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Friday 4 January 2013

Burl reviews Fireball 500! (1966)

Vroom vroom, it’s me, Burl, here to review a racing-car picture for you! It’s called Fireball 500, and it’s essentially one of the AIP beach pictures given a different setting and some higher stakes! It tries to be tough at times, which sits hilariously with the scrubby-clean hangovers from movies like Beach Party and How To Stuff A Wild Bikini!
It was apparently Frankie and Annette’s last team-up! And, in fact, though there’s certainly some flirting and huggerjugger and other assorted quasi-romantic byplay between them, they aren’t actually a couple in this movie! No, she’s a girlfriend of that other teen singing sensation, Fabian, well known from his role in Get Crazy!
The movie is set somewhere in the American South, in some county adjacent to Hazzard and whichever one Thunder Road is in, where hicks battle hayseeds for dirt-road supremacy and jars of mountain dew are apparently indestructible! Frankie, in the role of Dave Owens, an up-and-coming racer from Cal-i-for-nai-yay and owner of the famed Fireball 500 auto, arrives and immediately begins a hard-hitting campaign of competition with local hero Leander, played by Fabian! Chill Wills, the voice of Francis the Talking Mule himself, plays Big Jaw, the local promoter who benefits the most from this rivalry!
Dave beats Leander in their first race, and most of their subsequent competitions, including a figure-8 chicken race and a bout of fisticuffs that runs about three times longer than the donnybrooks of The Quiet Man and They Live put together, end in a draw! Leander ultimately wins the quest for Annette’s affections, but this seems a Pyrrhic victory to me since she comes off as an annoying scold for most of the picture, and a prude too! Ha ha, and anyway, Leander is constantly surrounded by ladies sporting shorts with “We Love Leander” embossed on the bums! Any one of those ladies would probably have been more fun to date than the former Mouseketeer!

Ha ha, but I haven’t even really mentioned the main plot yet, which is that both Leander and Dave, being drivers, get caught up in the local moonshine-running business, which is apparently run by the unlikely team of Harvey Lembeck  (who played Erich Von Zipper in the beach movies) and a rich, sexy blonde lady! And not only are a pair of revenooers making trouble, but some mysterious party has seen Goldfinger and is using the art of maxi-reflection to run the ‘shine deliverers off the road to their fiery doom! (But the ‘shine itself always survives somehow, ha ha!) I was pretty sure Chill Wills would turn out to be behind it all, but I was wrong!
Well, the picture ends, and then there’s another fifteen minutes of road racing, which is a little boring I must admit! I’m just not a fan of the Non-Athletic Sport Centred Around Rednecks, so it’s just as well I don’t live in the South! But despite the fact that it’s Dave’s car that sports the name Fireball 500, it’s Leander’s car that turns into an actual fireball in the grand finale! I thought his goose was cooked for sure, but it turns out he just gets a really bad sunburn from the ordeal!
It’s a pretty entertaining picture in many ways, even though it’s dumb at best and suffers from some yawny patches, especially when it gets onto the oval! But the constant tension between adherence to the Beach Party innocence and the urge to move beyond into sexier, more adult territory, is fascinating! It is and could only be a product of its exact, precise historical time, and ol’ Burl always appreciates that! I give Fireball 500 two unexpected Claymation openings!

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