FROM RACING HEARTS TO TURBO
While still a major
draw, Clark Gable’s
career had already
peaked when he
made To Please A
Lady in 1950.
When the movie
was released, Gable
was 49 – some two
years older than the
oldest Indy 500
winner, Al Unser,
who was 47 in 1987
– and becoming
frustrated by the
mediocre roles MGM
was offering him.
ON THE WANE
iven its place in American history and
pop culture, it’s surprising how rarely the
Indianapolis 500 pops up in the movies.
Including the recently released Turbo
from Dream Works Studios, the “500”
and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
have been a focal point of 10 feature
films over the last century, with only a
handful actually shot on site at IMS.
“As far as I know, there were three,”
says IMS historian Donald Davidson.
“Speedway, a silent film from 1929; To
Please A Lady, with Clark Gable; and of
course Winning. There was another one
called Big Wheel (1949), where they did
some action shots at the Speedway, but
none of the key actors were present.”
Although the “500” was central to the
plot of Racing Hearts (1922), Speedway
was the first time that IMS and the city of
Indianapolis were used as actual locations.
“Speedway was a hokey comedy,”
Davidson says. “They filmed at the
Speedway and had the run of the place.
They filmed in the garage area and there
was a scene with a parade downtown on
Monument Circle. The fun was seeing who
you could pick out of the crowds.”
Billed as “A Smashing, Crashing Race
Track Romance,” 1932’s The Crowd Roars
sees James Cagney as a driver who
overcomes conflicts with his brother (a fellow
attended the Indianapolis 500.
“Clark Gable probably had a piece of the
action on that one,” he says. “The people
that worked on it were his drinking buddies.
Clarence Brown, the director, was a big
name at MGM. He was a tough character,
but he liked racing. They all wanted to do
it – it wasn’t just another picture.”
One key scene was actually shot on
Indianapolis 500 race morning, putting
extreme pressure on the cast and crew.
“Gable and Stanwyck have a
conversation in the area where they used
to stage the cars, and as he’s walking away,
he’s in the crowd amongst the other drivers
and you can see them pushing the cars
out in the background,” Davidson notes.
But Winning is the Indy movie that
modern audiences relate to best, in part
because of Paul Newman’s subsequent
career as a driver and Indy car team owner.
He and co-star Robert Wagner trained at
the Bob Bondurant School and did much
of their own driving during filming. Both
were made honorary members of USAC’s
100mph Club after posting laps timed at
138mph (Newman) and 132mph (Wagner).
Davidson, who’d just started working
down the street from the Speedway at
USAC as a statistician the year before
Winning was shot at IMS, says Newman’s
enthusiasm was obvious back in 1968.
racer) and girlfriend, as well as a fiery, fatal
crash that leaves him having nightmares
about the smell of burning flesh.
The movie’s trailer calls Cagney “The
Fightin’est Racing Fool Who Ever Cracked
Up” and co-star Joan Blondell “The Peppiest
Blonde Who Ever Broke A Heart.”
Harry Hartz filmed most of the key race
scenes (not at Indy), but other drivers also
featured, including Billy Arnold, Fred Frame,
Wilbur Shaw and Ralph Hepburn.
To Please A Lady (1950) pits sports
columnist Regina Forbes (Barbara Stanwyck)
Despite being one of the world’s great sporting theaters, Indianapolis Motor Speedway has appeared in
relatively few movies. Maybe that’s because the real dramas it’s produced over the years are so hard to top...
WORDS John Oreovicz MAIN IMAGE IMS archive
Filming Winning at Indy
“The trailer for The Crowd Roars
in 1968 was the catalyst
for its star Paul Newman
(FAR LEFT in the guise
of Frank Capua) getting
involved in racing for
real. Much of the track
action was shot using
a specially rigged
(LEFT) driven by
two-time Indy 500
winner Rodger Ward.
calls James Cagney ‘The Fightin’est
Racing Fool Who Ever Cracked Up’”
against racecar driver Mike Brannan (Clark
Gable), who she brands as a murderous
lunatic on the track. The bad publicity
nearly destroys Brannan’s career, but he
bounces back and, predictably, enters into
a tumultuous relationship with Forbes.
The climactic scenes play out at Indy.
Davidson believes that To Please A
Lady, like most racing-themed movies,
was born out of the key players’ love of
the sport. Gable became friends with IMS
owner Tony Hulman and frequently