Downhill Racer (1969)

The feature debut of Michael Ritchie (and now on YouTube), this turns out to have a screenplay by James Salter, the ‘greatest living American novelist’ (much better than Philip Roth!) until his death aged 90 in 2015. Until now, I thought Salter’s only contact with cinema was the source novel (brilliant) of The Hunters (1958), which – despite the presence of Robert Mitchum – is a terrible Korean War drama (directed – in an example of Hollywood wtf-ism – by former song-and-dance man Dick Powell!).

But no. Salter also wrote a Sidney Lumet film I’d never heard of (The Appointment, 1969, with Omar Sharif!) and directed Three (also 1969, a busy year), a film with a very young Charlotte Rampling which (also on YouTube) was made by Universal but resembles a student project, and only goes to demonstrate why he only made one film…

Downhill Racer, however, definitely feels Salter-esque, not least in the subject matter: competitive skiing. (Of the three novels of his I’ve read, Solo Faces (1979) is about rock climbing, and The Hunters (1957) and Cassada (1961, revised 2000) are about fighter pilots.) The lack of an interior monologue occasionally makes Redford seem an enigma, but that’s the point. He’s startlingly selfish. In the end, he wins the Gold at the Winter Olympics, looks round and sees the next contender, eyeing him hungrily… Gene Hackman’s also v good as the beleaguered coach.


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I had a stroke on July 26th, 2013. I was a screenwriter. Don’t do that anymore. But have found another way to write.

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