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Two drifters race against a middle-aged man across America.
Two rootless youths roam the country in their souped-up 1955 Chevy competing in drag races to make money. Along the way, their car is admired by various gas station attendants and envied by men who long for the freedom of the road. At one roadside diner, a teenaged hippie girl hops into the backseat with her gear, and when the Driver and the Mechanic return to the car, they wordlessly accept her presence and drive on. As she chatters about the last man she stayed with and her aimless existence, they remain quiet but polite. Soon, a middle-aged man in a fancy Pontiac GTO passes them aggressively, apparently considering the Chevy a threat to his power and masculinity. Short of cash with which to gamble, the boys drop the girl in a New Mexico town so she can panhandle money from strangers. That night, the trio checks out the other racing cars that congregate at a local roadside, and soon challenge another driver to a contest. After they win, the Mechanic takes the Girl to a motel while the Driver explores the bars. The next day, GTO, who wears a cravat and racing gloves despite his poverty and inexperience with racing, picks up a hitchhiker and spins one of his habitual tales, this time claiming to be a retired jet pilot. When he passes the Chevy again, he assumes the boys are following him and boasts that his car could easily beat theirs. Soon after, the Chevy and the GTO pull up to the same gas station, prompting GTO to confront the Driver and demand that they stop harassing him. Unruffled, the Driver ignores the challenge and approaches the Girl, who has gotten out of the Driver's car. He discusses the meaningless existence of the cicada; however, she takes offense and hops into the GTO's passenger seat, where GTO tells her he won the car in Las Vegas. Emboldened, GTO offers to race the Chevy, and the Driver accepts, stating that they will race for the cars' pink slips. Although disconcerted, GTO demands that the race end in Washington, D.C., and the two agree on rural routes to drive. The two cars set off, the Driver focused and energized. When the Girl attempts to rub his neck, he shrugs her off. As a rainstorm begins, GTO picks up a cowboy hitchhiker and tells him he is a professional race car tester. Soon, however, the hitchhiker flirts with GTO, who orders him out of the car. Later, GTO is pulled over for speeding, and as a lark, the Driver stops to inform the policemen that GTO is a dangerous driver, then drives off at maximum speed. When GTO catches up to them, demanding that they stop patronizing him, the boys propose a truce and offer him a hard-boiled egg, and the lonely driver eagerly responds with an offer of the drugs or alcohol that he keeps in his trunk. As they share a drink, the Mechanic checks the sports car's engine, while GTO claims to be scouting locations for a movie, and clandestinely invites the Girl to travel with him to Mexico. The Mechanic informs GTO that he must get the car fixed in the next town, and to prove that they will wait for him, the Mechanic offers to drive the GTO with the Girl while GTO joins the Driver in the Chevy. Along the way, the two cars race and the Driver wins easily. GTO tries to tell the Driver his real life story, stating that "everything fell apart on me," but the Driver refuses to listen. In town, the garage is not yet open, so they wait. The Mechanic switches license plates with a car at the garage, hoping to avoid local police suspicious of out-of-towners. As GTO continues to drink, the Driver looks for the Girl, finding her trying to hitch another ride. He picks her up and drives her to a field, where he tries to teach her to drive, then kisses her. They return to the garage, where the mechanic has arrived and notified the police that some hippies are present, forcing the quartet to speed off. They meet at another roadside, where the Mechanic fixes the GTO. Continuing on to a diner in Arkansas, GTO demands to know if they are still racing, but when the boys admit that they are penniless, he helps them set up the next race. As they drive to the race site, the Driver refuses to pull over for a car that wants to pass them, and they are run off the road. Shaken, they are further frightened by the sight of an accident, in which a young man has been killed. Meanwhile, GTO picks up several hitchhikers, including an elderly woman and her grandchild, who ask him to drop them at the cemetery in which the girl's parents, recently killed by what the grandmother calls "a city car," are buried. That night, GTO joins the boys at the local amateur racetrack competition. The Mechanic informs the Girl that they will reach Washington by the next night, but she seems undecided about whether she will remain with them. The Driver states that he has bet all of their tools against the competitor's car, then promises the Girl that after Washington, they will head to the Florida beaches. Unresponsive, she takes her bags to GTO's car, but as he welcomes her, she remains silent. The Driver wins the race narrowly, and upon discovering that GTO and the Girl have left, insists that he and the Mechanic follow at top speed, despite the Mechanic's warning that chasing her is pointless. In his car, GTO talks to the Girl about their future together, stating, "If I'm not grounded soon I'm gonna go into orbit." GTO and the girl stop at a diner, and soon after the Driver passes them without seeing their car. When the Mechanic finally informs the Driver that they passed the GTO five miles earlier, the Driver wordlessly turns around to join them at the diner. There, the Driver tries to convince the Girl to stay with him, but knowing he cares only about his car, she declines, and the three men watch as she joins a motorcyclist, leaving her meager bag of possessions behind. Outside, the Driver sets up the next race while GTO drives off alone. He soon picks up a hitchhiker, to whom he brags that he once built up a 1955 Chevy into a racing car of which a man could be proud.
Cast & Crew
|MPAA Ratings:||R||Premiere Info:||New York opening: 7 Jul 1971; Los Angeles opening: 14 Jul 1971|
|Release Date:||1971||Production Date:||
AFI-DVD; AFI Library VHS*; EB, Netflix
|Color/B&W:||Color (Technicolor)||Distributions Co:||Universal Pictures|
|Sound:||Mono||Production Co:||Universal Pictures, Michael Laughlin Enterprises, Inc.|
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