Cast & Crew
Lee H. Katzin
A year after being involved in an accident in the famed French twenty-four hour car race at Le Mans that killed a Swiss driver, American Michael Delaney returns to the endurance contest to drive for the Porsche team. The day-long race draws an enormous audience that crowds around the inner portion of the thirteen-kilometer circuit. Although the main competitors are prototype racing cars designed by Porsche and Ferrari, which each have four cars entered in the race, a variety of cars compete simultaneously. Each of the cars has two drivers who alternate during the day of racing. Michael is assigned by Porsche team leader David Townsend to Porsche number 20 with a co-driver, German Bruno Frohm. The main competition is expected to come from Michael's longtime rival, German Erich Stahler in Ferrari number 8. On his way to the track, Michael is startled to run into Lisa Belgetti, the widow of the driver killed the previous year. The race announcer welcomes Michael's return to Le Mans and predicts a close competition between him and Stahler. With tension and anticipation, the four o'clock start time ticks down and the competition begins with the shriek of numerous precision-tuned cars. After a couple of hours, Michael pulls into the pit to transfer driving to Frohm. Returning to his trailer to take a brief rest, Michael runs into Lisa and makes solicitous inquiries about her well-being. Meanwhile, Porsche 21 also changes drivers and the car's German driver, Johann Ritter, returns to his trailer, where he meets his wife Anna and declares that he is content to retire after the race. As dusk approaches it begins to rain, but the race continues. When the fourth Porsche entry experiences engine failure and must withdraw, several reporters approach Michael to inquire if this unexpected loss puts the Ferrari team in the lead. Michael and Stahler run into each other heading back to the pit and dismiss press reports depicting their competition as personal. Each driver takes over for the next portion of the race even as mechanics and other drivers wonder aloud why Townsend has not ordered that rain tires be put on the Porsches. The cars make several long laps in the skies darkened by the pouring rain before both main teams recall their drivers to change tires. A minor accident on the course is announced and Lisa listens tensely. A few hours later, unable to see much of the competition, Lisa wanders over to the racing village and its carnival-like atmosphere, where the high-pitched whines of the racing cars are never far away. In the dead of night, Michael and Frohm switch again. Later in the cafeteria, Michael spots Lisa and sits with her to ask how she has managed since her husband's death. Curious, Michael inquires why she has returned to Le Mans and Lisa responds that it is something personal that she needed to do. At five in the morning as dawn approaches, Michael resumes driving as the rain lightens. After several more laps, Stahler experiences a spin-out on the slick roadway, but he and his car are undamaged. Although yellow warning flags are immediately posted, Ferrari 7, driven by Frenchman Claude Aurac, comes upon Stahler's stopped car at high speed and, trying to avoid a collision, loses control of his car and smashes into the railing, which sends the car catapulting into the brush. Even though the accident shreds the body of the car, Aurac is able to jump out of the wreckage, stumbling a few feet before the Ferrari explodes, knocking him several yards. On the roadway, Michael glimpses the fireball in the distance and in the split second that his eyes flicker toward it, he comes upon a slower car in his lane. Startled, he wrenches the wheel, which sends his Porsche careening into a rail and back across the road into another railing. The car spins out of control and is wrecked, but although badly shaken, Michael is unhurt. Stahler rejoins the race as a helicopter transports the severely injured Aurac to the infirmary. Upon hearing the announcement that Ferrari 7 and Porsche 20 are out of the race due to an accident, Lisa hastens to the infirmary where she numbly watches Aurac's treatment and his emergency transport to a hospital. Meanwhile, Michael is examined carefully and approved for release. Spotting Lisa being overwhelmed by reporters, he escorts her to a cab. Going out to the pits to watch the latest race results, Michael meets Townsend and admits that his error caused the destruction of Porsche 20. After watching the race for some time, Michael returns to his trailer, only to find that Lisa has returned and is loitering nearby, drained and exhausted. He invites her inside for some coffee and upon seeing her continued distress over Aurac, reminds her that racing is a "blood sport." When Lisa asks if people should instead risk their lives for something important, Michael points out that many people spend their entire lives doing things poorly and race driving does not allow that. Michael then adds that for him, driving is life and the time before and after is just waiting. The race continues throughout the morning into the afternoon, when Porsche 21, driven by Ritter, comes into the pit with rear suspension trouble. Ferrari 8 pulls in for Stahler to take the wheel for the final portion of the race. As the Porsche mechanics anxiously struggle to repair Porsche 21, Stahler is unable to restart his car. Hearing the announcement that teammate Larry Wilson in Porsche 22 has taken over second place behind Ferrari 5, Townsend abruptly approaches Michael and asks him to take over from Ritter in Porsche 21. Although surprised, Michael agrees and Townsend declares that Porsche must win. Ritter takes the news well, but admits to Anna that this is not how he intended to retire. Stahler's car restarts and he roars off, with Michael following moments later. As Stahler and Michael jockey for position, Ferrari 5 is forced out of the race with a flat tire. As the four o'clock deadline approaches, Michael continues to harass Stahler in the backstretch, keeping the German from catching up with Porsche 22. The race ends with Wilson's team car 22 winning, Porsche 21 in second place and Ferrari 8 in third. Back in the pits, Michael and Stahler salute each other as the crowd cheers for the victors. Seeing Lisa waiting, Michael makes his way to her.
Jean Pierre Bodin
Jean Pierre Hanrioud
Jean Pierre Jabouille
Leo Dal Paos
Christian De Cortanze
Ricardo De Frutos
Giuseppe Del Paos
Andre Marc Delourmel
Ghislaine Des Jonqueres
Donald W. Ernst
Rene Guissart Jr.
Robert B. Hauser
Philippe Le Franc
John W. Mitchell
Jack N. Reddish
Jack N. Reddish
Robert E. Relyea
Robert L. Rosen
John M. Woodcock
- Steve McQueen, Le Mans
During Steve McQueen's brief but impressive acting career he was known as a Hollywood bad boy. His early life was difficult and the scars it left on McQueen never fully healed. He was hard to control, short-tempered and moody, which occasionally made him difficult to work with. McQueen often seemed most comfortable when he was riding a motorcycle or racing cars. It may have been an inner desire to escape his past that fueled his apparent "need for speed" or maybe the actor just enjoyed the control that he felt when he was on a motorbike or behind the wheel of a car. Whatever the reason, Steve McQueen's fascination with motor racing often took precedence over his interest in acting.
Throughout the '60s McQueen expressed the desire to make a film that would showcase the motor sport that he loved and highlight the skills of the drivers he admired. He finally got the opportunity in 1970 when he was at the peak of his stardom. The success of films like Bullitt (1968) and The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) had turned Steve McQueen into a bona fide "superstar" with a lot of clout in Hollywood and he used his newfound influence to make one of the greatest racing films ever produced; Le Mans (1971).
Le Mans explores the intense and thrilling world of endurance racing as seen through the eyes of Michael Delaney (Steve McQueen) who is participating in the 24 Heures du Mans, a yearly event in France. The race is commonly referred to as the Grand Prix of Endurance and it's the oldest endurance race in motor sports. Due to the high speeds and length of the race some of the deadliest crashes in motor history have taken place during this annual event. Le Mans examines how a deadly accident has affected driver Michael Delaney and impairs his budding relationship with the widow (Elga Andersen) of another racer. Yet, the film's slim script leaves little room for story or character development; instead, the real focus is on the race itself and how it's experienced by the men who participate in it and the women who support them.
"I've got a feeling I'm leaving stardom behind, you know. I'm gradually becoming more of a filmmaker, acquiring a different kind of dignity from which you achieve in acting. After all, I'm no matinee idol, and I'm getting older. I don't think I can be doing my kind of thing in the seventies; I want to be on more of the creative side of business."
Steve McQueen before making Le Mans.
Although Steve McQueen is usually only credited with starring in Le Mans and doing his own driving in the film, he also co-produced the movie with his company Solar Productions and oversaw every aspect of the production including the script, photography, stunts, casting and the hiring of the crew. Before Lee H. Katzin took over directing responsibilities McQueen had asked respected director and friend John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven; 1960, The Great Escape; 1963) to work on Le Mans with him, but the two men couldn't agree on how to construct the movie. Sturges wanted to make a film with a more conventional script that focused on the relationships of the racers and concluded in typical Hollywood fashion with an upbeat ending. McQueen was more interested in making a racing documentary and he insisted on using very little dialogue in the film, making the cars the stars of the picture. He also expressed a desire to emulate some of the art house dramas being released in Europe at the time and told Motor Trend magazine that he had been inspired by French director Claude Lelouch's award-winning film A Man and a Woman (1966). Sturges' traditional approach to the material would lead to a giant riff in the production as well as signal the end of his working relationship with McQueen and he left the movie before filming began.
McQueen's personal problems also caused many complications on the set. During the filming of Le Mans Steve McQueen's marriage to his first wife Neile Adams was falling apart and his heavy drinking and drug use were starting to catch up with him. The high cost of making the film along with his strained relationship with many of the crewmembers and constant fighting with high-profiled studio executives made filming extremely difficult. No one involved with the movie seemed to understand what Steve McQueen was trying to do with this film and he had to fight every step of the way to get Le Mans made. The film was finally finished when McQueen made a deal with Cinema Centre to give up his salary as well as his percentage of future profits in an effort to complete the movie.
"This is the toughest picture I've ever made. We spent 5 months breaking our backs to get exactly what we wanted on film. I felt it was important to show truthfully what is probably one of the last honest competitive sports left in the world. There's no gambling or betting in motor racing, no dishonesty anywhere. The cars, the tracks, and the stopwatches separate the men from the boys and that's where it's at."
- Steve McQueen on the making of Le Mans.
Unfortunately the film didn't excite many viewers when it was initially released in the summer of 1971. Le Mans was unlike any racing film that had come before it and the lack of dialogue and vague ending left audiences and critics feeling frustrated and confused. The film's apparent failure bankrupted Solar Productions and caused Steve McQueen to put aside his directing ambitions, but the film did manage to garner composer Michel Legrand (The Thomas Crown Affair) a Golden Globe nomination thanks to his impressive score for Le Mans.
Steve McQueen was a man of few words and his best acting was often done with his eyes and expressive body language. In Le Mans his stripped down approach to acting works perfectly within the context of the film; the film is brilliantly photographed by cinematographers Robert B. Hauser and Rene Guissart, Jr. and the movie's bold attempt to forgo a written script and use visual clues to tell its story almost seems revolutionary now. It gives Le Mans an incredibly modern look and feel.
Producer: Jack N. Reddish
Director: Lee H. Katzin
Screenplay: Harry Kleiner
Cinematography: René Guissart, Jr., Robert B. Hauser
Music: Michel Legrand
Film Editing: Ghislaine Desjonquères, Donald W. Ernst, John M. Woodcock
Cast: Steve McQueen (Michael Delaney), Siegfried Rauch (Erich Stahler), Elga Andersen (Lisa Belgetti), Ronald Leigh-Hunt (David Townsend), Fred Haltiner (Johann Ritter), Luc Merenda (Claude Aurac), Christopher Waite (Larry Wilson), Louise Edlind (Mrs. Anna Ritter), Angelo Infanti (Lugo Abratte), Jean-Claude Bercq (Paul-Jacques Dion).
by Kimberly Lindbergs
Hollywood TV and Movie Cars by William Krause
McQueen's Machines: The Cars and Bikes of a Hollywood Icon by Matt Stone
Steve McQueen: An American Rebel by Marshall Terrill
Steve McQueen, King of Cool by Darwin Porter
This isn't just a thousand to one shot. This is a professional bloodsport. And it can happen to you. And then it can happen to you again.- Michael Delaney
When people risk their lives, shouldn't it be for something very important?- Lisa Belgetti
Well, it better be.- Michael Delaney
But what is so important about driving faster than anyone else?- Lisa Belgetti
Lotta people go through life doing things badly. Racing's important to men who do it well. When you're racing, it's life. Anything that happens before or after is just waiting.- Michael Delaney
One of the stunt drivers lost a leg when they filmed a stunt and he crashed his car. The driver was Englishman David Piper, who received a special thanks "for his sacrifice" at the end credits.
The working title of the film was 24 Hours of Le Mans. The closing credits include the following statement: "And special appreciation to David Piper for his sacrifice during the filming of this picture." Piper, a stunt driver, lost his leg during filming after his car lost control while he was driving at 150 miles-an-hour. The closing titles list Steve McQueen, Erich Glavitza, Peter Huber and Jonathan Williams both in the cast credits and as car drivers. Although Filmfacts stated that the film included a song with music by Michel LeGrand and lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, no song was heard in the viewed print.
Le Mans, known as the 24 hueres du Mans, is the best known sports car endurance contest in the world, featuring forty-six cars racing simultaneously in a number of different categories. The overall winner is the car that covers the greatest distance in twenty-four hours. Organized by the Automobile Club de L'Ouest, the competition is held every summer at the Circuit de la Sarthe near Le Mans, France. The first race occurred in May 1923 and subsequently has been held every Jun. As depicted in the film, the race traditionally begins at 4 p.m. local time on Saturday and ends twenty-four hours later. The race is held on a non-permanent track that is thirteen kilometers (or 8.1 miles) long that has been modified several times over the years to make the course safer. Beginning in 1971, three drivers were allowed per car. As shown in the movie, two drivers per car were required until then, with four-hour time limits on each uninterrupted drive. None of the drivers May drive longer than fourteen hours during the twenty-four hour race.
The film's development begin in the mid-1960s, according to a biography of McQueen. An August 1968 Hollywood Reporter item announced that McQueen's company, Solar Productions, Inc., had joined with Cinema Center Films (CCF) to produce two features, one of which would be Le Mans, in which McQueen would also star. The script was to be written by Denne Bart Petitclerc. According to a May 1968 Hollywood Reporter article, principal photography was set to begin in January 1969. A March 1970 Daily Variety item stated that John Sturges had been assigned as director and the production would begin shooting on location in June 1970 to coincide with the actual Le Mans race. The article also noted that McQueen, an avid car racing aficionado, recently had placed second with partner and Revlon heir Peter Revson in the twelve-hour race at Sebring, FL. According to the Variety review of Le Mans, a deal to release the picture was struck between McQueen, Sturges and Warner Bros., provided the film would be released before M-G-M's 1966 production Grand Prix.
Although May and June 1970 news items list Walter Lassally as the cinematographer, he is not listed in the onscreen credits and his contribution to the final film is has not been confirmed. A July 29, 1970 Daily Variety news item indicated that after nearly seven weeks of shooting, Sturges quit the production and was replaced by Lee H. Katzin. The production then went on hiatus for two weeks for maintenance of the twenty-five racing cars used in the film. The hiatus was extended when John T. Kelley was summoned to France to re-write the script, according to a August 4, 1970 Daily Variety piece. However, the extent of Kelley's contribution, if any, to the final production has not been determined.
On August 21, 1970 Daily Variety announced that Solar Productions was parting with CCF over the production of Le Mans due to "creative difficulties." CCF retained credit on the released film because of its substantial financial investment. A September 1970 Hollywood Reporter item incorrectly stated that German actress Elga Andersen would make her American feature film debut in Le Mans. Andersen had appeared in the 1966 M-G-M production A Global Affair with Bob Hope. Le Mans was shot entirely at the actual Sarthe race circuit near Le Mans, France and used footage from the June 1969 and 1970 competitions.
The following information on the production of Le Mans was taken from a biography on McQueen: As early as 1965, the actor was filming footage at Le Mans with the intention of incorporating it into a feature. During the 1970 filming of Le Mans, some twenty-six of the world's most famous race drivers were brought in to drive for the film. Their race cars were valued together at more than a million dollars. Six were to be crashed intentionally during the film, at the cost of $45,000 a piece. McQueen's contract specifically stipulated that he would do all his own driving, although the professional racers refused to drive with McQueen during particularly dangerous shots. McQueen insisted that the racing footage be photographed at full speed, but slow motion was utilized during both accident sequences. A special racing camera car, a Porsche 908 Spider, was rigged with a camera to capture the experience and actually came in second place during the filmed competition. The racing footage took more than six months to photograph.
Outlines and scripts proved to be numerous during the entire production due to McQueen's determination to portray the reality of racing unencumbered by the artifice of an imposed storyline. Sturges and producers Jack N. Reddish and Robert L. Rosen urged McQueen to reconsider, but the lack of a completed script remained the core of the production's problematic, long shoot. Sturges' frustration with McQueen's resistance ultimately prompted his departure from Le Mans. Alarmed by the lengthening production, CCF briefly considered replacing McQueen. A new deal was finally struck in which McQueen agreed to forfeit his salary and creative control of the picture. Maud Adams was considered for the role of "Lisa Belgetti," but when the actress proved to be taller than McQueen, she was hastily dropped. Le Mans took more than a year and a half to complete at a cost of about ten million dollars. McQueen had no involvement in post-production, but was pleased with the finished film and purportedly agreed that the storyline was necessary and appropriate. A modern source adds Nathalie Verner to the cast.
After Le Mans McQueen's Solar Productions never produced another film. Reviews of Le Mans were generally negative, with most alluding to the meager plotline in which there was only 145 lines of spoken dialogue. Time magazine referred to its racing dramatics disparagingly as "petite prix," alluding to the more financially successful Grand Prix. Since the film's release, though, racing fans have praised it as an accurate depiction of the great racing competition.
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971