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John Huston's 1930s motor racing film - a mystery...


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#1 simonlewisbooks

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Posted 30 November 2011 - 23:38

I'm currently reading AN OPEN BOOK by the oscar-winning movie director/actor/screenwriter John Huston (he of AFRICAN QUEEN and MALTESE FALCON fame).
In the early 1930s when he was still struggling to establish himself in the movie business he came to England to work for Gaumont-British Pictures and says in the book that Gaumont were approached by a "a company which built racing cars" to make a movie that promoted their product.
Huston was commissioned to produce a suitable screen play and filming got under way. However on the very first day the director, Eddie Cahn, a fellow traveller from Hollywood, fell from "a fence below the grandstand at the Seabrook race track where we were to make some shots" and badly broke his leg. This put him in hospital and a replacement director was brought in.
Huston, who was a close freind of Cahn's, took no further part in the filming and promptly went back to California.

I've checked on IMDB and there is a film called DEATH DRIVES THROUGH, released in March 1935 with Huston and Cahn appropriately credited(no replacement director is mentioned). It stared 'it girl' Chili Bouchier and Robert Douglas. There's one review that largely concludes it's a pretty ropey effort which hardly reflects the talents of either writer or director but does say the racing scenes are well done and free from the usual back-projected rubbish so common in any kind of action movie of the time.

The mystery : which British racing car maker in 1933-34 could have possibly been behind such a film? Bentley were already bankrupt, MG had been taken over by Nuffield and stopped producing pukka racing cars, leaving only the fledgling ERA concern, less than a season old at that point, although backed by the wealthy Humphrey Cook...

And where the heck is "Seabrook race track"? I assume that's a memory lapse/typo for Brooklands? There is a Seabrook dog racing venue, it' located in Boston, USA and only dates from the 1970s.

Has anyone seen the film? I'd never heard of it prior to reading the book.





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#2 D-Type

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Posted 30 November 2011 - 23:44

Could the manufacturer be Riley?

#3 arttidesco

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Posted 01 December 2011 - 00:11

The good news is that Seabrook appears to be Brooklands the bad news is that there was a screening of the film at Brooklands on the 10th of November, hope this helps :-)

#4 David McKinney

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Posted 01 December 2011 - 07:46

MG was still heavily involved in racing in that period, as were Austin and, as Duncan says, Riley

#5 RTH

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Posted 01 December 2011 - 07:49

This is most interesting I wonder if a copy is available on DVD anywhere ?
Looking at that website, bit misleading ,I think the showing was actually at the Cinema Museum in London SE11

#6 arttidesco

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Posted 01 December 2011 - 09:45

I wonder if a copy is available on DVD anywhere ?
Looking at that website, bit misleading ,I think the showing was actually at the Cinema Museum in London SE11


I certainly be interested in seeing a DVD but no joy when I looked last night :|

Yes and I was :blush:

#7 simonlewisbooks

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Posted 01 December 2011 - 10:22

I guess Lagonda might also be a possibility as Huston's term 'racing car' (itself curiously English) could have meant sports car, which would fit in with Riley as well.

I can't see any DVDs mentioned of this movie and as IMDB has very little information and but a single review(most unusual on that site) it would appear the recent screening was a something of a rare event we all seem to have missed!

I wonder if this photo, which I've posted before, could be from the filming?

Posted Image

As commented on at the time, it looks like a staged fight given the curious expressions , the cameraman in the background and the fact one protagonist , looking somewhat less than masculine, isn't wearing any socks (I say! Steady on!) Could this actually be the leading lady, Chili Bouchier, as seen here on Wikipedia?
Difficult to tell....




#8 RTH

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Posted 01 December 2011 - 11:36

Just heard there was a power cut on the evening of the screening and no one saw it . Date to be rescheduled

#9 simonlewisbooks

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Posted 01 December 2011 - 20:35

:lol: This film gets more elusive by the minute!