Downhill Racer (1969)

Downhill Racer (1969)

“A good racer turns everybody on — but he’s not for the team, and he never will be.”

When a cocky American skier (Robert Redford) arrives in Switzerland to train with an Olympics-level coach (Gene Hackman), he falls for an attractive secretary (Camilla Sparv) and struggles to connect with his fellow teammates.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Gene Hackman Films
  • Michael Ritchie Films
  • Olympics
  • Robert Redford Films
  • Sports

Director Michael Ritchie’s cinematic debut — prior to helming Prime Cut (1972), The Candidate (1972), Smile (1975), and The Bad News Bears (1976) — was this insider’s glimpse into Olympics-level skiing, complete with novel (at the time) filming from the perspective of someone on the slopes. James Salter’s screenplay (based on a 1963 novel by Oakley Hall) focuses on Redford’s isolating arrogance, perhaps having emerged from his cold, no-nonsense father (Walter Stroud), who doesn’t understand his son’s desire to be a “champion”.

The primary tension in the storyline stems from Redford’s interactions with Hackman, who is frustrated by Redford’s arrogance and wants to convince him to be more of a team-player.

We see Redford drawn to the allure of a gorgeous but shallow “sports groupie” (Sparv):

… with some odd connections hinted at regarding whether Redford might be sapping his “strength” by sleeping with her. Regardless, the main thing on display in this film is gorgeous location shooting (in Switzerland, France, and Austria):

… exciting race sequences:

… and a seemingly authentic glimpse into the minutiae of high-stakes competitive skiing.

Note: The score (by Kenyon Hopkins) seems oddly unsuited for the material.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Well-filmed action sequences
  • Beautiful location shooting

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look.


One thought on “Downhill Racer (1969)

  1. First viewing (11/29/20). Not must-see except for fans of the sport.

    Filmed largely in documentary-style, the film appears successful in presenting the reality of this very specific world of competition – and certainly the work by DP Brian Probyn (who also filmed ‘Badlands’) is commendable. Redford’s portrayal of an ambitious, self-involved skier reads as authentic in spirit and accurate in detail, even if he’s not particularly likable. His attitude re: his success appears to be ‘Yeah, I did it but so what?’

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