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Thursday, 22 September 2011

Film – The Last American Hero

Second Sight

With a screenplay based on Tom Wolfe's landmark 1965 essay of the same name originally published in Esquire magazine and later re-printed in the collection The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby which in turn was based on the true life story of Junior Johnson – nominated as one of Nascar's All Time 50 Greatest Drivers – The Last American
Hero is a pedal to the metal, gas-guzzling, tyre-smoking rags to riches tale from the depths of America's rural South.

Long before True Grit, The Big Lebowski and The Fabulous Baker Boys like an apprentice King Midas on the make the young Jeff Bridges was in the habit of landing himself leading roles with a number of highly respected directors early on in his career. Witness his performances in Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show, John Huston's Fat City,
Robert Benton's Bad Company and Michael Cimino's Thunderbolt And Lightfoot and now, released on DVD in the UK for the first time, the vastly under-rated yet eminently watchable The Last American Hero which likewise belongs to the youthful Bridges' glittering string of
early ’70s successes.

Directed by Lamont Johnson a veteran of such classic US TV series as Have Gun Will Travel, Peter Gunn, The Twilight Zone, Naked City and The Defenders, The Last American Hero was originally released in 1973 and stars the fresh faced Bridges as Elroy Jackson Jr (aka Junior
Johnson) the hero of the title with the action transposed from Johnson's glory days on the motor speedways during the ’50s and ’60s to the late ’60s and early ’70s. From playing games of cat and mouse with the local sheriff while delivering loads of bootleg moonshine from his
father's illegal still along the back roads of his native North Carolina the film plots Junior Johnson's unstoppable rise through the ranks of local demolition derbies, the provincial stock car circuit and on to the holy grail of the exhalted ranks of Nascar racing.

With Bridges memorably supported throughout by an excellent cast which includes Gary Busey, Ned Beatty, Valerie Perrine and Ed Lauter, a sprinkling of suitably high octane race action and a soundtrack featuring the late lamented Jim Croce ('I Got A Name'), The Last American Hero authentically brings to life both the sleepy backwoods of smallville USA and the all action world of stock car and Nascar racing during the late ’60s and early ’70s. Sticking with the retro motorsport theme for the moment all self-respecting petrolheads also should make a point of tracking down Heart Like A Wheel Jonathan Kaplan's 1983 biopic of
’60s and ’70s drag racing queen Shirley Muldowney starring Bonnie Bedelia, Hoyt Axton and, interestingly enough, the elder Bridges brother Beau.
Grahame Bent

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