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This film was produced in colour in 1956 at a time when Britain was just emerging from post-war austerity and pleasant motoring trips to the continent were becoming a possibility for the British middle class. The film was made on location and Ralph Thomas the director is clearly anxious to show off the delights of Florence and the Italian lakes. In fact the whole thing is like a Peter Stuyvesant cigarette commercial. It includes a great deal of motor racing from an era when 160 mph racing cars were raced on public roads with huge crowds lining the routes and minimal safety considerations (fits in with the ciggies I guess). The plot is pretty mechanical, the acting, except for Stanley Baker, who was incapable of a bad performance, is pretty routine and the script merely servicable. I have to confess to liking James Robertson Justice, the overbearing boss from central casting, but actually the cars (Aston-Martins) had the meatiest roles. The participation of Aston Martin no doubt accounts for O'Donovan trying to burn some DB3 bodyshells in the opening sequences. Well, it was all a great excuse for some jaded Rank and Aston-Martin employees to catch some Italian sun and one can only hope they enjoyed themselves.
The film uses much footage from the Mille Miglia and although the plot is fairly thin it's worth watching for the amount of original footage of period racing cars. From the cars involved and the date of release it would appear to be the 1955 race, which was won by Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson in a Mercedes-Benz 300SLR. The cars used in the 'team' are actually Lagonda versions of the Aston Martin DB3S. Keen observers will note the scenes in the introduction, allegedly set in an Italian car factory, show Sunbeam Rapier bodies on a production line in what would have been Pressed Steel in Coventry. As the Rapier was introduced in 1955 this sets the date. Rootes Group were never slow in offering cars to the British Film Industry for scenes by way of publicity. The sports car bodies shown in part of the scene are obviously made-up replicas with a hint of Porsche. Worth watching if you are a car nut, but the scenery both automotive and geographical outweighs the story.
With simply stunning scenery which has now been all but destroyed or
tamed by modernity, this film is more than a good British film, it is a
wonderful tourist film and social documentary. A typically stout
performance by JRJ helps the film retain some semblance of realism
against a backdrop of lakes and mountains that post war Britain must
have forgotten about.
The cars are the undoubted stars of the film, with many classic marques in evidence. They alone can make the hairs stand up on your neck as they go through small villages at (slightly) unbelievable speeds whilst driver and co-driver mange to hold a conversation!! Other performances are up to usual standards for the type of film, and as usual in this type of film, young men are played by ever-so-slightly older ones.
Overall a good film that can help while away a wet afternoon whilst taking you back to the post-war era that didn't really exist.
I taped Checkpoint when Channel 4 screened it one afternoon earlier
this year (2006) and quite enjoyed it.
A man, O'Donovan breaks into a car factory to steal some plans for new models of racing cars to ensure his company wins the forthcoming race. But things go wrong and gets spotted resulting in him killing a security guard and several coppers who were sent to see what was going on at the factory after an alarm was triggered. The factory then catches fire. Later, O'Donovan enters the race himself and threatens his driver with a gun and both end up in a cliff hanging position, literally...
This movie contains some great Italian scenery and nice to see some classic cars too.
A great cast: Stanley Baker (Zulu) as O'Donovan, James Robertson Justice (Mobey Dick, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), Anthony Steel, Maurice Denham, Odile Versois, Michael Medwin and Anne Heywood.
Watch out for Checkpoint in TV listings, doesn't seem to have been released on video or DVD anywhere. A treat.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There is a lot to like about this film, particularly if you're a fan of motor racing and cinematography. Beautiful costume, wonderful settings and terrific cars all shot in sumptuous colour. Stanley Baker and James Robertson Justice adding more than a little gravitas to roles thinner than a ten-bob note, but even though they're backed up by the talents of Odile Versois and Maurice Denham amongst others, they are unable to drag your attention from a plot so ludicrous that even 'Boys Own' would have rejected it. Anthony Steel has top billing, but the troubles that had begun to dog him off-screen translate into a performance that barely registers and one wonders if there were major changes in the story and script to accommodate his fall from grace. The film is quite an enjoyable romp and definitely worth watching, even if it's just for a glimpse of such obscure cars as the Fairthorpe Atom and Isocarro Furgone!
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