PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 July, 2006, 12:00am

Grand Prix

Starring: James Garner, Yves Montand, Toshiro Mifune

Director: John Frankenheimer

The film: Many aficionados of the sport rate Grand Prix as the most realistic motor racing film ever made, mainly for its use of car-mounted cameras, actors who actually drove their vehicles, and the presence of several real-life drivers in minor roles. Director John Frankenheimer's use of split-screen editing added to the excitement, although these effects, designed for the enormous, curved Cinerama screens of the 1960s, were almost completely lost on TV pan-and-scan broadcasts.

Now that Grand Prix has finally been released on DVD (for its 40th anniversary), with an exemplary anamorphic transfer and a dynamic 5.1 soundtrack, viewers with a decent-sized widescreen TV can really get their money's worth.

The acting, despite a big-name inter-national cast, is less impressive, as is the soapish back story that follows the private lives of several drivers and their romantic interests across a season of nine races.

James Garner (The Rockford Files, The Great Escape) and Yves Montand (The Wages of Fear, Jean de Florette) - in a rare English-speaking role - both did most of their own driving, with Garner even taking on the professionals in several after-hours races - and winning. They seem to have been too wrapped up in their driving to pay much attention to their acting duties, but few actors ever looked as good behind the wheel as these two.

Toshiro Mifune (Seven Samurai, Rashomon) puts in a brave performance as the boss of a Japanese racing team that hires the unemployed Garner, but the dubbing of his lines takes away much of his presence. Racing fans will be more interested in the small roles given to real-life drivers, such as Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Australian Jack Brabham.

Frankenheimer (The French Connection, Ronin) was a long-time fan of motor racing and was able to get these and other personalities on board for the project quite easily, but a sceptical Enzo Ferrari would have none of it, and didn't want his name or cars appearing in what he thought would be another poorly made racing film.

After shooting the opening sequences around the real Monaco Grand Prix, Frankenheimer showed a rough edit to Ferrari, who was so impressed that he gave the director full access not just to the Ferrari name and its vehicles, but to its factory, where cameras were allowed for the first time.

The extras: Warner has produced four new documentaries for this release, totalling about 80 minutes. Most of the interviewees seem to be motor-racing journalists and historians, nostalgic to a man for the days before corporate sponsorship hijacked the sport, and when drivers often designed their own cars and safety equipment, and drove for not much more than a living wage.

Several drivers were killed soon after appearing in Grand Prix, but Brabham and Dan Gurney are among a handful of survivors who appear.

Following the new material is a slick making-of featurette filmed during the Monaco Grand Prix, and a fairly ropey old trailer that shows what a sterling job has been done in restoring and remastering the film for this long-overdue release.