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  Checkpoint Speed Kings
Year: 1956
Director: Ralph Thomas
Stars: Anthony Steel, Odile Versois, Stanley Baker, James Robertson Justice, Maurice Denham, Michael Medwin, Paul Muller, Lee Paterson, Anne Heywood, Anthony Oliver, Philip Gilbert, MacDonald Hobley, Robert Rietty, Andreas Malandrinos, Dino Galvani
Genre: Action, Thriller, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The world of international motor racing has its own brand of espionage associated with it, and there are industrial spies willing to steal secrets from one organisation to give to another, which is why O'Donovan (Stanley Baker) is at this Italian factory which manufactures racing cars in the middle of the night. He manages to get what his bosses have been looking for, but he also manages to get spotted, and when the nightwatchman tells him he's just doing his job he is shot dead for his trouble. The spy tries to escape, but the police are quickly on the scene, so the only method of evading them is to shoot at various components to get them to explode, leaving five cops dead. But he does get away...

Except he's still stuck in Italy having been identified in the media and with no path out of the country, which leaves him a liability for the main man at the racing car company he was working for, Warren Ingram (James Robertson Justice), who is keen to see the back of him. Here was the intrigue in this British thriller shot on the Continent: how can O'Donovan make a clean getaway when the massed forces of the Italian police are hot on his heels? The answer to that was the reason Checkpoint became a cult movie among fans of motorsport, as it involved racing footage and plenty of it, for Ingram took it upon himself to devise a scheme that would see his spy paid off and out of his life for good.

If you're thinking, well, that's forward thinking of a British film of the nineteen-fifties to have such a bad guy as its lead character, hold your horses, as while Baker had become a very big star playing two-fisted, dark-hearted rogues, he was not actually the hero, nor was he the anti-hero, that role went to the matinee idol Anthony Steel. He was something of a bad boy in real life, but audiences liked to see him play the goodie, so here he was again with his chiselled features put to good use as race car driver Bill Fraser (as opposed to the actual actor Bill Fraser, who was not anyone's idea of a matinee idol). While Steel proved a major success in his day, time has been less kind to him, and even a film like this was unlikely to have him lingering in the memory.

How unlike Baker, who still has his fanbase thanks to his very modern approach to morally shaded characters, and despite his relatively early death in middle age after a run of movies that were not the hits his fifties and early sixties efforts had been, he remained a star all of his career and was willing to take chances many other leading men were not. You could pick up on that here, a not especially distinguished thriller outside of the depiction of the fast cars haring around picturesque Italian scenery which drew those fascinated by the sport to return to it, for Baker had his magnetism which often made it look as if he were the most committed actor in the production, no matter that this work was not exactly needing such forceful dedication. But thank goodness he was there to lift the material.

O'Donovan and Fraser meet thanks to Ingram's devious machinations that see the former posing as the co-driver of the latter, so he can get out of Italy without the authorities noticing. Well, eventually, as there was a dollop of romance to endure as Steel and his leading lady Odile Versois made eyes at each other in various scenes that may have you wondering what the point of his appearance was when she appeared superfluous to requirements. She did make herself useful in the closing stages of the movie when she tried to alert Fraser's team to the interloper in the passenger seat, but ultimately had very little influence on the outcome of events; nevertheless, these productions liked to have an attractive lady with a non-British accent in them to add a little exoticism, and Versois was present for that. But at least this had a memorably ridiculous finale, action packed as the second half had been, and a fitting comeuppance, if an abrupt one in what was already a brief experience. The action made up for that, once it got going. Music by Bruce Montgomery.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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