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Laramie Movie Scope:
1976 Hunt vs. Lauda

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 8, 2014 -- This documentary film tells the true story on which the Ron Howard film “Rush” is based. “Rush” is probably the best movie ever made about car racing, and this documentary shows why. It is based on a tremendous story.

This documentary was originally aired on BBC television last summer under the title “Hunt vs Lauda: F1's Greatest Racing Rivals.” It was produced by the BBC, Lion Television and Österreichischer Rundfunk (ORF). This review is based on an online digital copy of the original BBC broadcast. The DVD, “1976 Hunt vs. Lauda,” is now available for purchase at Amazon.com (links below). The DVD has a 5.1 surround soundtrack. It has no extras, subtitles or closed captions.

While the DVD is listed at 60 minutes in length, the digital copy of the BBC show I saw was somewhat shorter, 48 minutes and 19 seconds. If you take away the promotional opening of the film (sort of a “show them what you are going to show them” opening), which is more like a trailer, the video is about 46 minutes long. It would make an excellent extra feature on the “Rush” Blu-ray.

The documentary gives the viewer an inside look into a classic sports rivalry, one of the greatest in the history of motor racing. The two racers, James Hunt of England and Niki Lauda of Austria could not be more different. Hunt was a blond, handsome playboy and a daring racer. Lauda, nicknamed “The Rat” because of his feral appearance, was cold, shrewd, calculating, and a master of race car mechanics. He could set his car up for speed better than any other driver. Hunt, on the other hand, is heard saying in the documentary, in response to a reporter's question about an alleged rule violation involving a mechanical detail of his car: “I don't know. I just drive the damned things.”

In 1976 Niki Lauda was the reigning Formula One world racing champion and was expected to win the crown again. He had the fastest car and the best ownership and organizational support, driving for Ferrari, a perennial powerhouse in motor sports. Hunt joined the McLaren Racing Limited team of Britain as the 1976 season began. His freewheeling style of racing and his playboy lifestyle were constant sources of irritation to team manager Alastair Caldwell.

The enmity between Ferrari and McLaren is evident, even after all these years, in the snippy comments by Caldwell and Daniel Audetto, his counterpart for Ferrari in interviews made for this film. All during the 1976 season, protests were levelled at McLaren by Ferrari for alleged rules violations. Caldwell still bristles over points taken away by racing authorities for what he considers minor rule violations. Audetto and Caldwell both complain about the rulings that went against their former teams.

There are some funny stories in the documentary about the two men in the film. One has to do with Hunt being so far behind in championship points behind Lauda that Caldwell stopped trying to make him behave. Hunt went on to spend all night partying and carousing with women the night before the next race, showing up at the racetrack disheveled and hung over. He won the race anyway.

Suddenly, Hunt found himself back in the race for the driver's championship, despite points being taken away for rule violations and Ferrari's other advantages. Then, Lauda is involved in a terrible crash and is badly burned during the Nürburgring race. He was so badly injured that he was given last rites by a priest. But with an iron will, he returned to racing, just six weeks later to compete for the world championship.

It all came down to the last race of the season in Japan, with only three championship points separating Lauda (who had the lead) from Hunt. The true story of that last race with all of its danger and difficult decisions made by the teams, drivers and race organizers, is even more fascinating than the simplified fictional depiction of the same race in “Rush.” There is also a funny story by Caldwell about the aftermath of the race. He said he was so mad at Hunt he wanted to punch him in the face, so he stayed away from the victory celebration. Hunt had earlier ignored signs from his crew about his tires overheating. This almost cost him the championship.

Hunt died in 1993, but Niki Lauda is still around. He is quite gracious in his interviews for this film. He says he liked Hunt, despite their fierce rivalry. Lauda said that he and Hunt both got along and they respected each other as race car drivers. Lauda said Hunt was a man who was very easy to like. Hunt's sister, Sally Jones, also appears in the film and offers some insight into the personality of her famous brother.

While there is quite a lot of archival film and video in this documentary, there is some footage of one of Hunt's epic party performances that is said to be newly discovered. This is a top-notch documentary, especially if you are a Formula One racing fan, of if you liked the film “Rush.” This is a fine companion piece for “Rush.” This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2014 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)