Sidecar Racers
R0 - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (22nd June 2019).
The Film

"Sidecar Racers" (1975)

Jeff (played by Ben Murphy) is an American visiting Australia looking for a new direction in life. A former Olympic medalist for swimming and an avid surfer, he is introduced to the dangerous sport of sidecar racing through Lynn (played by Wendy Hughes) and her boyfriend Dave (played by John Clayton). Dave has recently lost his partner in a crash but Lynn is pushing him towards racing again and finding a new partner. Jeff has never had an interest in motorbikes but with his skills in balance on the surfboard, Lynn sees it as an opportunity for Dave to get back into racing and Jeff to find something new to focus on.

The sport of sidecar racing was innovated in the UK and has continued an international following over the years, with the Sidecar World Championship held annually. One driver on the bike and one to maintain balance in the sidecar, the sport has never caught on in the mainstream, though followings can be found around the world in places such as Germany, South Africa, and of course Australia. Vice-President of Universal Pictures Richard Irving caught a sidecar race in Sydney and thought the Australian spirit was fully immersed in the sport and would be a good backdrop to a youth drama. With the success of "American Graffiti" for Universal, low budget youth oriented films with fast cars and fun was a major selling point, and $1 million was invested in "Sidecar Racers" to be made in Australia. Novelist Jon Clearly was brought on to pen the script, though his contribution seemed to be slightly disconnected from the younger generation. Famous for his "Scobie Malone" series of detective novels (which were some adapted for screen), he was already in his fifties but commissioned to write with kids in their twenties/thirties in mind as the leads. Irving was originally slated to direct, but due to complications with a strike, director Earl Bellamy stepped in. With a resume filled with television work since the 1950s, Bellamy was also an odd choice being nearly sixty years old when the film was made.

For the talent in front of the screen, Ben Murphy and John Clayton in the leads had both men in their thirties that were probably better for actors in their twenties. Wendy Hughes was finely cast with her age as she was twenty-three at the time, but the chemistry between the characters did not quite gel. Lynn may technically be the girlfriend of the Dave character, but she is the one that makes advances towards Jeff and she is in ways complaining about how Dave doesn't treat her well as a girlfriend figure. The reason she seems to stick around with him is that she likes the sport of sidecar racing and thinks he has what it takes. But the story doesn't get very deep into the psyche of the characters. Jeff's life after being a gold medalist and the true reason he is visiting Australia, Dave's trauma of losing a friend and racing partner, Lynn's juggle with family including her relationship with her father (played by Peter Graves) - none of these are delved into deeply and their characterizations are quite shallow with many gaps to be filled in. Apparently Murphy who saw himself as the lead wanted to change things about his character and tried to make calls on script changes during production and had a hard time getting along with the rest of the cast. As for giving input to characters and the actors, Bellamy had very little to say, thus the dramatic portions of the story felt underdeveloped.

One major point the film gets right is the racing scenes. There are many great angles from in front, behind, from the sidelines, point of view, plus rapid paced editing for adrenaline rush that truly delivers. The scenes are energetic and the danger can be well experienced, while also seeing the development between Jeff and Dave's characters as partners. The dramatic angle and love story may be flat, but the action scenes certainly aren't. Released in cinemas in Australia on April 30, 1975 and in other territories later in the year, the film was not much of a hit and faded into the television market in later years. More than forty years later, the film has not much gained in stature and not much of a following, failing to reach cult audiences as well. "Sidecar Racers" is worth a spin but it is not much of a memorable one.

Note this is a region 0 PAL DVD

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio (non-anamorphic) in the PAL format. Right off the aspect ratio is obviously not in the theatrical format but in the vintage television ratio. The image seems to have a bit of headroom and below, seemingly an open matte transfer rather than a cropped one. In other negative notes, the transfer seems to be an NTSC to PAL transfer, leading to a bit of jerkiness every few frames, and fairly noticeable whether in driving scenes or action scenes. The 100 minute runtime is the speed of the 24fps theatrical release, so if this were a proper PAL transfer it would be 4% shorter to accommodate the 25fps framerate. Colors are a bit on the brighter and slightly washed out side. Detail is lacking crispness and blurry looking in backgrounds of wide shots. On the better side of things, it's a fairly clean transfer with few dust or scratches on the image, with only a few instances such as the titles having them. It could definitely use a new transfer, but sadly it seems one was not available or not financially reasonable.

The film's runtime is 99:30. Though there might be a scene missing. Around 45:30 after the campfire fight Jeff says "I was trying to rescue a lady..." and immediately jump cuts to Jeff lying in bed before he can finish his sentence. What is missing is unclear but it's certainly a jarring and unlikely cut.



















Audio

English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
The original mono track sounds fairly clean for the most part, though being mono there are limitations with the music and effects being fairly flat. Dialogue can sometimes be a bit on the hissy side with slightly buzzy tones. On the positive side there are no pops, hiss, or cracks in the audio track.

There are no subtitles for the feature.

Extras

There are no extras on the disc. The film starts when the disc is started, and the disc stops when the film ends.

Packaging

The packaging mistakenly states "Region 4" only, but is in fact a region 0 disc.

Overall

"Sidecar Racers" has some dangerously fun driving sequences but is lacking in the dramatic aspect with underdeveloped characters. The Umbrella Entertainment release does not have the best transfer but at this time is the only way to see the film on DVD anywhere.

The Film: C Video: C- Audio: C+ Extras: F- Overall: C-

 


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