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
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
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