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I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Monday, December 4, 2023

Steel Arena (1973)

More automotive shenanigans with me checking out Steel Arena. The plot, such as it is, follows a driver named Dusty. When we first meet him, he is hitching a ride into a small town. He strolls into the bar and after letting the bartender know he can’t afford his drinks is offered a job. They want him to run some moonshine which leads to a car chase after the sheriff shows up at the still! Dusty isn’t getting paid because he lost the load but does end up in a brawl where he meets Buddy. The pair then take the car down to enter a destruction derby for the prize money. Not only do they win but are then offered a job as daredevils for the traveling stunt show.

The rest of the movie are the pair along with the other drivers and stunt folks going from town to town smashing cars, jumping and smashing cars, and flipping and smashing cars. There is a lot of smashing here. We also get an attempt at storytelling where Crash, another driver, gets jealous that Dusty is the new featured driver in the show and is getting all the good stunts. This leads to bigger and more dangerous stunts as everyone has to up their game. Folks start to die and then the credits roll.

Much like C.B. Hustlers, which I covered recently, this movie is light on plot. There is just enough narrative to connect the various stunt shows. The story follows the pattern of some talking, a stunt show, some more talking as they drive to the next town, and another show. We do get hints at subplots with the owner of the show manipulating Dusty into riskier tricks to draw bigger crowds. There is also a lady that travels with Dusty, though I don’t think she ever gets a name. They even setup the fact that a now fired and angry Crash is going to sabotage the big jump that happens at the end of the flick. Though nothing is ever shown on screen and things end abruptly with the final scene being the girl boarding a bus to go home. Story wise there isn’t much here.  

The lack of plot isn’t helped by the fact that the cast is made up of actual stunt drivers using their real names and not actors playing parts. This means when they do try to deliver lines it mostly comes off flat and uninspired. So maybe not spending much time trying to develop characters and storylines is a good thing. The flip side of this is the cast is doing the stunts on screen and that brings a realism to the proceedings you don’t see in most of these movies. Cars get smashed up and the character climbs out of them, many times without a cut (to the scene not the actor)! That was a cool twist on this familiar genre.

The stunts are also well executed and since most of them are on tracks as part of a show take place in a controlled environment where they can really crank things up. Though the same tricks are show again and again as they build up the desire to jump further and flip more. From a narrative standpoint it makes sense, but seeing it play out repeatedly gets a bit old. Still, I think that while this isn’t a great movie it does bring enough mayhem and smashed up old cars that fans of this subgenre will dig it enough for at least a single watch.

Not a huge recommendation but unlike some of the other tedious entries I’ve covered, again C.B. Hustlers is a prime example, there are enough payoffs with the car crashes that I can’t completely hate it. But then again, I did grow up in the seventies where going to the county fair to see folks purposely run into each other until either they or the car couldn’t continue was considered a fun Saturday night! Still is actually…


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