The Fast and the Furious (1954)
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A prison escapee commandeers a young woman and her hotrod in a mad dash to Mexico! (The exclamation mark may seem gratuitous, but when you're dealing with jailbirds on the run, fast cars, and fast women, the punctuation may as well get some extra gas too.) The Fast and the Furious (1955) was directed by John Ireland (who also starred in the lead role of Frank Webster) and Edwards Sampson (who was also the film editor). Another young man helps out behind the camera too: the fledgling and 28-year-old producer, Roger Corman. This second-unit direction marked Corman's first experience behind the camera and played a pivotal role in making him realize that he could direct his own films. For The Fast and the Furious Corman made the choice of putting Ireland at the helm as a way of getting the actor to take on the role for considerably less than his usual fee and it also allowed Corman, for the first time, to work with a "name" actor. Corman also gets credit for the story, filled in as a stunt driver, obtained Jaguar racing cars in exchange for product placements, and cribbed racing footage from the Jaguar Open Sports Car race at Monterey.
The Fast and the Furious was shot for $50,000 in nine days and, even though it was only the second film to come out under his full aegis, right after Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954), it has all the DNA of a classic Corman film. It's a simple story, made cheap and on the fly with several niche markets in mind, but it has so much moxie behind the camera that some of it can't help but bust out on the big screen. More importantly, The Fast and the Furious played a strategic and precedent-setting role in allowing Corman to negotiate a multi-picture deal that was pivotal in launching American Releasing Corporation (which soon thereafter changed its name to American International Pictures, or AIP) and it also gave him the financial structure he needed to make more movies. A lot more.
"The Fast and the Furious" - it's a great title, one that grabs your attention. Rob Cohen certainly appreciated the impact of those simple words when he re-used them for his 2001 film starring Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez - but that film is not a remake and only the title rights, not the story rights, were purchased (on the audio-commentary for the DVD, Cohen says he gave Corman stock-footage in exchange for the title). With a fourth installment on the way, the title is certainly getting a lot of mileage.
In the 1955 film we are introduced to Connie Adair (Dorothy Malone), an upper-class blonde who drives her Jaguar along a windy road and takes a break at a diner for an egg salad sandwich and some pineapple juice. She meets a truck driver (Bruno VeSota) and sits at the counter next to a quiet and brooding guy in a leather jacket. As the waitress gets her order conversation is centered on the news reports involving Frank Webster, who was put in jail for intentionally running another truck off the road and killing the driver. As we find out that Webster broke out of jail and is wanted for murder the quiet guy at the counter starts to leave but is stopped when the trucker pulls out a revolver and asks him to show his I.D., resulting in a scuffle that leaves the trucker unconscious and our mystery man in possession of a gun - which he now uses to grab Connie and her car for a trip across the border to Mexico. Yes, he's Webster but, no (as he later tells Connie), he did not murder anybody and has, instead, been set up with no hope of justice.
The story for The Fast and the Furious recycled ideas from the very first film Corman worked on called Highway Dragnet (1954), which he co-wrote and co-produced. It points to a theme that Corman admits "would recur time and again throughout my directing career," because he is "attracted to stories about outcasts, misfits, or antiheroes on the run or on the fringe of society." The character of Frank Webster is certainly all of those things, but the interesting revelation made by the film is that the woman he kidnaps has some things in common with him despite the fact that they appear to be complete opposites. This attractive and independent woman with a jaguar convertible is also an outcast and misfit because, as it turns out, she is barred from the racing circuit she wants to join due to the fact that it won't allow women to participate.
While few people will rush to cite Corman's The Fast and the Furious as a great cinematic example to advance the cause of women's liberation (mainly because Webster treats Connie like luggage throughout most of the film) it does present us with two strong characters that ultimately compliment each another. Webster's insensitive tough-guy persona is easily traced to the kind of no-nonsense roles that people like Humphrey Bogart cut their teeth on and, similarly, Connie's scrappy independence lives under the shadow cast by the likes of Katharine Hepburn. It was a time when even low-budget films destined for a quick-turnaround in marginal markets still catered to adults and didn't think twice about having a hound dog protagonist in his 40's trying to make time with a woman - in-between drag-races and car-chases, of course.
Producer: Roger Corman, Jack Milner
Director: John Ireland, Edwards Sampson
Screenplay: Roger Corman, Jean Howell, Jerome Odlum
Cinematography: Floyd Crosby
Film Editing: Edward Sampson
Music: Alexander Gerens
Cast: John Ireland (Frank Webster), Dorothy Malone (Connie Adair), Bruce Carlisle (Faber), Iris Adrian (Wilma Belding), Marshall Bradford (Mr. Hillman), Bruno VeSota (Bob Nielson).
by Pablo Kjolseth