Red Line 7000

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 15, 2015

This late Howard Hawks picture reminds me of John Ford’s send-off, 7 Women. It also reflected the encroachment of modernity upon a classical method, and upon a classical sensibility. It was also marked by the breakdown of the film studios and, a little bit, by the fact that the acting stables seem to have been all emptied out. Ford’s film is still very much a Ford film, and, finally, a great one. What about this one?

Well, in Red Line 7000 a tightly knit group of professionals cohere under pressure, showing grace and humour and independence. Strong-willed women abound. There’s an attitude of unfussy, existential matter-of-factness. In other words, a Howard Hawks movie!

But a really crazy one! At the beginning the milieu is established—the whole Kazarian racing stable is actually quite nicely detailed and developed. There’s an exciting inciting incident that introduces all sorts of characters, all sorts of interweaving objectives. The test drive with this up-and-comer is pretty great. (There’s some really fine racing footage here, maybe reminiscent of the flying in Only Angels Have Wings.) But it’s at this point that everything goes mental.

Maybe it’s that musical number, or the difficulty of incorporating hip things when you’re not quite that kind of hip. (And what exactly is James Caan doing during these first years of his career? Such eccentric performances!) The compound plot might have been a positive. So, for that matter, might the soap opera components of the compound plot. But eventually, even quite quickly this soap operatic compound plot just kind of gets implausible, or silly, or risible, or just plain annoying. Further, quite distinct from all those very attractive Hawks-filmed antecedents, these Hawks men and women end up reflecting the worst, the most hysterical and most cave man of gender patterns, or possibilities, or perceptions. When it comes down to it, though it doesn’t seem fair to say it, 1965 sure doesn’t measure up to 1941!

On the other hand, all this confusion is partly, whether as natural effusion or through conscious effort, an honest and accurate reflection of changing mores, especially in the area of sex relations. We’re entering into a period of much more casual, much less constrained sexuality. The film is not at all smutty, and it’s not even hitting us over the head with its unsmutty mature content. But it is taking the subject on. Its take on that subject is actually fair, and interesting too.

These days, for most people, sex is long past being something you would even remotely worry about. (And it’s not like this is new to Hawks himself. The biographical data is clear on his own fairly free attitude toward the subject.) Then, in the film and in the mid-60s, you feel things changing, and also the fact that in some ways things have never changed. People have impulses, act upon them, encounter consequences, and resolve them in some way or other. Considered that way, Red Line 7000 is actually a kind of effective, honest grown-up movie. But still, a pretty mental one. The resolutions are nice, though, and the conclusion, with danger renewed, disaster put off at least temporarily, and everyone at peace with the situation, is actually quite satisfying. Actually, this being a late and uncertain effort by a stratospherically great director, it’s actually quite moving.