When I said yesterday that I had yet to see a single Fast & Furious film in full, I wasn’t being 100% honest. I had previously seen the film the series derived its name from, a 1950’s car racing cheapie from Movie of the Month vet Roger Corman. 1955’s The Fast and the Furious is far from Corman’s most interesting film, but it is only the second title (out of hundreds) that he’s produced and the first title produced by American International Pictures, the film company that helped make him a b-movie powerhouse. The film has very little connection to the much-more-infamous Paul Walker series outside of the purchase of its title rights, but that purchase was most certainly worth every penny. It’s a damn good title. Good thing they decided not stick with the much less compelling original name for the film, Crashout.
When considered on its own, The Fast and the Furious doesn’t amount to much. It’s story of an (innocent) escaped convict who comes to hold a female race car driver hostage in hopes that she will drive him to freedom across the Mexican border. At first they bristle at each other’s hostility. In an early exchange, the race car driver, Connie, spits, “I hate you.” Frank, the convict, responds, “Just hate me all the way to Mexico.” There’s a lot of violent sexual energy between the couple that becomes less violent and more sexual as they stop struggling to outsmart each other and start working as a pair in their confrontations with police & other, less forgiving race car drivers. The racing culture of 1950s is portrayed as rich man’s hobby here, which leads to some occasionally interesting class politics in Frank’s interactions with Connie’s circle. This also plays into why Frank was convicted of a crime he didn’t commit in the first place, which is revealed in his line “It isn’t what you are that counts. It’s what you get taken for.”
Filmed in just ten days, The Fast and the Furious is one of many examples of Corman’s superhuman ability to make a surprisingly watchable picture on a tight budget, even if it isn’t a particularly memorable one. It does share some incidental similarities the Paul Walker franchise of the same name, like felons getting mixed up in car racing, racers inspecting/admiring each other’s gear, the featured inclusion of female racers, and (most incidentally of all) mentions of Coachella, California. Both Corman’s film and the 2000s franchise also have a tendency to mix corny comedy in with their criminal intrigue as well as an over-reliance on dated effects (whether they be CGI or driving scenes filmed in front of a projector). Corman’s The Fast and the Furious is by no means essential viewing, but it is an interesting footnote to the trashy cultural powerhouse that followed nearly 50 years later.
The Fast and the Furious (1955) is currently streaming on Netflix.