Downhill Racer (1969)
Directed by Michael Ritchie
Written by Oakley Hall, James Salter
Produced by Richard Gregson
Starring Robert Redford, Gene Hackman, Camilla Sparv, Karl Michael Vogler, Dabney Coleman, Carole Carle, Jim McMullan, Kenneth Kirk, Walter Stroud
Redford was seldom so duly cast or laconic as yet another Errant Young American Man of cinema in the Nixon era, here a blistering, arrogant skiier ascendant in European tournaments to Olympic glory. Perfectly distinctive of the New Hollywood idiom, Richie's debut feature hazards nary a jot of sentiment, etching characterization in broad strokes without cloying contrivances. It's also much busier than his more polished efforts: from ski slopes to hotel suites to operating theaters, Ritchie located striking perspectives wherever Salter's script (adapted from one of Hall's lesser-read novels) located him. Still at the threshold of his fame, Hackman's also in fine form (withal a dyad of flubbed lines) as the requisite coach who dispenses cautionary counsel to subdue his star contender's hubris. Fleet, fantastic footage shot at World Cup races in Lauberhorn, Arlberg-Kandahar, Megève and Hahnenkamm in early '69 constitutes the majority of sportive action, often overshadowing intervallic drama wherein the protagonist's ingenuous egoism isolates him from jaundiced teammates and undermines his affair with a chic, flighty continental (Sparv). American indifference to winter sports sank this exemplary treatment of the subject, but Ritchie and Redford enjoyed collaborative success a few years later with the brutally trenchant political satire, The Candidate.