Speed was partially inspired by a real event - Malcolm Campbell breaking the world's speed record for an automobile (he drove a Bluebird). The event took place on September 3, 1935 at the Bonneville Salt Flats and MGM wanted to capitalize on the public's interest in it by following up with a similar story. Stewart plays Terry Martin, a test driver for the Emory Automobile Company, who is trying to perfect a new high-speed carburetor. Cocky and ambitious, Terry also pursues the company's attractive new public relations representative, Jane Mitchell (Wendy Barrie), who just happens to be the niece of the company's boss. A rivalry for Jane with fellow engineer Frank Lawson (Weldon Heyburn) creates complications for Terry but after surviving a race car accident at the Indianapolis speedway, he is sufficiently humbled and a better man for it.
Even though Speed was Stewart's first starring vehicle it was little more than a glorified B-movie, clocking in at just under sixty-six minutes. MGM had arranged with Chrysler Motors in advance to use their equipment, cars, buildings and testing grounds for the film and there is also a great deal of footage devoted to the automobile assembly line process in a Detroit factory. If it wasn't for the slim love story angle, Speed could almost pass as an infomercial for the car industry. But even if the film didn't exactly maintain the pace of its title, it's not without interest for Stewart fans and some of the cinematography by Lester White (high-speed races filmed through the windshield of the test car) is exciting. Though Stewart would later recall little about the making of Speed, he did retain one important memory of it. In A Wonderful Life: The Films and Career of James Stewart by Tony Thomas, the actor remembered that his co-star Ted Healy gave him some invaluable advice as an actor: "He told me to think of the audience not simply as watchers but as collaborators, as sort of partners in the project. He was right, and that helped me in my attitude toward the business."
Producer: Lucien Hubbard
Director: Edwin L. Marin
Screenplay: Milton Krims (story), Lawrence Bachmann (story), Michael Fessier
Cinematography: Lester White
Film Editing: Ben Lewis
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Edward Ward
Cast: James Stewart (Terry Martin), Wendy Barrie (Jane Mitchell), Una Merkel (Josephine Sanderson), Weldon Heyburn (Frank Lawson), Ted Healy (Clarence "Gadget" Haggerty), Ralph Morgan (Mr. Dean).
by Jeff Stafford