Le Mans (1971)

G | 105-106 or 108 mins | Drama | June 1971

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HISTORY

The working title of the film was 24 Hours of Le Mans . The closing credits include the following statement: “And special appreciation to David Piper for his sacrifice during the filming of this picture.” Piper, a stunt driver, lost his leg during filming after his car lost control while he was driving at 150 miles-an-hour. The closing titles list Steve McQueen, Erich Glavitza, Peter Huber and Jonathan Williams both in the cast credits and as car drivers. Although Filmfacts stated that the film included a song with music by Michel LeGrand and lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, no song was heard in the viewed print.
       Le Mans, known as the 24 hueres du Mans , is the best known sports car endurance contest in the world, featuring forty-six cars racing simultaneously in a number of different categories. The overall winner is the car that covers the greatest distance in twenty-four hours. Organized by the Automobile Club de L’Ouest, the competition is held every summer at the Circuit de la Sarthe near Le Mans, France. The first race occurred in May 1923 and subsequently has been held every Jun. As depicted in the film, the race traditionally begins at 4 p.m. local time on Saturday and ends twenty-four hours later. The race is held on a non-permanent track that is thirteen kilometers (or 8.1 miles) long that has been modified several times over the years to make the course safer. Beginning in 1971, three drivers were allowed per car. As shown in the movie, two drivers per car were required until then, with four-hour ... More Less

The working title of the film was 24 Hours of Le Mans . The closing credits include the following statement: “And special appreciation to David Piper for his sacrifice during the filming of this picture.” Piper, a stunt driver, lost his leg during filming after his car lost control while he was driving at 150 miles-an-hour. The closing titles list Steve McQueen, Erich Glavitza, Peter Huber and Jonathan Williams both in the cast credits and as car drivers. Although Filmfacts stated that the film included a song with music by Michel LeGrand and lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, no song was heard in the viewed print.
       Le Mans, known as the 24 hueres du Mans , is the best known sports car endurance contest in the world, featuring forty-six cars racing simultaneously in a number of different categories. The overall winner is the car that covers the greatest distance in twenty-four hours. Organized by the Automobile Club de L’Ouest, the competition is held every summer at the Circuit de la Sarthe near Le Mans, France. The first race occurred in May 1923 and subsequently has been held every Jun. As depicted in the film, the race traditionally begins at 4 p.m. local time on Saturday and ends twenty-four hours later. The race is held on a non-permanent track that is thirteen kilometers (or 8.1 miles) long that has been modified several times over the years to make the course safer. Beginning in 1971, three drivers were allowed per car. As shown in the movie, two drivers per car were required until then, with four-hour time limits on each uninterrupted drive. None of the drivers may drive longer than fourteen hours during the twenty-four hour race.
       The film’s development begin in the mid-1960s, according to a biography of McQueen. An Aug 1968 HR item announced that McQueen’s company, Solar Productions, Inc., had joined with Cinema Center Films (CCF) to produce two features, one of which would be Le Mans , in which McQueen would also star. The script was to be written by Denne Bart Petitclerc. According to a May 1968 HR article, principal photography was set to begin in Jan 1969. A Mar 1970 DV item stated that John Sturges had been assigned as director and the production would begin shooting on location in Jun 1970 to coincide with the actual Le Mans race. The article also noted that McQueen, an avid car racing aficionado, recently had placed second with partner and Revlon heir Peter Revson in the twelve-hour race at Sebring, FL. According to the Var review of Le Mans , a deal to release the picture was struck between McQueen, Sturges and Warner Bros., provided the film would be released before M-G-M’s 1966 production Grand Prix (see above).
       Although May and Jun 1970 news items list Walter Lassally as the cinematographer, he is not listed in the onscreen credits and his contribution to the final film is has not been confirmed. A 29 Jul 1970 DV news item indicated that after nearly seven weeks of shooting, Sturges quit the production and was replaced by Lee H. Katzin. The production then went on hiatus for two weeks for maintenance of the twenty-five racing cars used in the film. The hiatus was extended when John T. Kelley was summoned to France to re-write the script, according to a 4 Aug 1970 DV piece. However, the extent of Kelley’s contribution, if any, to the final production has not been determined.
       On 21 Aug 1970 DV announced that Solar Productions was parting with CCF over the production of Le Mans due to “creative difficulties.” CCF retained credit on the released film because of its substantial financial investment. A Sep 1970 HR item incorrectly stated that German actress Elga Andersen would make her American feature film debut in Le Mans . Andersen had appeared in the 1966 M-G-M production A Global Affair with Bob Hope (see above). Le Mans was shot entirely at the actual Sarthe race circuit near Le Mans, France and used footage from the Jun 1969 and 1970 competitions.
       The following information on the production of Le Mans was taken from a biography on McQueen: As early as 1965, the actor was filming footage at Le Mans with the intention of incorporating it into a feature. During the 1970 filming of Le Mans , some twenty-six of the world’s most famous race drivers were brought in to drive for the film. Their race cars were valued together at more than a million dollars. Six were to be crashed intentionally during the film, at the cost of $45,000 a piece. McQueen’s contract specifically stipulated that he would do all his own driving, although the professional racers refused to drive with McQueen during particularly dangerous shots. McQueen insisted that the racing footage be photographed at full speed, but slow motion was utilized during both accident sequences. A special racing camera car, a Porsche 908 Spider, was rigged with a camera to capture the experience and actually came in second place during the filmed competition. The racing footage took more than six months to photograph.
       Outlines and scripts proved to be numerous during the entire production due to McQueen’s determination to portray the reality of racing unencumbered by the artifice of an imposed storyline. Sturges and producers Jack N. Reddish and Robert L. Rosen urged McQueen to reconsider, but the lack of a completed script remained the core of the production’s problematic, long shoot. Sturges’ frustration with McQueen’s resistance ultimately prompted his departure from Le Mans . Alarmed by the lengthening production, CCF briefly considered replacing McQueen. A new deal was finally struck in which McQueen agreed to forfeit his salary and creative control of the picture. Maud Adams was considered for the role of “Lisa Belgetti,” but when the actress proved to be taller than McQueen, she was hastily dropped. Le Mans took more than a year and a half to complete at a cost of about ten million dollars. McQueen had no involvement in post-production, but was pleased with the finished film and purportedly agreed that the storyline was necessary and appropriate. A modern source adds Nathalie Verner to the cast.
       After Le Mans McQueen’s Solar Productions never produced another film. Reviews of Le Mans were generally negative, with most alluding to the meager plotline in which there was only 145 lines of spoken dialogue. Time magazine referred to its racing dramatics disparagingly as “petite prix,” alluding to the more financially successful Grand Prix. Since the film’s release, though, racing fans have praised it as an accurate depiction of the great racing competition. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
23 Mar 1970.
---
Daily Variety
8 May 1970.
---
Daily Variety
29 Jul 1970.
---
Daily Variety
4 Aug 1970.
---
Daily Variety
21 Aug 1970.
---
Daily Variety
15 Jun 1971.
---
Filmfacts
1971
pp. 323-25.
Hollywood Reporter
6 May 1968.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Aug 1968.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 Mar 1970.
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 Jun 1970.
---
Hollywood Reporter
4 Jun 1970
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jun 1970
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jul 1970.
---
Hollywood Reporter
4 Sep 1970.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Nov 1970
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Jun 1971
p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
16 Jun 1971.
---
New York Times
24 Jun 1971.
---
Time
12 Jul 1971.
---
Variety
16 Jun 1971
p. 15.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st asst dir
Asst dir
2d unit asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
3rd asst dir
3rd asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
Exec in charge of prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Cam mounts
Cam op
Cam op
Key grip
Still photog
Still photog
Focus puller
Focus puller
Focus puller
Focus puller
Focus loader
Cam eng
Sheet metal man
Mechanic
Elec
Generator man
ART DIRECTORS
Scenic and fashion des
Visual des
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Props
Interpreter
Set dressing, lead man
Set dressing, swing man
Apprentice
Local help set dressing
Local help set dressing
Stand-by painter
Head const
Const
Const
Const
COSTUMES
Ward asst
MUSIC
Supv mus ed
SOUND
Sd mixer
Re-rec mixer
Supv sd ed
Boom op
Boom op
Sd asst
Sd maintenance
Sd eff ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Remote control
Interpreter
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup asst
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Prod mgr
Prod mgr
Scr supv
Head of racing dept
Racing consultant
Unit pub
Pub
Asst to Mr. Reddish
Secy to Mr. Relyea
Secy to Mr. Reddish
Secy to Mr. Rosen
Secy to Mr. Kleiner
Prod asst
Prod secy
Secy to wrt
Racing dept secy
Apprentice to prod
Apprentice to prod
Office asst
Housing and travel coord
Prod buyer
Apprentice & liaison A.C.O.
Apprentice
Extras capt
Tech adv
Auditor
Prod accountant
Asst accountant
Communications chief
Communications apprentice
Chief mechanic
Projectionist
Plane pilot
Plane mechanic
Medical nurse
Transportation mgr
Head driver
Taxi driver
Taxi driver
Taxi driver
Taxi driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Catering mgr
Chief cook
Garage day watchman
Garage night watchman
Camp supv
Camp cleaning woman
Camp cleaning woman
Camp cleaning woman
Camp workman
Camp workman
Camp elec
Camp night watchman
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
24 Hours of Le Mans
Release Date:
June 1971
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 16 June 1971
New York opening: 24 June 1971
Production Date:
early June--mid November 1970 in Le Mans, France
Copyright Claimant:
Solar Productions, Inc. and Cinema Center Films
Copyright Date:
11 June 1971
Copyright Number:
LP39818
Physical Properties:
Sound
Glen Glenn Sound
Color
DeLuxe
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
105-106 or 108
MPAA Rating:
G
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

A year after being involved in an accident in the famed French twenty-four hour car race at Le Mans that killed a Swiss driver, American Michael Delaney returns to the endurance contest to drive for the Porsche team. The day-long race draws an enormous audience that crowds around the inner portion of the thirteen-kilometer circuit. Although the main competitors are prototype racing cars designed by Porsche and Ferrari, which each have four cars entered in the race, a variety of cars compete simultaneously. Each of the cars has two drivers who alternate during the day of racing. Michael is assigned by Porsche team leader David Townsend to Porsche number 20 with a co-driver, German Bruno Frohm. The main competition is expected to come from Michael’s longtime rival, German Erich Stahler in Ferrari number 8. On his way to the track, Michael is startled to run into Lisa Belgetti, the widow of the driver killed the previous year. The race announcer welcomes Michael’s return to Le Mans and predicts a close competition between him and Stahler. With tension and anticipation, the four o’clock start time ticks down and the competition begins with the shriek of numerous precision-tuned cars. After a couple of hours, Michael pulls into the pit to transfer driving to Frohm. Returning to his trailer to take a brief rest, Michael runs into Lisa and makes solicitous inquiries about her well-being. Meanwhile, Porsche 21 also changes drivers and the car’s German driver, Johann Ritter, returns to his trailer, where he meets his wife Anna and declares that he is content to retire after the race. As ... +


A year after being involved in an accident in the famed French twenty-four hour car race at Le Mans that killed a Swiss driver, American Michael Delaney returns to the endurance contest to drive for the Porsche team. The day-long race draws an enormous audience that crowds around the inner portion of the thirteen-kilometer circuit. Although the main competitors are prototype racing cars designed by Porsche and Ferrari, which each have four cars entered in the race, a variety of cars compete simultaneously. Each of the cars has two drivers who alternate during the day of racing. Michael is assigned by Porsche team leader David Townsend to Porsche number 20 with a co-driver, German Bruno Frohm. The main competition is expected to come from Michael’s longtime rival, German Erich Stahler in Ferrari number 8. On his way to the track, Michael is startled to run into Lisa Belgetti, the widow of the driver killed the previous year. The race announcer welcomes Michael’s return to Le Mans and predicts a close competition between him and Stahler. With tension and anticipation, the four o’clock start time ticks down and the competition begins with the shriek of numerous precision-tuned cars. After a couple of hours, Michael pulls into the pit to transfer driving to Frohm. Returning to his trailer to take a brief rest, Michael runs into Lisa and makes solicitous inquiries about her well-being. Meanwhile, Porsche 21 also changes drivers and the car’s German driver, Johann Ritter, returns to his trailer, where he meets his wife Anna and declares that he is content to retire after the race. As dusk approaches it begins to rain, but the race continues. When the fourth Porsche entry experiences engine failure and must withdraw, several reporters approach Michael to inquire if this unexpected loss puts the Ferrari team in the lead. Michael and Stahler run into each other heading back to the pit and dismiss press reports depicting their competition as personal. Each driver takes over for the next portion of the race even as mechanics and other drivers wonder aloud why Townsend has not ordered that rain tires be put on the Porsches. The cars make several long laps in the skies darkened by the pouring rain before both main teams recall their drivers to change tires. A minor accident on the course is announced and Lisa listens tensely. A few hours later, unable to see much of the competition, Lisa wanders over to the racing village and its carnival-like atmosphere, where the high-pitched whines of the racing cars are never far away. In the dead of night, Michael and Frohm switch again. Later in the cafeteria, Michael spots Lisa and sits with her to ask how she has managed since her husband’s death. Curious, Michael inquires why she has returned to Le Mans and Lisa responds that it is something personal that she needed to do. At five in the morning as dawn approaches, Michael resumes driving as the rain lightens. After several more laps, Stahler experiences a spin-out on the slick roadway, but he and his car are undamaged. Although yellow warning flags are immediately posted, Ferrari 7, driven by Frenchman Claude Aurac, comes upon Stahler’s stopped car at high speed and, trying to avoid a collision, loses control of his car and smashes into the railing, which sends the car catapulting into the brush. Even though the accident shreds the body of the car, Aurac is able to jump out of the wreckage, stumbling a few feet before the Ferrari explodes, knocking him several yards. On the roadway, Michael glimpses the fireball in the distance and in the split second that his eyes flicker toward it, he comes upon a slower car in his lane. Startled, he wrenches the wheel, which sends his Porsche careening into a rail and back across the road into another railing. The car spins out of control and is wrecked, but although badly shaken, Michael is unhurt. Stahler rejoins the race as a helicopter transports the severely injured Aurac to the infirmary. Upon hearing the announcement that Ferrari 7 and Porsche 20 are out of the race due to an accident, Lisa hastens to the infirmary where she numbly watches Aurac’s treatment and his emergency transport to a hospital. Meanwhile, Michael is examined carefully and approved for release. Spotting Lisa being overwhelmed by reporters, he escorts her to a cab. Going out to the pits to watch the latest race results, Michael meets Townsend and admits that his error caused the destruction of Porsche 20. After watching the race for some time, Michael returns to his trailer, only to find that Lisa has returned and is loitering nearby, drained and exhausted. He invites her inside for some coffee and upon seeing her continued distress over Aurac, reminds her that racing is a “blood sport.” When Lisa asks if people should instead risk their lives for something important, Michael points out that many people spend their entire lives doing things poorly and race driving does not allow that. Michael then adds that for him, driving is life and the time before and after is just waiting. The race continues throughout the morning into the afternoon, when Porsche 21, driven by Ritter, comes into the pit with rear suspension trouble. Ferrari 8 pulls in for Stahler to take the wheel for the final portion of the race. As the Porsche mechanics anxiously struggle to repair Porsche 21, Stahler is unable to restart his car. Hearing the announcement that teammate Larry Wilson in Porsche 22 has taken over second place behind Ferrari 5, Townsend abruptly approaches Michael and asks him to take over from Ritter in Porsche 21. Although surprised, Michael agrees and Townsend declares that Porsche must win. Ritter takes the news well, but admits to Anna that this is not how he intended to retire. Stahler’s car restarts and he roars off, with Michael following moments later. As Stahler and Michael jockey for position, Ferrari 5 is forced out of the race with a flat tire. As the four o’clock deadline approaches, Michael continues to harass Stahler in the backstretch, keeping the German from catching up with Porsche 22. The race ends with Wilson’s team car 22 winning, Porsche 21 in second place and Ferrari 8 in third. Back in the pits, Michael and Stahler salute each other as the crowd cheers for the victors. Seeing Lisa waiting, Michael makes his way to her. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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