Car movie of the day: ‘Le Mans’

Steve McQueen’s pet racing movie is an incoherent love note to the legendary endurance race

Editor’s note: Car guys, and even car girls, can take only so much of those Hallmark holiday movies that fill the airwaves and cable systems this time of year. As an automotive alternative, we’re offering our own suggestions of our favorite car movies for your viewing pleasure. Check out more of our favorite car movies here.

If you’re looking for an engaging film with rich characters and a cohesive narrative, Le Mans is not your movie. But if you need a surefire shot of visceral racing action to get your mid-winter adrenaline flowing, look no further.

This 1971 production fictionalizes the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, focusing on a rivalry between American driver Michael Delaney (McQueen) in his Gulf Ford GT and Erich Stahler (Siegfried Rauch) in his Ferrari. Haunted by his involvement in a crash which killed another driver, Delaney largely broods through this 106-minute drama which introduced revolutionary filmmaking techniques on a quest to capture unprecedented realism in racing footage.

"Drive angry" seems to be the theme of Steve McQueen's film, <i>Le Mans</i>. | Cinema Center Films Screenshot

“Drive angry” seems to be the theme of Steve McQueen’s film, Le Mans. | Cinema Center Films Screenshot

Unfortunately, the outsized ego and vision of superstar McQueen made for turmoil on the set, with the exit of numerous directors and writers throughout the shoot. The end result is a beautiful patchwork of racing images that lacks a plot, but is still revered by anyone who ever wanted to turn a wheel in anger.

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William Hall

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  • John Norris
    December 15, 2018, 8:44 AM

    McQueen and Jim Garner were neighbors. Steve wasn’t happy that Garner’s Grand Prix beat the Le Mans movie release. Steve ‘watered’ Garners property with empty beer cans but got over it later. During filming of The Getaway, Garner visited the set in San Marcos, TX. Steve and Sam Peckenpaugh ‘hired’ Jim to stunt drive a VW beetle in one scene as ‘Doc’ was making his ‘Getaway’ after the bank robbery. John (Steve’s former stand-in and photo-double in The Sand Pebbles and The Getaway)!