After reading the several pages of comments, I wonder if some of the other reviewers really 'saw' this film. I grew up loving the sport of skiing and when the movie came out, I was almost obsessed with skiing. Unfortunately, I'm from the flatlands and so had to content myself for most of the year with vicarious experiences like Warren Miller films and marginal movies like Killy's 'Snow Job' and 'Hot Dog The Movie' ('Better Off Dead' was a much better film from a skiing standpoint). Miller's films were fine, but those other two movies were trash. Of course, none of them, not even this one, could compete with 'Ski the Outer Limits' and 'The Moebius Flip', but those were in another league altogether.
So, we have Downhill Racer
. the biography of Bill Johnson. OK, not really, because Johnson could give great interviews. But the brash American who believed only in himself, well, I guess Bode would now also fit. The humor in the movie was that when it was made, the European skiing community scoffed. Not that it was a good or bad movie, but they could not accept a plot where an American!!! could win the Olympic Downhill Gold. Remember this was before 1984 and Bill Johnson.
Being an avid skier (even club racing) and reading everything I could find (several mags and two newsletters, besides many books), I had an awareness of some of the lesser known stories. And there was certainly some leeway taken in how the movie was presented. For example, at that time, World Cup skiing was pretty much amateur for the Americans and fully professional for the Europeans, although totally under the table (Avery Brundage the last Olympic commissioner to have an absurd fantasy belief in amateurism - couldn't control the Europeans but he ruled with an iron fist over the Americans).
Often, quite competitive American skiers were left at home because the National team budget didn't have enough money. Or how Karl Schranz (sort of who the character, Max Meier, was based on) was robbed of the Downhill medal in 1964 by Jean Claude Killy (or rather by the judges at the French resort where it was held). And that the American ski team was more than just male downhillers (oh, yes, with women barely mentioned in the movie during that interview with the rather naïve American reporter), when in reality it included slalom and giant slalom racers, some of whom raced in the 3 disciplines available then (the Cochrans, the Palmers, the Mahres are easy examples).
The irony of the final scene in the movie, is that here, after all that David Chappellet put into winning the Olympic gold, by the time he did, he is no longer the young brash new skier on the block. The kid that almost beat him, was in reality a younger, brasher, newer version, that, looking at both as the one skis off the course and the other again accepts the accolades that had almost dried up, makes us think that at the height of his fame and glory, poor David Chappellet is now washed up, a has been, for the skiing community is about to move on to its next wunderkid.
One or more of the other reviewers here erroneously wrote that the competition was a Super G. Well, since the Olympics allowed all comers (sort of, remember the Jamaican Bobsled team and Eddie the amateur ski jumper), they regularly 'dumbed' down the Olympic downhill courses so they became what we think of as today's Super-G. The Europeans knew that the real yearly races like the Hahnenkamm or Lauberhorn were the true tests of downhill racing. Also, the yearly winners of the World Cup as well as the World Alpine Championships were held in much higher regard by the racers and cognoscenti than Olympic winners, unless it was one of the chosen Europeans who won the Gold, of course.
Redford, in an interview, said he especially liked the scenes that his character had with his father back home (in Idaho Springs, Ida
no, Colorado) during the off season. I found those dreary at best. It reminded me of that scene in 'Love Story' where the hero, who was ONLY captain of the Harvard Ice Hockey Team was sneered at by his father who had been an OLYMPIC competitor. Of course, I did get a little hungry for some Ritz crackers while watching Redford. I'm not sure how you can live in the mountains, that kind of setting, and not know anything about competitive skiing, or at least the Olympics. By the 60's thanks to Jim McKay and Wide World of Sports, most people had heard of Killy and were now commonly confusing Billy Kidd with Jean-Claude. Such is the price of fame.
For a ski movie, the race scenes were riveting, the acting of people like Gene Hackman and Dabney Coleman was quite adequate, the beauty of Camilla Sparv was eye pleasing. It was a decent movie, but still confined to a certain time. Better to watch the movie as a part of a series in the career of Redford Downhill Racer, Little Fauss and Big Halsey, ending with The Candidate, where he began to play larger characters. He was still the loner, but in a bigger and often more important setting. At least here he had broken out of his 'silly' movies 'Inside Daisy Clover', 'The Chase', 'This Property is Condemned' and the like, even 'Barefoot in the Park' in some ways, his first starring movie. Of course, it was 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' that completely changed the way we looked at Redford, both past and present.
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