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Speed, oomph and economy were the key points in Indianapolis Speedway (1939), a remake of the Howard Hawks-James Cagney car racing hit The Crowd Roars (1932). With Cagney's buddy and frequent co-star Pat O'Brien in the lead, it still told the story of an experienced racecar driver trying keep his brother out of the game only to end up his chief rival in a series of whirlwind races. John Payne, just starting out in films, took over Eric Linden's role as the younger brother, with Ann Sheridan replacing Ann Dvorak as his girlfriend and Gale Page taking over from Joan Blondell as O'Brien's lady.
Speed was of the essence in a story like this, but it was also a part of the Warner Bros. house style, both on-screen and off-. O'Brien was one of the studio's champion fast-talkers, with Sheridan matching him every step of the way. And in addition to keeping the action on-screen moving quickly, director Lloyd Bacon was one of the fastest-working directors at the fast-shooting studio. He had already established his credentials on the trend-setting musicals 42nd Street and Footlight Parade (both 1933) and one of the quickest-moving of Cagney and O'Brien's co-starring vehicles, Boy Meets Girl (1938). Amazingly, he also managed to shoot with almost record quickness -- he once printed 47 takes in one day -- without losing depth of character. In fact, his Warner's films contain some of the most vivid character actors from the studio's stock company.
Economy was the essence of the Warner Bros. approach to re-making past hits. They didn't just recycle scripts, they recycled as much footage as they could get away with. Most of the racing footage and crowd scenes used in Indianapolis Speedway had actually been shot by Howard Hawks for The Crowd Roars. They just kept the character names and the car's numbers the same so they would match up. They even re-used the announcers; commentary from the three races that figure in the plot, along with footage of real life racecar driver Bill Arnold, who had won the Indianapolis 500 in 1930.
The studio's stock company was an asset in re-using older footage. Many of the original film's supporting players were available to re-do their roles for the new version. Among them, the most notable was Frank McHugh, who plays a family friend who dies because of the brothers' rivalry. The entire accident that takes his life came from the first film, with new footage kicking in for close shots of his wife (Grace Stafford) reacting to the tragedy. One player from the original who moved into a new role was Regis Toomey. For the remake, he took over scenes originally played by another real-life racer, Wilbur Shaw.
The oomph, of course, was supplied by leading lady Ann Sheridan. During this period, she was getting the studio publicity push, complete with the title "The Oomph Girl." Just to underline her much touted sex appeal, the new script had her play her first scene in a negligee, another in the shower and a third in shorts. That she was also a fine actress and skilled comedienne would not become obvious until the "oomph" factor made her the star of such '40s hits as King's Row and The Man Who Came to Dinner (both 1942).
Critics were quick to point out that Indianapolis Speedway wasn't quite as good as its predecessor, though that was hardly a problem in the days of block booking. The film had been made so economically it couldn't really lose at the box office. It would take the arrival of VCRs, however, to make it clear just how economical this production was.
Producer: Max Siegel
Director: Lloyd Bacon
Screenplay: Sig Herzig, Wally Kline
Based on the story "The Roar of the Crowd" by Seton I. Miller, Howard Hawks
Cinematography: Sid Hickox
Art Direction: Esdras Hartley
Music: Adolph Deutsch
Cast: Pat O'Brien (Joe Greer), Ann Sheridan (Frankie Merrick), John Payne (Eddie Greer), Gale Page (Lee Mason), Frank McHugh (Spud Connors), Regis Toomey (Dick Wilbur), Irving Bacon (Fred).
by Frank Miller