Fireball 500 is a stock car racing film, blended with the beach party film genre. A vehicle for stars Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, and Fabian, it was one of a string of similar racing films from the 1960s. Written by William Asher and Leo Townsend, and directed by William Asher, it tells the story of Dave Owens (Avalon), a stock car racer forced to run moonshine.
|Directed by||William Asher|
|Produced by||James H. Nicholson|
Samuel Z. Arkoff
|Written by||William Asher|
|Music by||Les Baxter|
|Edited by||Fred R. Feitshans, Jr.|
American International Pictures
|Distributed by||American International Pictures|
|Box office||$2 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)|
Stock car racer "Fireball" Dave Owens from California goes to race in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where he intends on competing against local champ Sonny Leander Fox. Dave beats Leander in a race, impressing the latter's girlfriend, Jane, and the wealthy Martha Brian.
Martha persuades Dave to drive in a cross country night race, not telling him he is actually smuggling moonshine. She and her partner, Charlie Bigg, are pleased with Dave's results. Leander, who runs his own still and smuggling operation, is impressed with Dave's success, but this does not change the fact that he wants to beat Dave on the track, even challenging him to a dangerous figure-8 race.
Agents from the IRS threaten to send Dave to six months in jail unless he helps them bust the local moonshine ring.
After a driver, Joey, is killed during a run, Dave and Leander agree to team up to investigate the accident. They discover it was caused by someone placing a huge mirror across the road. It turns out that Martha's moonshining partner, Charlie Bigg, was solely responsible for the murder of Joey and also tried to kill Dave because he was jealous that the young California driver is sleeping with her.
Dave wins the big race but Leander is badly burned. Jane helps him recover and Dave drives off into the sunset with Martha the Moonshiner.
- Frankie Avalon as Dave "Fireball" Owens
- Annette Funicello as Jane Harris
- Fabian as Sonny Leander Fox
- Harvey Lembeck as Charlie Bigg
- Chill Wills as Big Jaw Harris
- Julie Parrish as Martha Brian
- Sandy Reed as Race Announcer
- Douglas Henderson as Hastings
- Baynes Barron as Bronson
- Ed Garner as Herman
- Mike Nader as Joey
- Vin Scully as The Narrator (prologue)
The movie was part of a conscious attempt on AIP to move away from beach party movies, which were losing popularity, and go towards youth rebellion films such as Fireball 500 and The Wild Angels. AIP executive Deke Heyward said that:
The next big thing for teenage films is protest. Teenagers empathize with protest because they are in revolt against their parents... These films represent a protest against society. These will be moral tales, there will be good guys and bad guys. But we will show the reasons for young people going against the dictates of the establishment.
Stock car racing had already been the subject of Red Line 7000 but this movie would be specifically told from the teenagers point of view.
Fabian signed a multi picture deal with AIP in late 1965 and this was the first movie he made for them.
The film was shot in early 1966. The "Fireball 500" is a 1966 Plymouth Barracuda, heavily customized by George Barris, with a 1966 Hemi 426 Plymouth engine that develops up to 425 h.p. At one point in the film, the car is referred to as the Batmobile, prompting Frankie Avalon's character to quip, "Yeah, well this was built first." Barris also built the Batmobile for the Batman television show which premiered in January 1966.
Footage from Fireball 500, specifically shots of the 4B car (Jim Douglas' car) toppling over on its roof, show up later in the demolition derby scenes at the beginning of The Love Bug. When making the film AIP would hire a race car driver and install cameras in the front and rear of his car to obtain shots. The film is notable for its depiction of the inherently dangerous Figure 8 racing.
It was the first movie Funicello made after the birth of her daughter.
Funicello and Fabian starred together again (without Avalon) the following year in AIP's follow-up feature, Thunder Alley.
- "Fireball 500",
- "My Way" (not to be confused with the song made popular by Frank Sinatra),
- "Turn Around",
- "A Chance Like That", and
- "Country Carnival."
Annette Funicello sings "Step Right Up."
The Los Angeles Times said the film "leaves American International's beach formula pretty much intact despite William Asher's attempt to inject some sophistication into his story" but thought it was "always easy to watch" with "a brisk tempo, a stylish verve that leaps over large holes in the story." The New York Times called it "a real turkey... one old bird that should have been cremated, not cooked."
- "Big Rental Pictures of 1966", Variety, 4 January 1967 p 8. NB "Big Rental Films of 1967", Variety, 3 January 1968 p 25 puts this figure at $1.5 million. Please note these figures refer to rentals accruing to the distributors.
- "Dodgers' Vin Sully Calls 'Fireball 500'". Los Angeles Times. Aug 26, 1966. p. c19.
- Thomas, Bob (Feb 12, 1966). "Tide Running Out for Beach Films, In for Protest Movies". Los Angeles Times. p. b7.
- Vagg, Stephen (26 August 2019). "The Cinema of Fabian". Diabolique.
- Martin, Betty (Nov 29, 1965). "'Bloomer Girl' on 20th Slate". Los Angeles Times. p. c23.
- "George Barris' site at Barris.com". Archived from the original on 2008-12-07. Retrieved 2009-08-04.
- Funicello, Annette; Bashe, Patricia Romanowski (1994). A dream is a wish your heart makes : my story. Hyperion. p. 154.
- Thomas, Kevin. (Sep 9, 1966). "'FIREBAL' IN BRISK TEMPO". Los Angeles Times. p. C11.
- BOSLEY CROWTHER. (Nov 24, 1966). "Screen: Dean Martin in 'Texas Across the River': Weak Western Spoof Has Local Premiere 2 Other Movies Open at Theaters Here". New York Times. p. 65.
- Martin, Betty (June 10, 1966). "'Grand Prix' Starters Named". Los Angeles Times. p. d15.
- "American International Expanding Operations". Los Angeles Times. May 4, 1966. p. e13.
- Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide 2006, p. 428. New York: Penguin/New American Library, 2006.