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Downhill Racer (The Criterion Collection)

44 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Astonishing Alpine location photography and a young Robert Redford in one of his earliest starring roles are just two of the visual splendors of Michael Ritchie’s visceral debut feature, Downhill Racer. In a beautifully understated performance, Redford is David Chappellet, a ruthlessly ambitious skier competing with an underdog American team in Europe for Olympic gold, and Gene Hackman provides tough support as the coach who tries to temper the upstart’s narcissistic drive for glory. With a subtle screenplay by acclaimed novelist James Salter, Downhill Racer is a vivid character portrait buoyed by breathtakingly fast and furious imagery that brings the viewer directly into the mind of the competitor.

Stills from Downhill Racer (Click for larger image)





Special Features

New, restored high-definition digital transfer
New video interviews with screenwriter James Salter; film editor Richard Harris; production manager Walter Coblenz; and former downhill skier Joe Jay Jalbert, who served as technical adviser, a ski double, and a cameraman
Audio excerpts from a 1979 American Film Institute seminar with director Michael Ritchie
Theatrical trailer
PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Todd McCarthy

Product Details

  • Actors: Robert Redford, Gene Hackman, Camilla Sparv, Joe Jay Jalbert, Tom J. Kirk
  • Directors: Michael Ritchie
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC, Special Edition, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: November 17, 2009
  • Run Time: 101 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B002M36R1Y
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #43,868 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Downhill Racer (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 54 people found the following review helpful By "lewzayre" on December 17, 1999
Format: VHS Tape
As a former ski racer myself, I can assure you that "Downhill Racer" captures the essence of the sport perfectly. From the dated ski equipment and race sequences to the European ski resorts, from the edgy camaraderie of the skiers to their common goal of winning in this most individualistic of sports, "Downhill Racer" is right on target. A good skier himself, Redford did many of his own action scenes and seems to have an intuitive understanding of the ski racer psyche.
The stark scenes in Redford's hometown of Idaho Springs, Colorado contrast with the glitz of the glamorous European ski resorts where he races. His old cling-on racer-chaser girlfriend at home is the diametric opposite of the manipulative viper he meets in Europe. Redford is a misfit loner trying to succeed in an alien world, and he knows it. Gene Hackman plays the U.S. Ski Team coach perfectly, balancing his business role in raising money and reassuring nervous sponsors with his job of babysitting the prima donna Redford. After Redford wipes out in an important race and starts to make excuse to his coach, Hackman cuts him down with a classic speech ("the bumps took you out...").
I think there are several basic genres of sports films. First, you have the overblown epics like "Rocky" and the romantic comedies like "Bull Durham" and "Tin Cup." These are essentially Hollywood efforts that just use sports for big Box Office. Then, you have parables like "Chariots of Fire," "Field of Dreams" and "The Natural," and those that are more overwrought, such as "Pride of the Yankees," "Knute Rockne" and "Fear Strikes Out." Finally, there are your nitty gritty slices of sports realism...
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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 18, 1999
Format: VHS Tape
Dave Chapplet is a young man from nowhere who has a chance opportunity to become famous based on his only talent -- skiing. This is an exciting and incisive story about the hype and manipulation of competitive sports, so that sport is no longer entertainment or achievement but a money-making industry in itself. It is also the story of a young man trapped in his own arrogance, searching for something but never quite achieving it, no matter how famous he became, no matter what woman he found. Robert Redford gives one of his finest performances as a man both driven and empty, lost and aloof. The film itself was innovative even in its day, with some fantastic skiing footage and artistic cinematography. The characterizations by Redford and Gene Hackman are sturdy, compelling, and deep. There is a controlled magnificence to Hackman's performance as a man dedicated to the ethic and mythos of sport, just as there is a desperate tension and dismay in Redford's character's attempts to find something satisfying for himself, something beyond a cold, negligent childhood (portrayed in a number of unsettling scenes with his father). There is romance also, which is always a nice touch in a Redford film, but the romance is appropriately awkward because Redford's character isn't capable of anything but a shallow intimacy, and Redford portrays this shallowness surprisingly well for an actor often praised for his deeply romantic performances. What is interesting as well is that Redford's character, Dave, ends up falling for a woman who is very much like himself, lovely to look at, selfish, self-centered, and cool. Quite similar to Redford's The Candidate in some respects, since both films expose the truth behind the myths, Downhill Racer is exciting to the last, not just in the competitions but in the observation of Dave's/Redford's development into a winning sportsman.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By maree healy on April 7, 2005
Format: DVD
I kick off every Ski Season by popping in my old vhs copy of Downhill Racer. It is one of the few, if not the only, ski films out there that is able to capture the american ski scene and culture in the late 60's as vividly and honestly as this film does. The Redford character is rather complex actually, a loner, a selfish and self indulgent athlete with great talent ... a talent never recognized or appreciated by his father. So perhaps it was a troubled and sad family life that fostered the cocky and arrogant attitude he brought with him to ski racing. And the very aspects of his personality that the coach and team members find disgraceful are the very same traits that make him a top racer, a winner. And as long as he keeps winning races this behavior will be embraced by the fans, the media and ultimately his coach.

His relationship with Carmilla Sparv is totally engaging, perfectly played and it's the only way the Redford character will get a taste of his bad self! And I've seen many a man's goggles fog up at the sight of a gorgeous gal who not only skis well but drives a porsche ... she was perfect for Redford ...hello, certainly she belonged in this movie!!

~Lola
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Doug Anderson VINE VOICE on January 10, 2002
Format: VHS Tape
This film caught my attention immediately because of the writer, James Salter, so I was surprised at how little dialogue or actual talking goes on. Its one of the most physical films I've ever seen which is certainly appropriate given the subject matter, downhill ski racing. Redford came to this fresh off of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid but he looks much younger without the moustache. The topic of ski competition is exciting and fun as most of the film takes place on the mountain with great ski footage or in ski lodges in Europe which are romantic to say the least. Also attractive is Redfords European girlfriend. She gives the film another dimension completely as the embodiment of the experienced and scrupulous European versus the innocent and clumsy(and socially naive)American. Gene Hackman as the coach is absolutely great as he tries to instill more than just athletic virtues into his team members. There are also scenes of Redford, the rising star of the team, visiting home in the American midwest somewhere which I suppose tells us both why winning is so important to him and why he is so clumsy socially. Its not a perfect film( the midwest scenes seem a little too simplistic for such an otherwise smart and uncliched film) but one that tells a great sort of story rare in 69 in that it puts forth a value system instead of knocking one down. Redford has called the film an examination of American ideals about success. It is that. The ski scenes capture the excitement of the sport, and the hotel scenes capture the rewards given to success. But success in sport as in all fields is fleeting and you best enjoy the prize while at the top because if you finish second you are nobody again and all the rewards vanish as quickly as they were given.Read more ›
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