Downhill Racer (1969)

101 mins | Drama | 5 November 1969

Director:

Michael Ritchie

Writer:

James Salter

Producer:

Richard Gregson

Cinematographer:

Brian Probyn

Editor:

Richard Harris

Production Designer:

Ian Whittaker

Production Company:

Wildwood International, Ltd.
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HISTORY

The project began as a screen adaptation of Oakley Hall’s 1963 novel, The Downhill Racers, first optioned the year it was published by Mark Robson and his Red Lion Co., as reported in the 6 Nov 1963 DV. By early 1966, Robson had dropped the project, and screen rights to the novel were acquired by Paramount Pictures. The studio assigned Stephen Alexander to produce and Graham Ferguson to adapt the screenplay, according to the 18 Feb 1966 and 12 Apr 1966 issues of DV. Ferguson completed at least one draft of the script before his death on 3 Dec 1966, according to his 7 Dec 1966 DV obituary.
       Robert Redford’s involvement was mentioned in the 20 Dec 1966 DV. Three days later, a DV item reported that the project had just been removed from Paramount’s upcoming production slate since filmmakers would not be able to meet “the snow deadline.” Paramount executive Robert Evans was said to be in charge at that time, while Stephen Alexander was no longer associated with the production. It was also stated that filmmaker Melville Shavelson had been named in connection to the project at some point but was no longer involved.
       By early 1967, Roman Polanski was under consideration to direct, the 21 Feb 1967 DV reported. According to the 22 Dec 1969 DV, Polanski and his partner, Gene Gutowski, collaborated on a script revision. The project was set to cost $3 million under Polanski, as indicated by Redford in an interview published in the Nov 1969 issue of Ski magazine. Certain that he could ...

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The project began as a screen adaptation of Oakley Hall’s 1963 novel, The Downhill Racers, first optioned the year it was published by Mark Robson and his Red Lion Co., as reported in the 6 Nov 1963 DV. By early 1966, Robson had dropped the project, and screen rights to the novel were acquired by Paramount Pictures. The studio assigned Stephen Alexander to produce and Graham Ferguson to adapt the screenplay, according to the 18 Feb 1966 and 12 Apr 1966 issues of DV. Ferguson completed at least one draft of the script before his death on 3 Dec 1966, according to his 7 Dec 1966 DV obituary.
       Robert Redford’s involvement was mentioned in the 20 Dec 1966 DV. Three days later, a DV item reported that the project had just been removed from Paramount’s upcoming production slate since filmmakers would not be able to meet “the snow deadline.” Paramount executive Robert Evans was said to be in charge at that time, while Stephen Alexander was no longer associated with the production. It was also stated that filmmaker Melville Shavelson had been named in connection to the project at some point but was no longer involved.
       By early 1967, Roman Polanski was under consideration to direct, the 21 Feb 1967 DV reported. According to the 22 Dec 1969 DV, Polanski and his partner, Gene Gutowski, collaborated on a script revision. The project was set to cost $3 million under Polanski, as indicated by Redford in an interview published in the Nov 1969 issue of Ski magazine. Certain that he could make the film for only $1 million, Redford approached Charles Bluhdorn, then president of Gulf & Western, Paramount’s parent company, with a new idea for the film, as indicated in a 26 Oct 1969 NYT article. Bluhdorn offered Redford the chance to “prove himself” by shooting a “pilot film,” and Redford subsequently traveled with screenwriter James Salter, ski filmmaker Dick Barrymore, and some assistants to Grenoble, France, to steal footage of the 1968 Winter Olympics. Since Olympics officials did not allow outside photography, Barrymore wore a disguise at the event to sneak past official camera crews. Ultimately, as noted in Ski, much of Barrymore’s footage was unusable as Barrymore had been unfamiliar with 35mm cameras at the time. Redford returned with some 20,000 feet of film, and employed an editing crew to cut the footage into a fifteen-minute pilot film while he was busy shooting Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969, see entry). Bluhdorn was impressed with the result and gave Redford $1 million to make Downhill Racer. Redford and producer Richard Gregson, his partner in Wildwood International, Ltd., enlisted television director Michael Ritchie to direct. The project marked Ritchie’s feature film debut.
       U.S. Ski Team coach Bob Beattie was initially approached to serve as a technical advisor, but when his salary demands could not be met, the position went to Jim Barrier, an employee of Head, which provided skis for the film. Barrier did not remain with the project, while Beattie aided filmmakers by helping them obtain permission to shoot at the Roch Cup in Aspen, CO. As stated in Ski, filmmakers also received support from Ueli Gertsch, a ski binder, and Marc Hodler, president of the Fédération Internationale de Ski (FIS), in obtaining permission to shoot at the following four 1969 World Cup races: the Arlberg-Kandahar at St. Anton, Austria; the Hahnenkamm at Kitzbuhel, Austria; the Grand Prix at Megève, France; and the Lauberhorn at Wengen, Switzerland.
       A 7 Mar 1969 DV production chart announced the start of principal photography on 4 Feb 1969. Filming took place entirely on location in Austria, France, Switzerland, and Colorado. An article in the 23 Apr 1969 Var stated that production had just finished in Wengen, Switzerland, after two-and-a-half months of “arduous shooting,” and was soon to be completed in Idaho Springs, CO. Some shooting was also done in nearby Golden, CO. Ritchie aimed for a documentary feel and employed a second unit to capture real-life scenes on the ski slopes. For verisimilitude, real races were filmed in addition to staged ones and a train sequence was shot while the cast and crew were actually in transit between Kitzbuhel, Austria, and Wengen. As noted in a 17 Jul 1969 LAT article, natural light was used as much as possible, and actors improvised within scenes. Downhill racing sequences were captured, in part, by cameras attached to skiers’ helmets, according to the 28 Oct 1969 DV review. As stated in Ski, although Redford was an accomplished skier, he performed no more skiing than necessary as he had “cut his knee to the bone in a snowmobile accident just before leaving for Europe.”
       The Downhill Racers, also the title of Hall’s novel, served as the working title until mid-way through the production, when it was shortened to Downhill, as stated in the 24 Mar 1969 DV. A final title change to Downhill Racer was indicated in the 1 Oct 1969 Var. A world premiere was scheduled to take place on 28 Oct 1969 at the Granada Theatre in Reno, NV, the 15 Oct 1969 Var noted. According to the 8 Oct 1969 Var, promotions for the film included tie-ins with Glamour and Ski magazines, Abercrombie & Fitch clothing stores, and Bonne Bell Cosmetics.
       Shortly after theatrical release took place in Nov 1969, an article in the 19 Dec 1969 DV announced writers Buck Holland and Jan Schimmel had sued Paramount, Wildwood International, Robert Redford, James Salter, and Richard Gregson, for copying their original story, “Devil on His Heels,” which they claimed to have submitted to Redford on 30 Oct 1968 “with the implied understanding they would be paid for property if it were used.” The two claimed substantial parts of their story had been incorporated in Downhill Racer and sought $6 million in damages and an injunction on the distribution of the picture. As stated in the 22 Dec 1969 DV, the suit from Holland and Schimmel followed another lawsuit related to the film, brought by Paramount against novelist Oakley Hall, “for declaratory relief and an injunction preventing Hall from interfering with the distribution of the film and publicizing that the film was in any way based on his novel.” Although early publicity materials had stated that Salter’s screenplay was based on Hall’s The Downhill Racers, the studio maintained that Salter’s work was original. Hall countersued for restoration of his credit “or financial damages.” Further complicating the situation, former producer Stephen Alexander, who had allegedly paid $15,000 to option Hall’s novel in 1966, was said to be in a legal dispute with Paramount over his right to be credited as executive producer and to be paid a portion of the profits, although his claim depended on Paramount acknowledging the film was based on Hall’s work. In response to the lawsuits, Michael Ritchie recalled the screen adaptation had gone through revisions when Roman Polanski and Gene Gutowski had been involved, and had been discarded around Jan 1968, when Redford, Gregson, and Robert Jiras, who had been attached as executive producer, had taken over producing reins. Ritchie indicated that Salter was brought on to develop an original screenplay at that time. To the contrary, studio publicity materials provided at a 28 Oct 1969 trade screening still credited Hall’s novel, thus it was listed as the source material in the 28 Oct 1969 DV, 4 Nov 1969 LAT, and 7 Nov 1969 NYT reviews. Paramount publicity director Robert Goodfried was quoted as saying his department had “inadvertently made a mistake in crediting Oakley Hall.” Hall had previously received a notice from the studio alerting him that Downhill Racer would be credited wholly to Salter, and he had responded with a letter of protest to Paramount and the Writers Guild of America (WGA), which prompted Paramount’s lawsuit against him. After seeing the final film, Hall contended that “four specific scenes and conversations were taken from the original and his two main characters were combined into Redford’s title role.” The WGA ignored Hall’s claims and ultimately nominated Salter for a WGA Award for Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. Further honors went to Robert Redford, who received a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award for Best Actor, for his combined work in Downhill Racer, Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969, see entry), as noted in the 11 Feb 1970 DV and 17 Mar 1971 Var.
       Carole Carle was listed as a cast member in the 16 Apr 1969 DV, and Bob Swingley was named as a “ski-borne grip” and stuntman in the 23 Apr 1969 Var.

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
6 Nov 1963
p. 1
Daily Variety
18 Feb 1966
p. 1
Daily Variety
12 Apr 1966
p. 4
Daily Variety
7 Dec 1966
p. 15
Daily Variety
20 Dec 1966
p. 2
Daily Variety
23 Dec 1966
p. 18
Daily Variety
21 Feb 1967
p. 2
Daily Variety
23 Aug 1968
p. 2
Daily Variety
7 Mar 1969
p. 12
Daily Variety
24 Mar 1969
p. 3
Daily Variety
16 Apr 1969
p. 12
Daily Variety
24 Apr 1969
p. 2
Daily Variety
28 Oct 1969
p. 3, 6
Daily Variety
29 Oct 1969
p. 10
Daily Variety
19 Dec 1969
p. 1, 8
Daily Variety
22 Dec 1969
p. 1, 16
Daily Variety
11 Feb 1970
p. 12
Los Angeles Times
21 Mar 1966
Section C, p. 21
Los Angeles Times
17 Jul 1969
Section D, p. 1
Los Angeles Times
20 Oct 1969
Section C, p. 26
Los Angeles Times
4 Nov 1969
Section E, p. 1
New York Times
26 Oct 1969
Section D, p. 17, 20
New York Times
7 Nov 1969
p. 36
New York Times
30 Dec 1969
p. 38
Ski
Nov 1969
---
Variety
23 Apr 1969
p. 26
Variety
1 Oct 1969
p. 3
Variety
8 Oct 1969
p. 24
Variety
15 Oct 1969
p. 22
Variety
17 Mar 1971
p. 6
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Kip Gowans
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2nd unit photog
2nd unit photog
2nd unit photog
Photog--Colorado locations
Addl photog
Addl photog
Addl photog
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Supv ed
Film ed
COSTUMES
MUSIC
SOUND
Sd mix
Sd rec
MAKEUP
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod supv
Prod mgr
Loc mgr
Loc mgr
Title des
SOURCES
SONGS
"You Got Me Climbin' up the Wall," words and music by Kenyon Hopkins, performed by People; "Moon River," words and music by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini; "That Old Black Magic," words and music by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen; "Olympic Hymn (Disques Erato)," words and music by Spiro Samara and Kostia Palarmas.
PERFORMED BY
SONGWRITERS/COMPOSERS
+
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Downhill
The Downhill Racers
Release Date:
5 November 1969
Premiere Information:
Reno, Nevada, premiere: 28 Oct 1969; Los Angeles opening: 5 Nov 1969; New York opening: 6 Nov 1969
Production Date:
4 Feb--late Apr 1969
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Wildwood International, Ltd.
29 October 1969
LP37272
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
gauge
35mm and 16mm
Duration(in mins):
101
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
22142
SYNOPSIS

When one of the top American skiers on the United States team is hurt, dedicated coach Eugene Claire sends for replacements David Chappellet and D. K. Bryan. Chappellet is a loner, but he manages to stay on the team during the remainder of the European circuit, complaining all the while about his positions but producing some spectacular though inconsistent runs, even rivaling on occasion the best United States racer, Johnny Creech. Home for summer training, Chappellet leaves the team in Bend, Oregon, and hitchhikes home to Idaho Springs, Colorado, where he is no more at home than in any of the drab and anonymous hotel quarters on the tour. He is unable to communicate with his father and can show no interest in his old girl friend, Lena, whom he greets in cavalier fashion in the back seat of his father's old jalopy. Back in Europe for the season, he begins an affair with Carole Stahl, the secretary to rich ski manufacturer Machet, but is not distracted from his singular involvement with downhill racing as he wins for the United States a race that has hitherto been considered out of America's reach, and thus sharpens his rivalry with Creech. This time the American team returns home with some fulfillment of the years of hopeful promises, and Claire enthusiastically embarks upon a fundraising tour for the upcoming Olympic year. Back for his third season of major league racing, Chappellet senses the magnitude and importance of the Olympic competition as the race approaches; a quip turns into banter between him and Creech, leading to a hair-raising downhill race wherein Creech is nearly injured and Claire's patience with his prima donna rebel ...

More Less

When one of the top American skiers on the United States team is hurt, dedicated coach Eugene Claire sends for replacements David Chappellet and D. K. Bryan. Chappellet is a loner, but he manages to stay on the team during the remainder of the European circuit, complaining all the while about his positions but producing some spectacular though inconsistent runs, even rivaling on occasion the best United States racer, Johnny Creech. Home for summer training, Chappellet leaves the team in Bend, Oregon, and hitchhikes home to Idaho Springs, Colorado, where he is no more at home than in any of the drab and anonymous hotel quarters on the tour. He is unable to communicate with his father and can show no interest in his old girl friend, Lena, whom he greets in cavalier fashion in the back seat of his father's old jalopy. Back in Europe for the season, he begins an affair with Carole Stahl, the secretary to rich ski manufacturer Machet, but is not distracted from his singular involvement with downhill racing as he wins for the United States a race that has hitherto been considered out of America's reach, and thus sharpens his rivalry with Creech. This time the American team returns home with some fulfillment of the years of hopeful promises, and Claire enthusiastically embarks upon a fundraising tour for the upcoming Olympic year. Back for his third season of major league racing, Chappellet senses the magnitude and importance of the Olympic competition as the race approaches; a quip turns into banter between him and Creech, leading to a hair-raising downhill race wherein Creech is nearly injured and Claire's patience with his prima donna rebel is worn dangerously thin. When Creech breaks his leg in the last pre-Olympic trial, Chappellet is the only American hope, but he bests all of the superior European competition with a dazzling display of downhill racing. Flush with apparent victory, his attention is called to the imposing mountain he has just conquered as word comes down that a faster run is being skied by an unknown; but a fall assures the first American gold medal in Olympic downhill racing and gives David Chappellet a precarious perch at the top of a sport in which the fastest is the best.

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GENRE
Genre:
Sub-genre:
with songs


Subject

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

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