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Film Review: The World's Fastest Indian

The World's Fastest Indian

reviewed by Robert Mann

My wife - not a cycles fan - and BantamAce Les Harris, 80, attended the Auckland premiere last night. We all found it well worthwhile.

But I cannot say the movie is as good as it could reasonably have been.

It is puzzling that Roger Donaldson fails to convey key facts which could readily have been told - e.g that Munro was the king of the file e.g in making not only pistons but also con-rods. Piston-casting is represented as using a reasonably formal mold, whereas the usual story is 'discarded jam tins'. Even more important, perhaps, would have been to put in the mouth of some person in the film something along the lines of "he has no relevant education, theory, formulae - it's just formidable intuition, expressed by remorseless dedication on the slogan 'suck it and see' ".

Knowing & caring little for entertainment as against history, I am at a loss to understand why Donaldson mis-states some factual aspects. Munro did not crash on his first run at Bonneville; he completed a proper pair of runs, averaging 178 mph.

Why not specify the exact classes in which he held records? The persistent vague 'land speed record', in not only the (very adroit) media publicity but also within the film itself, is hard to justify. The category of record asserted to be still held is, I fear, a furphy. He took enough real records in actual classes; why not state them accurately?

Other classes of racing in which Munro did well, before he narrowed down to just flat-out speed, could easily have been mentioned. The gasifier on the TweedSpin during WW II, to save petrol, would have been easy to mock up - a good photo of it exists.

The replica(s) of the Special, made by (ex-?) Britten Corp staff, is impressive but wouldn't something looking like a fuel tank be desirable?

The world's fastest Velocette could at least have been shown in passing. It would have been world-famous if not in the shadow of the Special.

The adventures on the first trip to Bonneville, written up direct by Burt himself in a newspaper, could have been recounted more fully. His use of open doors on the Nash Rambler (not Chev) junker as 'air brakes' on long downgrades would seem plenty photogenic, no? - why not show this intriguing method of speed control?

The 'competition licence test' before being permitted to run at Bonneville was actually more impressive than portrayed in the film. The Yanks, thinking Burt a nutter and supposing the sickle could do no more than its original 60 mph, sent him off to one side from the smooth speed strip, over salt which they knew to be bumpy.

Within seconds they were bucking along behind him at 60 mph in their hot-rod automobile, staggered that he could stay upright on his 'museum piece' over such rough going; they had quickly concluded he would not crash if allowed to run on the smooth marked strip. Then a great rooster-tail of salt erupted from the rear wheel of the Indian, and he disappeared off into the heat haze. They gave up and turned back to their HQ convinced they would have, after all, to let him run on the marked strip. He came back around in a huge loop, and arrived cursing them out for hanging back so long - his plugs had been oiling up!

The criticism that the movie neglects Burt's family life has little force; it's a 2-h movie, with little 'fat', so I see little scope for this dimension of 'human interest'. And it may well be that his family discouraged such exposés.

It is surprising that top actor Hopkins couldn't imitate a Kiwi accent better. Time & again he sounds like a lower-class Pom.

Munro was to motorcycling what Richard Pearse was to powered flight - a native genius all the more impressive for being untutored. After decades of preparation, the filmscript should have been better.


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