Quick, name the last film you saw about professional motorcycle racing. Stumped you, eh? True, it's not a milieu that Hollywood has ever thoroughly explored and that's why The Pace That Thrills (1952) deserves credit for being one of the few films to offer an insider's look at this often ignored sport. That may not mean much for the average moviegoer but for racing fans, this is the next best thing to a live event.
Bill Williams stars as Dusty, a daredevil racer and test rider for a motorcycle factory. Steve Flagg (whose real name is Michael St. Angel) plays his pal, Chris, who is designing a new transmission that will revolutionize the motorcycle industry. Their friendship is soon tested by newspaper writer Eve Drake (Carla Balenda) who is at first appalled by Dusty's aggressiveness on the track but soon comes to love his he-man behavior. Eve is also attracted to Chris for all the opposite reasons she likes Dusty; he's even-tempered, considerate, and reliable. You can bet that the two pals will be locked in a competition for Eve's affections before the end of the flick but it's the racetrack footage that serves up the real drama here. Director Leon Barsha made sure to incorporate plenty of on-location footage of real racing events including flat truck contests, hill climbs, and passenger pickup competitions; all of which builds anticipation for the big final motorcycle race. There's even an amazing sequence which predates the famous "wall of death" scene from Elvis Presley's Roustabout (1964) where Dusty defies gravity by riding his bike around the walls of a circular arena at a local carnival.
Film buffs will notice blonde vixen Cleo Moore in a supporting role as one of Dusty's trackside groupies. When we first see her, she's firmly planted behind Dusty on his motorbike while he's speeding to his next competition. Ms. Moore is best known for her gallery of brassy femme fatales in the shoestring productions of director Hugo Haas: Strange Fascination (1952), One Girl's Confession (1953), Bait (1954), etc. She later retired from movies to run (unsuccessfully) for the governor of Louisiana. It's also fun to see Bill Williams in the role of an arrogant jock since he usually was cast in more amiable parts. His son, William Katt, also entered the acting profession and is a dead ringer for his father. Although he seemed destined for stardom after his promising debut in Carrie (1976), a Stephen King adaptation, Katt never really became a leading actor. But, like his father, he has found steady work as an actor in B-movies.
Producer: Lewis J. Rachmil
Director: Leon Barsha
Screenplay: Robert Lee Johnson (also story), DeVallon Scott
Cinematography: Frank Redman
Film Editing: Samuel E. Beetley
Original Music: Constantin Bakaleinikoff (Musical Direction/Supervision)
Principal Cast: Bill Williams (Dusty), Carla Balenda (Eve Drake), Robert Armstrong (Barton), Frank McHugh (Rocket), Michael St. Angel aka Steve Flagg (Chris), Cleo Moore (Ruby). BW-63m.
By Jeff Stafford