Wednesday, January 10, 2024

The Daredevil (1972)

          Watching The Daredevil, it’s tricky to parse whether the people involved with the project thought they were making a real movie. On the surface, the story of a stock-car racer whose life unravels after his involvement with a crash that kills another racer is a compendium of high-velocity episodes, from daytime races to nighttime chases. Yet the picture also tries, weakly, to present a character study of its self-destructive protagonist, a nasty jerk who treats everyone he meets with contempt. As a result, it’s hard to determine the intended audience for this thing. By the time this picture was made, the drive-in demographic’s appetite for stories about hard-charging rebels sticking it to the man was well-established, and The Daredevil does not scratch that itch. Similarly, downbeat tales of everyday people meeting grim fates for the temerity of expressing individualism were familiar to devotees of arty counterculture cinema, but The Daredevil lacks the sophistication needed to satiate that appetite. And while some distinctive flicks found a sweet spot between these extremes—the previous year’s Vanishing Point comes to mind—that’s yet another niche into which The Daredevil does not fit. For all these reasons and more, The Daredevil deserves its obscurity. Bad ’70s cinema gets much worse than this, but The Daredevil neither tries to do enough nor excels at what it actually attempts.
          Faded ’40s/’50s he-man actor George Montgomery plays Paul Tunney, an asshole with a winning record on the Southern stock-car circuit. Returning to his home track, he faces off for the first time against a Black racer, who dies during the event. (Adding to his charm, Paul is casually racist.) The dead man’s sister, Carol (Gay Perkins), puts a sort of hex on Paul, who starts losing races not long after the fatality. Then Paul starts a distasteful involvement with Julie (played by ’50s pinup Terry Moore) even though Julie is dating Paul’s friend Huck (Bill Kelly), a one-armed mechanic. Once Paul’s racing career hits the skids, he takes a gig running drugs for a local crime boss. These slender threads intertwine predictably as the picture zooms toward its bummer climax. Had the premise of Robert Walsh’s script found its way to a more adept filmmaking team and stronger actors, The Daredevil could have become something interesting—not only is the downward spiral of the leading character a serviceable plot device, but developing the idea of Carol employing supernatural means to exact revenge could have lent novelty to the endeavor. As is, the picture is a cheap-looking affair riddled with flat dialogue, stilted performances, unpleasant characters, and way too much stock footage.

The Daredevil: FUNKY

1 comment:

Jocko said...

You fooled me. While reading the review I was certain that I'd see a LAME ranking at the bottom because it sounds horrible the way you described it. Guess you were merciful. It doesn't sound like anything id want to go out of my way to see though the plot and concept itself doesn't sound like it would be horrible if executed under more competent hands