung by Lina Romay at nightclub
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User Reviews

Indy.....Over 60 Years Ago
28 June 2010 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

A strong second-half made this Mickey Rooney film a decent one and definitely one of his historical value if you follow the Indianapolis 500 Race. It was fascinating to go back see footage of racing and the famous oval from 1949. Man, compared to what you see today, both around the outside and inside of the track, it's a shock to look back to see how much has changed. Even though cars average almost a hundred miles per hour faster today than when this movie took place, it is so much safer. Check out what the drivers were wearing.....almost no protection.

Even though the subject is race-car driving, this is not an untypical movie of Rooney's. You'll know what I mean if you watch the film. Rooney plays the cocky little guy (a la James Cagney) whose self-assuredness gets him far but not without periodic bouts with humility. By the way, Rooney, the following year, was convincing in a film noir called "Quicksand." Rooney could (can) act in about any genre. He is amazing when you consider his career, which is still going at the age of 90!!! I mean, the man's been in more than 300 movies and he's almost always very entertaining.

The actress who played a woman who had a crush on "Billy Coy" (Rooney), Mary Hatcher ("Louise Riley"), was a pretty and wholesome-looking actress, the kind you don't see too much today on screen. She had a short movie career but was a success on Broadway and had a fine singing voice. She doesn't sing in this film, just play the faithful grease-monkey, a girl who pines for him but he's too stupid - most of the time - to see what he has in her.

Meanwhile, the only actual romance where something happens, is between two "old" folks, played by veteran screen stars Thomas Mitchell and Spring Byington.

For a film made 50 years ago, the driving scenes in here were very good, not just a stock footage filmed background. It actually looks like, in some scenes at least, there is a car just ahead of these driving filming the action, like you'd see in modern movies. Then they'd cut to a fake closeup of Rooney but, overall, it was done well for the time period. At the end, with the big race at Indy, they even had real aerial shots from some recent (late '40s) actual Indy race.

In all, not a bad little flick. If you can stay with it through the first half, you'll be rewarded with a strong finish and interesting race finale that is not clichéd.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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