Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Happy Birthday, Jim Garner!

As is my annual tradition, I always like to salute my favourite actor, James Garner with a new caricature on the anniversary of his birthday. Many times I have based it on his TV series, The Rockford Files, but I also like to acknowledge some of his film roles from time to time. This year, I decided to draw Jim from his 1966 epic racing film, Grand Prix, a film I've enjoyed numerous times over the years. But the main reason for this choice is because I'd also like to pay tribute to Jim's co-star in that film, the beautiful Jessica Walter, who has sadly just passed away in recent weeks at the age of 80.

Jessica Walter really hit it big on the screen in 1971 when she starred opposite Clint Eastwood in Play Misty For Me, in which she memorably played a psychopathic stalker who is fixated on the radio DJ portrayed by Clint. When she'd had a prominent role in Grand Prix just five years prior, it was really only her second film of note, having appeared in The Group earlier that same year. Up until that time her career had consisted mostly of TV guest star roles.

In Grand Prix, Jim Garner plays Pete Aron, an American race-car driver who's driving for the Jordan-BMR racing team. At the beginning of the film, Aron's car is having gearbox problems, which leads to a horrific accident that sends the car of Aron's British teammate, Scott Stoddard (played by Brian Bedford) crashing into a cliff wall resulting in critical injuries. Jessica Walter plays Pat Stoddard, Scott's wife, who has already long felt neglected by her husband who has obsessively been competing with the memory of his dead brother, also a racer, killed earlier after a highly successful career of major victories. With Scott in hospital painfully recuperating, Pat finds herself smitten by the American driver and the two find themselves in an adulterous affair. Fact is, Pete Aron is still a pretty decent man who does not want to add more torment to his teammate, as he feels at least partly responsible for Scott's accident, so he ends the tryst with Pat before it gets out of hand.

The entire film plays much like a soap opera set against the Formula One racing circuit, with lives touched by pain, obsession, sex and in one case, a deeply felt love. In fact it is that subplot of the tender love that blossoms between the French driver, Jean-Pierre Sarti and an American magazine reporter sent to cover the Grand Prix for a fashion magazine, Louise Frederickson that is really at the heart of the film. As much as I like Jim Garner, I have to admit that the most poignant role in the film is that of the Frenchman, Jean-Pierre Sarti, played by the singer and sometime actor, Yves Montand. I really think he's terrific in it.

As I mentioned before, I've seen the film numerous times and the racing scenes were state-of-the-art for their time and continue to impress today. Grand Prix also has the distinction of being the only film I can think of that stars two actors that I had the pleasure of meeting in real life: James Garner and the British actor, Brian Bedford, who is famous to Disney fans for having voiced the animated title character in 1973's "Robin Hood"!

The caricature of Jim Garner and Jessica Walter is based more on publicity shots I've come across (like the one pictured above), as opposed to a specific scene from the film, mostly because I wanted to depict Jim in his racing uniform and he never appears alongside Jessica Walter dressed like that in the film. Here is a segment from the film that covers most of the characters I've described. At this point, Garner's character, Pete Aron has been removed from the racing team after the horrific accident and is trying to stay in the loop by (temporarily) taking a job as a reporter covering the rest of the racing season: