Downhill Racer – Robert Redford, Gene Hackman- 1969 – recently re-released on DVD

This movie was the best. In 1969 we were in love with Jean Claude Kiley. He was handsome and dashing french skier who won three medals in the 1968. We all fell in love with downhill skiing. This movie spirited our desire to be downhill skiers.

This review by Roger Ebert in 1969 describes “Downhill Racer” the best.

‘Some of the best moments in “Downhill Racer” are moments during which nothing special seems to be happening. They’re moments devoted to capturing the angle of a glance, the curve of a smile, an embarrassed silence. Together they form a portrait of a man that is so complete, and so tragic, that “Downhill Racer” becomes the best movie ever made about sports — without really being about sports at all.

The champions in any field have got to be, to some degree, fanatics. To be the world’s best skier, or swimmer, or chess player, you’ve got to overdevelop that area of your ability while ignoring almost everything else. This is the point we miss when we persist in describing champions as regular, all-round Joes. If they were, they wouldn’t be champions.

This is the kind of man that “Downhill Racer” is about: David Chappellet, a member of the U.S. skiing team, who fully experiences his humanity only in the exhilaration of winning. The rest of the time, he’s a strangely cut-off person, incapable of feeling anything very deeply, incapable of communicating with anyone, incapable of love, incapable (even) of being very interesting.

Robert Redford plays this person very well, even though it must have been difficult for Redford to contain his own personality within such a limited character. He plays a man who does nothing well except ski downhill — and does that better than anyone.

The joy of these action sequences is counterpointed by the daily life of the ski amateur. There are the anonymous hotel rooms, one after another, and the deadening continual contact with the team members, and the efforts of the coach (Gene Hackman in a superb performance) to hold the team together and placate its financial backers in New York.

The movie balances nicely between this level, and the exuberance of its outdoor location photography. And it does a skillful job of involving us in the competition without really being a movie about competition. In the end, “Downhill Racer” succeeds so well that instead of wondering whether the hero will win the Olympic race, we want to see what will happen to him if he does.’

One Thought on “Olympic Skiing

  1. I remember being in love with Jean Claude Kiley, too! Thanks for the memories.

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