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Image from: Life of Pi (2012)

Grand Prix The Movie: A Complete History

Posted May 31, 2011 07:52 PM by Robert Siegel

The Silver Screen

Welcome to the Grand Prix!

Grand Prix, John Frankenheimer's film for MGM filmed in Super Panavision 70 and winner of three Academy Awards, tells a story of the rivalry among four racing drivers for the World Championship of Drivers in Formula I competition on nine high-speed circuits, from Monte Carlo to Mexico City. Director Frankenheimer's intention was to make "an intensely realistic drama depicting what motor-racing really means to the men involved." To accomplish his goal, Frankenheimer, who has been a racing enthusiast and driver himself for many years, photographed GRAND PRIX over a five-month period on the actual tracks across Europe. Moreover, the director and producer Edward Lewis created a vast technology based on the latest research in electronics so as to film accurately for the first time these racing drivers rocketing at over 150 m.p.h.

The four stars who play the leading drivers in GRAND PRIX— James Garner, Yves Montand, Brian Bedford and Antonio Sabato actually do their own driving in the film's thrilling competitions. World-famous "Grand Prix" drivers who appear in the picture include 1962 world champion Graham Hill, Jack Brabham, world champion in 1959, 1960 and 1966; five-time world champion Juan Manuel Fangio (1951, '54, '55, '56 and '57), 1961 world champion Phil Hill and the following: Chris Amon, Lorenzo Bandini, Jean Pierre Beltoise, Bob Bondurant, Joakim Bonnier, Ken Costello, Nino Farina, Paul Frere, Richie Ginther, Dan Gurney, Dennis Hulme, Tony Lanfranchi, Guy Ligier, Bruce McLaren, Michael Parkes, Andre Pillette, Teddy Pillette, Peter Revson, Jochen Rindt, Jim Russell, Ludovico Scarfiotti, Jo Schlesser, Skip Scott, Joe Siffert and Mike Spence. Acknowledged as the world's largest spectator sport at the time, auto-racing was probably the only truly international competition. Consequently, the four leading actor-drivers are American, French, English and Italian. The leading oriental star Toshiro Mifune portrays a Japanese racing-car designer and manufacturer. The feminine leading roles are played by American stars Eva Marie Saint and Jessica Walter and French songstress Francoise Hardy, making her English-language acting debut.

1930's Grand Prix poster
Poster for the 1934 Grand Prix

Twenty-Two Racing Cars were used in Grand Prix

Twenty-two racing cars formed major elements of the GRAND PRIX arsenal, together with a caravan of mobile machine shops and equipment carriers. The cars included four Ferraris, four BRMs, three Lotuses, four McLarens, two Brabhams and one American Eagle. Two camera cars, a Ford G.T. 40 and a Shelby Cobra 7-litre, used both for photography and in the direction of track scenes, were capable of traveling even faster than the racing cars themselves. Utilizing mounts on both front and rear, the cameras on the Ford G.T. 40 were controlled by remote-control television monitor within the two-seater occupied by Electronic Camera Operator John Stephens, with drivers Phil Hill and Bob Bondurant chiefly alternating behind the wheel. Another key tool was the Sud-Aviation helicopter, specially adapted for aerial photography with a Nelson Tyler mount and lightweight camera equipped with zoom lens.

1966 Shelby Cobra also used as camera car
Ford GT40 1966 used as camera car

Three to five weeks of photography took place at the various locations, all centering about actual race circuits where GRAND PRIX races were being held. In most cases, production supervisor William Kaplan had separate production staffs under his command in the respective countries involved. The races filmed with up to 18 separate cameras were: Monaco Grand Prix—May 22, Monte Carlo Belgian Grand Prix—June 12, Spa British Grand Prix—July 16, Brands Hatch Dutch Grand Prix—July 24, Zandvoort Italian Grand Prix—September 4, Monza A French Grand Prix race was staged exclusively for the film in the first week in August on the 1965 Grand Prix track in Clermont-Ferrand. Although dramatic scenes revolve about the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, the American Grand Prix at Wakins Glen, New York, and the Mexican Grand Prix in Mexico City, the races themselves were not needed for the continuity of the screen story.

1908 Austin restored that ran the Grand Prix

Viewers will become participants in the race!

The great puzzlement for first-time spectators at Grand Prix auto races, such as the one filmed near Spa, Belgium, for "Grand Prix," was that nearly 100,000 spectators sit patiently for more than two hours seeing very little of the race itself. "There's a magnetic excitement," explains director Frankenheimer, "composed of the big-league competition of sixteen drivers risking their lives and their expensive machines against the ever-present possibility of instant disaster. If the spectator knows something about the personalities of the drivers and the capabilities of the vehicles it becomes more fascinating. Even the thundering din and the noxious fumes of the engines add to the atmosphere." But if the typical spectator could see more than a half-mile of track he was one of a fortunate few. Frankenheimer was determined to show movie audiences what Grand Prix racing really looked like. For the complex task he assembled a small army of actors, technicians and the world's top racing drivers. The latest electronic equipment was pioneered in movie photography for the first time, with remote-control devices and television monitors used in conjunction with camera cars that traveled 200 m.p.h., or faster than the Formula I cars themselves. This included Super Panavaision 70 cameras to make it as real as possible.

The U.S. Space Program was vital to Grand Prix

United States space research was paying off for the motion picture industry. As a result, in "Grand Prix," movie audiences for the first time would see the track circuit in the same way as the racing driver sees it, at speeds of ISO miles per hour and more. Twenty of the high-speed cameras developed for missile-tracking made this possible. Before starting "Grand Prix," director Frankenheimer sent technicians to Cape Kennedy to see what types of cameras were being used and if they could be adapted to motion pictures. Although the Space Agency was not prepared to sell or lease their cameras, they put MGM in touch with their contract suppliers who produced vibration-proof equipment specially for the exciting picture photographed in Super Panavision and Metrocolor. Prior to space-age technical advancements in camera equipment, the film crew usually stood in the back of a camera car and photographed the cars following behind. At 70 miles an hour, this was windy and unpleasant, but at 130 it became sheer impossibility. A further space-age aid to motion pictures is the helicopter equipped with closed circuit television, which hovered over the race tracks during the filming of "Grand Prix, enabling Frankenheimer to see exactly what his cameras were picking up.

The two camera cars, a Shelby Cobra and a Ford GT-40, could travel at speeds faster than the Formula I racers. Equipped with camera mounts on both front and back, they were also controlled by a television monitor within the automobile cockpit. Other unique problems were resolved. For example, a piece of gravel flying up from the track at 150 m.p.h. can shatter a precious camera lens. This was prevented by placing a piece of thick clear glass, called an optical flat, in front of the lens. If the optical flat became cracked, it was simply replaced. Because Grand Prix races were run whether the sun shines or in a downpour, Frankenheimer had to be prepared to shoot under the same conditions. Special plastic coverings were developed for the cameras to prevent rain from penetrating the camera shells, and electrical and mechanical connections were sprayed with a special plastic compound, also developed for the U.S. space program. With this advanced equipment pioneered in filming "Grand Prix," Frankenheimer was determined that the production did not emerge as "just another racing picture."

Director John Frankenheimer

Born in Queens, New York, John Frankenheimer was educated at LaSalle Military Academy and Williams College. He directed movies for the Air Force in California before finding work at CBS Tvas an assistant Director in their New York studios. His big break came when he was given the opportunity to direct 42 episodes of the famous Playhouse 90 series. Between that and his many other television projects, he received six Emmy nominations. His first film would be "The Young Stranger," which he expanded from one of his television dramas.

Director John Frankenheimer
The director rests on one of his sets

GRAND PRIX marked the third association between producer Edward Lewis and director John Frankenheimer, who first joined their talents for "Seven Days in May," starring Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster, and followed with the Rock Hudson starrer, "Seconds." Previous Lewis productions included "Spartacus," "The Last Sunset," "Lonely are the Brave" and "The List of Adrian Messenger." In addition to the films he has made with Lewis, John Frankenheimer's record as a film director is an impressive one. Starting with "The Young Strangers" in 1956, his credits include "The Young Savages," "All Fall Down," "Birdman of Alcatraz," "The Manchurian Candidate, "The Gypsy Moths," and his last theatrical being Reindeer Games" in 2000 before his death in 2002 at the age of 72. He was equally well known for his brilliant television work. He has twice won the Radio and Television Daily's Award as Best Director of the Year (1956-1959) ; the TV Guide Award as Best Director (1960) and was nominated by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences as Best Director for five consecutive years (1955 through 1959).

"This is a film primarily about people," declared the director, "but about the people engaged in one of the most fascinating organized human endeavors of today's technological age." World-famous professional drivers seen in "Grand Prix" include 1962 world champion Graham Hill, Jack Brabham, world champion in 1959, 1960 and 1966; five-time world champion Juan Manuel Fangio (1951, '54, '55, '56 and '57), 1961 world champion Phil Hill and the following: Chris Anion, Lorenzo Bandini, Jean Pierre Beltoise, Bob Bondurant, Joakim Bonnier, Ken Costello, Nino Farina, Paul Frere, Richie Ginther, Dan Gurney, Dennis Hulme, Tony Lanfranchi, Guy Ligier, Bruce McLaren, Michael Parkes, Andre Pillette, Teddy Pillette, Peter Rev-son, Jochen Rindt, Jim Russell, Ludo-vico Scarfiotti^ Jo Schlesser, Skip Scott, Joe Siffert and Mike Spence. Cinematographer Lionel Lindon was previously associated with Frankenheimer on "The Young Savages," "All Fall Down," and "The Manchurian Candidate" and won an Academy Award for "Around the World in 80 Days."

James Garner felt right at home, already a racer

James Garner was born in July of 1928, and was the son of an Oklahoman carpet layer. He was in the Army and Marines and then took on some work as a model. His acting career started on Broadway with a small role in The Caine Mutiny (a non-speaking part). He then went on to television to play Bret Maverick and then The Rockford Files years later. Between that he had roles in "The Great Escape," "The Americanization of Emily," "The Children's Hour," "Victor Victoria" and "The Notebook" along with many others.

James Garner on the set

Celebrating some seven years since last dismounting his horse on television's "Maverick," James Garner employed more sophisticated transportation , a Formula I racing car, in the world's champion driving contests filmed in "Europe" for "Grand Prix." Although Garner was completely at home in the low-slung racers at speeds approaching 150 m.p.h., the fact is that before being cast in the Douglas & Lewis production, he had seen only one Grand Prix race in his life. However, the actor had been a sports-car buff for some time. In "Grand Prix," whose story concentrates on four rival drivers, Garner did his own piloting of the Formula I car in which he is seen in the contests. His preparation entailed several weeks of study at Carroll Shelby's School in California and Jim Russell's in England, and he also received personal instruction from Bob Bondurant, one of America's few top-flight Grand Prix drivers. A very deliberate man, Garner studied the day's driving course along with the day's lines of dialog. Asked about his concern for his personal safety, he was known to have said. "You don't worry about that. The main thing is to concentrate on the driving. If you think about the cameras, you're lost." Many of the world's most famous Grand Prix racers appear in the picture, and Garner spent much of his free time sitting with them and absorbing the talk of motor racing.

A long walk for Garner on the track, publicity still

"They're a different breed of men, racing drivers," he declared. "And they taught me one thing when I get behind the wheel. You can't let your mind wander, not for a fraction of a second" Out of his experience in the filming of "Grand Prix," the star had come to this conclusion : "I don't think 99% of the people on the road know how to drive properly. It's a bit frightening to discover my own and everybody else's inadequacies so vividly." Garner believed in so-called "defensive" driving. When he returned to California on completion of the picture, he bought a high-powered sports car. "I did it so that I could get out of the way of the other cars," he explained. Although a buff, he insisted that he had not caught the "driving bug." He said, "I'm content to stick with my golf I can't afford to let myself get stuck on race-driving. Besides, I feel a responsibility to be careful because if I have a shunt (accident) I put a lot of people out of work." Furthermore, Garner is very much of a homebody, devoted to his wife, Lois, and his two daughters, eight-year-old Gigi and 17-year-old Kim. Gigi's real name is Greta. Her father says she uses the names alternatively. "If she decides to be a scientist, Greta Garner sounds best. But if she wants to be a bubble dancer, Gigi would be more suitable."

Cooldown in costume take 3
Famous driver Jim Russel advises Garner

Eva Marie Saint was interviewed about her career on the set

Her role as an American fashion magazine editor who falls in love with a Corsican racing driver in "Grand Prix,"marked two reunions for Eva Marie Saint. In the Douglas & Lewis production she was directed for the second time by Frankenheimer, for whom she had previously worked in "All Fall Down." And the part is her second co-starring role with James Garner, with whom she had teamed in "36 Hours." "However, Garner is not the man I fall for in this picture," she explained. "It's Yves Montand, one of his racing rivals, who has a wife but whose marriage is on the rocks. "And it's rather curious," Miss Saint added. "In a picture I made not long ago, The Sandpiper,' I was married to Richard Burton and in the story, Elizabeth Taylor took him away from me. Now I find myself in a role in which I do my best to capture a married man. Would you call that retribution?" Just prior to "Grand Prix," the actress starred in "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming," her tenth picture in eleven years of movie-making up to that time. Throughout her career she had demonstrated her versatility in pictures veering from strong drama to comedy, proving herself as adept in clinches with Cary Grant as in poignant moments with Marlon Brando. It was with the latter that Miss Saint achieved the unique distinction of starting her film career at the top, winning an Academy Award with her screen debut in "On the Waterfront."

Early Publicity still of Eva Marie Saint
Eva Marie Saint Publicity Still

Recalling Winning the Oscar, she said, "When I was given my Oscar I was still living in New York, where 'On the Waterfront' was made. My husband (TV director Jeffrey Hayden) and I were in an apartment in Greenwich Village and Ed Murrow came to interview me. I've got a tape of the interview and we sometimes run it at our Beverly Hills home. There I am, saying vehemently, 'I have no desire to go to Hollywood. I have no desire to make any more movies.' It's the old story of the plans of mice and men. But when I first moved there, I was sure I had made a terrible mistake. All my friends were in New York and I missed the New York papers and the theater and everything. But when I went back there for a visit, my friends kept asking me what's it like in Hollywood? Tell us all the gossip. And I realized that everyone wants to be where they're not." Miss Saint's husband and their two children, Darrell and Laurette, were with her during most of the filming of "Grand Prix" in Europe. She would not film outside this country under any other conditions. Her family was very important to her.

Jessica Walter took on Grand Prix Role

"Become an actress and see the world." That was the regular motto of 23-year-old Jessica Walter, who trekked across Europe with a brand-new husband and a starring role in "Grand Prix," Viewing the continental scene with the new-found eyes of a cosmopolite, Miss Walter said on set that five months of Europe was just enough to send her home and happily apply herself to decorating the living room of her new apartment. Filming of "Grand Prix" afforded the actress with a honeymoon trip to Paris with husband Ross Bowman, a Broadway stage manager. But she admitted it had its ups-and-downs. "Walk into a drugstore and try to buy some toothpaste," she would sigh. "Its a struggle if you don't speak French." Even the glamor of shopping in the haute couture houses for her $15,030 wardrobe of 18 costumes for "Grand Prix" didn't turn the head of this New York beauty, who was born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens. "After shopping in Paris," she said, "you really appreciate New York. Trying to coordinate a wardrobe in Paris involves a lot of legwork. Convenience-wise, New York is certainly superior. You can get everything you want in one store. But they don't deal with you as nicely as they do in Paris. On one occasion, I was at Pierre Cardin's, looking for a dress, and I practically tore it apart before buying it."

Publicity still of Jessica Walter

Accompanying Miss Walter on her shopping sprees were famed Hollywood hair stylist Sydney Guilaroff, who acted as fashion coordinator for "Grand Prix," and actress Evans Evans, the wife of director John Frankenheimer. An equivalent wardrobe was purchased in Paris for co-star Eva Marie Saint, while the film's third feminine lead, Francoise Hardy wore her own battered American dungarees, an outfit called for by her role. Miss Walter was thrilled at the idea of Guilaroff, who had ministered to all the great stars from Greta Garbo to the late Marilyn Monroe, molding her "beauty image." "For a nobody like me," she said, "it was a big deal."

The actress approached her movie stardom with the same humility. "I've got just enough looks to get by," she avers. "I've never pretended to be a great beauty, but I do try to be a good actress." In preparing for her role as a sometime actress and fashion model in "Grand Prix," Frankenheimer asked Jessica to lose some weight. She promptly lost ten pounds. Her husband lost fifteen at the same time. "Let's put it this way," she laughed in an interview, "I'm learning to cook." Frankenheimer hadn't seen either of Miss Walter's movies, "Lilith" with Warren Beatty or "The Group" in which she played Libby, before casting her in "Grand Prix." She was spotted by Mrs. Frankenheimer on the New York television discussion show, "Open End," who recommended her to her husband. He agreed that Jessica was just right for the part. "Right now, I'm in the market for a Broadway play," she says, "so that I can stay at home for a change and learn to be a good wife." In "Grand Prix" she portrays an exceedingly poor wife to British racing driver Brian Bedford and a somewhat troublesome mistress to his arch-rival, James Garner.

Original Lobby cards seen inside the Theater

Antonio Sabato's first Major Role was in Grand Prix

An exciting new face and acting personality came to the screen in 24-year-old Sicilian actor Antonio Sabato. With dark eyes smoldering like Mount Etna in eruption, Tony looked the image of a hot-blooded Italian racing driver, with a tremendous appeal to the fair sex. That's the role he played in the Douglas & Lewis production, and there are those who claimed that's exactly the role he plays in real life. "All this guy cares about is cars and girls," remarked one of the extras in "Grand Prix," who had lost a date to this modern Romeo. However, there was more on Sabato's mind than dates for he has worked seriously at an acting career for several years. Struggling against an impoverished beginning in life, he fought for roles in small town legitimate theaters throughout Italy, won notice at the Piccolo Theatre in Milan, then broke into television and films. His first film was actually "Lo scandalo", a low budget Italian film. He would not go on to make many more popular American movies, but was uncredited in "Barbarella." He retired from film in 1997 after he was a stand-in for "High Voltage." in 1997. His son, Antonio Sabato Jr. became more famous than his father, starring in many soaps like "General Hospital," and "The Bold and the Beautiful" along with hundreds of other television appearances including his latest which was a reality show titled "My Antonio," in which he chose from a group of women to be his lifelong partner.

Antonio Sabato preparing for a shot

Brian Bedford films his First Major Role

With his casting by director John Frankenheimer in the important role of Scott Stoddard, No. 1 driver on the Jordan-BRM team in "Grand Prix," Frankenheimer's spectacular film for MGM, English actor Brian Bedford became filmdom's latest candidate for "instant stardom." But like most actors who finally get their "big break," Bedford struggled for a good many years before the moment finally arrived. As is typical of British performers, he learned his acting ABC's over a two-year period of study at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, then perfected his craft in repertory roles ranging from romantic juveniles to crochety old men. Don't bother to ask him if he yearns to play Hamlet. He already has. Seasoned performers look forward to enacting this role in their prime. Bedford played it when he was only 21 years old and the critics didn't turn a hair. In fact, they were unanimous in labeling the young actor a "promising talent." "I wouldn't be so cocky about trying that part today," Bedford says, "but when you are just out of your teens you consider the world your oyster." Grand Prix did not, however, make a star of Brian. He would only get roles in two movies, as the voice of a fox in Disney's "The Fox and the Hound," and as Clyde Tolson in "Nixon." He spent more time on television but even that was minimal.

Early publicity shot of Brian Bedford
Brian Bedford a bit later in his career

Yves Montand was a rare combination of virility and sensitivity

Eva Marie Saint is the latest beauty in the movie love-life of French charmer, Yves Montand. In "Grand Prix," Montand plays the Corsican driver of one of the Formula I racing cars, whose marriage to the daughter of an automobile industrialist has become an empty thing. When he meets Miss Saint, cast as an American fashion magazine editor who is filming a fashion layout against a background of the Grand Prix races in Europe, it marks the beginning of a passionate love affair in the story. Montand had always had great luck with his leading ladies. In the past he appeared opposite such glamour queens as the late Marilyn Monroe in "Let's Make Love," Shirley MacLaine in "My Geisha" and Ingrid Bergman in "Goodbye Again." However, asked to list his favorite co-star, he unhesitatingly names Simone Signoret, with whom he appeared in "The Sleeping Car Murders" and "Is Paris Burning?" It just happened that the beautiful Miss Signoret was Mrs. Yves Montand in private life, but the actor dismissed the coincidence.

Yves Montand

"We have a happy marriage," he stated on the set in an interview, "which has lasted for fifteen years. But that is our private affair. It just happens that, as professionals, we work together beautifully. We make a good team, we have an intuitive understanding of each other's ability and what is perhaps best of all, we like working together. Our first joint venture was in the Paris stage production of Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" at the Theatre Sarah Bernhardt and it worked out so well that we repeated our roles in Jean Sartre's screen version of the play." A curious and rare combination of virility and sensitivity had become Montand's trademark ever since he added to his laurels as France's most popular singer and one-man entertainer with his reputation as a fine actor, stemming from his performance in Clouzot's film masterpiece, "The Wages of Fear."

Yves Montand on the set

Actors didn't come any more gutsy than Montand. He was been described as a man with the physique of a truck driver (he once worked as a longshoreman in Marseilles between music hall engagements) and the brains of an intellectual. However, it is undeniably that his famous virile charm had made him one of the handfuls of the screen's male sex symbols. What is remarkable about Montand is that he was rarely seen in places where celebrities congregate, the glittering openings or the fashionable supper clubs. For him the in-places are definitely out. Fortunately, his wife was equally adamant at shunning the spotlight. They preferred the quiet life and when they were not working, spend much of their time at their villa on the Cote d'Azur. Although Montand feels strongly about his career and aims to make each of his performances "just a little bit better than the last one," he also relishes the peaceful enjoyment of his private life. "We are just passing through," he likes to say. "We should live a little. But that doesn't mean living in night clubs."

Japanese One Sheet Poster
Italian One Sheet Poster

Toshiro Mifune made his English Speaking Debut

When the famous Japanese star, Toshiro Mifune, arrived at Nice Airport for his role he announced through his interpreter that he had learned his entire part by heart—in phonetic English. He was immediately advised that the dialogue had been largely re-written in the six months since the screenplay had been mailed to him in Tokyo. Mifune blanched at the news, momentarily considered hara-kiri, then proceeded to learn his new dialogue as an industrialist and racing car manufacturer who attempts to win the Grand Prix championship for Japan. Director Frankenheimer and producer Edward Lewis had Mifune's signature (in vertical ideographs rather than horizontal script) on a contract for more than a year before such other of the film's stars as James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, Yves Montand, Brian Bedford, Jessica Walter, Antonio Sa-bato and Francoise Hardy were signed.

Toshiro Mifune in Grand Prix

Director and producer considered themselves fortunate, for intriguing the multi award-winning actor into accepting the part was not easy. Although he was interested in reaching out for an international audience, Mifune's position in the Japanese film firmament made it essential for him to start his new career with a winner. In his search for the right vehicle, he had previously turned down starring roles in "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines" and the James Bond thriller, "You Only Live Twice." In the last analysis, it was the prospect of working with Frankenheimer which determined Mifune to accept the role in "Grand Prix." He had long admired such of the director's pictures as "The Manchurian Candidate," "The Train" and "Birdman of Alcatraz."

Grand Prix Publicity shot: Toshiro Mifune

The actor's inability to speak English did not pose an insurmountable problem. It was solved in this way: A University of Southern California student, Masaaki Asukai, was engaged as interpreter. Each line of Mifune's dialogue was translated and then written phonetically in Japanese characters approximating the sounds of the English words, making for three versions of each sentence. Finally, dialogue coach Mickey Knox recorded all the lines on a tape-recorder to which Mifune listened over and over again, studying the accent, inflection and timing of the words. The results speak for themselves. However, with characteristic Oriental humility, Mifune said to the press, "I don't speak good Japanese, so how can they expect me to speak good English ?" He would go on to take roles in such Hollywood films as "Midway," "1941," "Inchon,"and "Hell in the Pacific." Mifuni died in December of 1997 at age 77.

Francoise Hardy Fashions and Advice Giver

In her first London cabaret date at the staid Savoy Hotel, she outraged the desk clerks by appearing in orange pants but wowed the sophisticated audiences and, almost incidentally, won her role in "Grand Prix." Director Frankenheimer saw her dining at the hotel restaurant and, without knowing who she was, decided he wanted a girl who looked "just like that" in his film. He got the "original." At the age of seventeen, when she auditioned her own songs, accompanying herself on the guitar, for a Parisian recording company, Francoise was immediately signed to a contract. Since then her songs have sold in the millions.

Francoise Hardy Publicity Still

Francoise Hardy, innovator of the "mini-skirt" and darling of the young French "ye-ye" set, set the fashions for an entire generation of young girls around the world, but the 22-year-old songstress was making her English-speaking movie debut in "Grand Prix," and just tossed the chestnut mane trailing down her back, straightend the hemline of her mini-skirt and giggled at any such intimations. Even if Francoise didn't take herself seriously, all the major magazines were delighted to publish photographs detailing every movement of her life which, during the filming of John Frankenheimer's spectacular film for MGM, consisted largely of sunbathing beside a pool in Monte Carlo and love scenes with Sicilian actor Antonio Sabato. Like a pair of young colts, with sex seemingly the farthest thing from mind, Francoise and Tony wandered about the set hand-in-hand. One or the other might pick up a stack of photographs showing their scenes together and wrestle with each other, tearing up the ones they didn't like. In a serious moment, Francoise would talk with some bewilderment about the thousands of letters she received every week from young girls like herself. Most of them were unhappy, asking for advice. Wisely, she gets help from her mother in answering them. Even though she earned a fancy sum for her role in "Grand Prix," Francoise had her reservations about the business of movie-making.

Francoise Hardy with James Garner on the set

The thing she enjoyed most about "Grand Prix" was the opportunity of spending most of her time outdoors. But even that had mixed advantages. "The assistant directors were always nagging at me to stay out of the sun," she sighs. "They said I was getting too tan and wouldn't match the early scenes of the picture." Such minor discomforts aside, Francoise Hardy would have to resign herself to the inevitabilities of movie stardom.

Filming the Belgian Race

Frankenheimer spent one week before the race and one week afterward with a conclave of expert drivers, including Graham Hill, Jack Brabham, Bob Bon-durant, Jochen Rindt, Richie Ginther and Jo Bonnier. They acted as consultants and drove the camera cars, a Ford G.T. and a Cobra, as well as the film company's own racing cars. They even gathered in a country inn near the track at Francorchamps for a scene showing a typical racing drivers association meeting. The Belgian Automobile Club officials who administered the race proved cooperative in adapting themselves to movie requirements. Because of the needs of the story, which has James Garner winning in a Japanese entry, Frankenheimer had persuaded Bruce McLaren to paint his cars with the white Japanese racing colors so that the actual race footage could be intercut with scenes the "Grand Prix" unit staged itself. However, the McLaren cars dropped out in the trials and Frankenheimer was still without a white car in the race. Overnight, Bob Bondurant's privately-run BRM was painted white without a murmur from track officials. In the 17th and final position on race day itself, Phil Hill was permitted for one lap to take around one of the film company's own racers with a camera mounted on its nose. As chance would have it, Hill managed to drive through a massive accident on that first lap which put out more than half the field and sent Jackie Stewart to the hospital. Naturally enough, the camera got the only picture of the scene.

Princess Grace Visited the Film Set

Among many distinguished observers of the filming of "Grand Prix," were Prince Rainier and Princess Grace who, together with eight-year-old Prince Albert, inspected the film's racing cars during the shooting at Monte Carlo. The visit had been arranged the previous night during a private reception at the palace for members of the "Grand Prix" cast and crew. Honored guests were two of Princess Grace's old friends from her Hollywood days, hair stylist Sydney Guilaroff and director of photography Lionel Lindon. During the visit to the set, Prince Albert exercised his royal perogative and sat behind the wheel of the BRM racing car driven in "Grand Prix" by James Garner.

Prince Ranier and Princess Grace visit the set with their children

The story behind "Gasoline Alley."

•'Gasoline Alley," Indianapolis' famous pit area, was sacred to the male of motor racing; no women were allowed in the pits at any time. This is not so on the European circuit, scene of the races run in "Grand Prix." There, women are almost as much a part of the pit scene as the drivers and mechanics. Some of them, of course, are purely decorative. Some were decorative as well as functional in the scheme of pit management. A few were neither useful nor eye-appealing, but when this was the case they generally were backers or owners or have some political influence to get them into the pits. Of the Grand Prix drivers in the sixties, relatively few were unmarried. World Champion Jim Clark, former champion Phil Hill (who portrays a driver in "Grand Prix") and Jochen Rindt were the only top class drivers who could claim to be bachelors, but many of the married drivers leave their wives at home.

Motor racing stars attracted women like magnets. Danger is an irresistible draw. It is a life of nervous tension necessitating free-time relaxation, and what could be more relaxing than the adoration of a hero-worshipping female? These frivolities act as a safety valve for many of the drivers. The wives who accompany their husbands were generally trained in some sort of pit work. An occupation in the pit that required constant concentration made bearable a period of time that could otherwise only be filled with nervous fears for the safety of a husband. Bette Hill, Graham's wife, was one of the decorative and useful women in the pits. Like Phil Hill, Graham also appears in "Grand Prix," as does Bruce McLaren. Both Bette Hill and Pat McLaren were experienced with the stop-watch and act as timers. Betty Brabham is another example of a good racing wife, as is Jo Bonnier's wife.

Normally I wouldn't post a picture in such bad condition, but this was actually a flyer in 1966 for the Cinerama "Cooper" theater in my home state of Minnesota, and is just too nostalgic not to be included. Too bad I was only 4 years old and missed it.

What about the others who drape themselves artistically (or otherwise) in the pit counters, sometimes in such numbers that were a pit stop necessary, the mechanics would be hard pressed to get to the cars. At every circuit from Riverside in California to the Nurburg-ring in the Eifel Mountains in Germany, they were there. Of course, they were not the same girls in each country, but the effect was the same. They arrived to cheer the drivers for the first practice period and remained until the last after-race party, of which the recreation of one is a highlight of "Grand Prix."

While "Grand Prix" unfolds a gripping drama of men who put their lives in jeopardy during the world's most hazardous Grand Prix auto races, it is not only a story of dare-devil heroes. It is also the story of the women who follow these men around—from Monaco to France, Belgium, Holland, England, Italy and to Watkins Glen, in the United States—who fall in and out of love with the reckless racing drivers, who encounter happiness amid the heroics and sometimes tragedy. "Grand Prix" unfolds three romantic involvements; one between James Garner and Jessica Walter, the Broadway actress who made an impressive film debut as one of the Vassar girls in "The Group"; a second between Yves Mon-tand and Eva Marie Saint, cast as an American fashion magazine editor; and a third between Antonio Sabato and French songstress, Francoise Hardy, who made her English-speaking debut in the film.

Maurice Jarre, Composer for Grand Prix

Probably no composer achieved so meteoric a rise in the field of writing music for motion pictures as had Maurice Jarre (pronounced Zharr), who composed the score for "Grand Prix." Jarre's formidable list of credits included two Oscars (for the scores of "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Doctor Zhivago") and an Academy Award nomination (for "Sundays and Cy-bele"), all won over a period of three years. His scores have also added immeasurably to the success of such other pictures as "Night of the Generals," "Is Paris Burning?", "The Professionals," "The Collector," "The Train," "Behold a Pale Horse" and "The Longest Day," in addition to 26 French productions. Nor is his talent limited to motion pictures. He had written seven published orchestra pieces and composed the music for 38 dramatic productions, including Shakespeare's "Richard II" and "Macbeth," Victor Hugo's "Ruy Bias" and John Osborne's "Luther."

Irwin Kostal (Winner score adoption "The Sound of Music") with presenter Verna Lisi, Maurice Jarre (with his "Dr. Zhivago" Oscar) and presenter James Coburn

He had seven popular French songs to his credit, including "Le Feu de Bois," which his wife, actress Dany Saval, had recorded with great success; and the equally successful first recording by Sophia Loren, "Je Ne t'Aime Plus." He composed music for four ballets and his work has been played with frequency on radio and television since Jarre first attracted attention in musical circles in 1949. But the composer had a special affinity for film scores. "A dramatic motion picture is not merely the spoken-drama on film, but a different art," he declared in a Life Magazine intervierw. "It is a synthesis of many arts and therefore capable of so much greater range and power. There was a time when music for films was used to soften the emotions of the audience, as with the violin. But that is no longer true. Today a composer's approach is elliptical. The music is there to convey what cannot be conveyed in any other way, making it an integral part of the dramatic whole." Jarre was born in Lyons, where his father was technical director of a local radio station. His first interest in music came about when his younger sister, Josette, took piano lessons.

Jarre directs scoring session for Grand Prix

"My mother told me to go along with her and take lessons, too," he recounts. "She told me it would give me a pleasant amusement. So I did and at once was fascinated and told my parents I wanted to be a musician. My father replied that first I must become a radio engineer and then we would see." As a result, after attending the University of Lyons, Jarre entered the Sor-bonne in Paris as an engineering student but at the same time attended the Paris Conservatory to continue his musical studies. "A conductor told me that I began too late for the piano, the violin or those things, he relates. "He explained that if I wanted to conduct I must learn the whole orchestra and that the easiest and quickest way to do that was to learn the percussion instruments. So I concentrated on the vibraphone, xylophone, timpani and an electronic instrument called the onde martenot."

Film Score Monthly limited soundtrack
French Soundtrack
His career remained strong. He would compose scores for "El Condor," "Posse," "The Man who Would be King," "Witness," "Enemy Mine," and "Gorillas in the Mist." He did compose several scores that were rejected, including scores for "The River Wild," "First Knight," and "White Squall." Jarre would go on to win dozens of awards, winning an Oscar for "A Passage to India," "Doctor Zhivago" and "Lawrence of Arabia." These were in addition to wins at the Golden Globes, The Grammy Awards, Laurel Awards and a lifetime achievement award from the World Soundtrack Awards in 2003. He died on March 29, 2009 at the age of 84.


MGM pulled out all stops to promote Grand Prix, their Super Panavision spectacular. Merchandising was set up all around the world. In the United States, fashions, cosmetics, lipsticks, clothing, model toy cars and other products were on display at stores, and in the lobbies of the larger theaters running the film in 70mm Cinerama.

Fashion Promotions
Storefronts of clothing stores spoke "Grand Prix" Styles

Elke Sommer modeling
Good year Tire Promotion

No less than seven 45rpm singles were issued, and many labels released music from the movie. Models were sent to clothing stores and other retail outlets. Even travel bureaus advertised the films locations and arranged vacations, which indeed became popular. Novels, sheet music and other publications dominated the newsstands. One of the biggest promotions was with Good year Tires, who became a big partner with MGM over Grand Prix.

Jewelry Promotions
Grand Prix grabs attention at the toy stores

Grand Prix Premieres

Grand Prix was released as a roadshow in 70mm Super Panavision (not an anamorphic process) with 6-track stereo by MGM with an aspect ratio of 2:20:1 in Metrocolor on December 21, 1966 and premiered at the Warner Cinerama Theater in New York. Super Panavasion was developed in 1959 with Rowland V. Lee's The Big Fisherman from Disney. Lee wanted a process that would work like Todd-AO on all widescreens. The process would later be used for "Exodus," "Ryan's Daughter" "2001 A Space Odyssey" and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," among others. Panavision lenses were used. The film was released in what was called "Super Cinerama" but was not nearly as grand as the earlier Cinerama films such as "This is Cinerama" and "How the West was Won." This caused problems in that several secenes had a "stretched" look because of the use of asingle camera rather than 3 on the curved screen. 35mm Anamorphic prints were also made with 4-track magnetic stereo.

The estimated budget of the film was $9.2 million dollars. It would win the Oscar for Best Sound, Best Film Editing and Best effects: Sound effects. It was also nominated for 2 Golden Globe Awards (Jessica Walter, most promising female newcomer, and Antonio Sabato, most promising male newcomer). Reviews were positive and the film did well at the boxoffice and has since done very well on home video. It was one of the ten highest grossing films of 1966. Grand Prix is released on Blu-ray today, May 31 2011.

For discussion on this and other Silver Screen columns, see The Silver Screen forum thread Here

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News comments (15 comments)

  May 31, 2011
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Thanks for yet another amazing article. I really enjoy reading these, and absolutely love seeing all the old publicity materials.

PS. The captions on the Shelby Cobra, and the Ford GT40 are mixed up.

  May 31, 2011
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Incredible article about this classic racing film. As a longtime F1 racing fan who has collected this film in four different formats, this article is truly a wonderful read. I am amazed at how much research is performed in creating these highly detailed narratives...

Watching Toshiro Mifune's performance I would have never suspected that he was using phonetic English! After reading this, I'll be watching my BD copy of Grand Prix before I turn in this evening.

On a final note, I enjoy very much learning new facts, seeing the diverse publicity graphics, and reading the anecdotes, cast and crew history and production facts about each of the classic movies featured in the Silver Screen series. Thank you - 5/5 every time.

  May 31, 2011
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Excellent reading! Thanks very much! I'll get this blu-ray and watch it soon...

Top reviewer
  May 31, 2011
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Probably one of the greatest racing movies ever made, I kid you not!! James Garner and Yves Montand really stood out with their performances in the movie!! I'm so glad to have Grand Prix on Blu-ray!!
  Jun 01, 2011
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Ordered mine on Amazon last weekend when it was released. Bought Le Mans also, watching both of them this week. Haven't seen them in years.

Top contributor
  Jun 01, 2011
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Great read! Thanks Robert . I have ordered this and cannot wait to see it for the first time!
  Jun 01, 2011
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Saw it on HDDVD. Somewhat boring, but cinematography and racing was truly great.

The Theory
  Jun 01, 2011
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Great article. Great film, too.

It's the sort of movie I liked while watching... but it has good mental staying power. I always get that flash of enjoyment when I see the spine of the movie on my shelves.

  Jun 01, 2011
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"Director Franklin J. Schaffner on the set"

Oh, I'm looking at the wrong person. Silly me.

THANKS, fixed it :-)

Top reviewer
Top contributor
  Jun 01, 2011
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Fantastic read, really looking forward to the Blu-ray.
Heading to Montreal next Thursday for my 10th Montreal Grand Prix, always a highlight of the year and never a dull race.
  Jun 01, 2011
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Really excellent presentation.
Pat Gleeson
  Jun 01, 2011
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Another superb essay - film studios take note - this is how you write background :-)

  Jun 02, 2011
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Or, as Mad Magazine called it, "Grim Pix".
("Why am I standing alone on the track, hearing engines? Am I hearing my ambition? My search for my inner self?"
"No, you're hearing the race to see which other driver can run you over and end this movie!")
  Jun 02, 2011
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Thanks so much for the informative article! I saw the movie in Super Panovision 70 when it was released. I was driving an Alfa Romeo GT at the time. I thought the racing footage was spectacular but considered the film overall a dog.

  Jun 03, 2011
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this was an incredible read. i love the art of the times especially. thanks!

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