Silver Dream Racer (1980) – Film Review
Director: David Wickes
Cast: David Essex, Beau Bridges, Cristina Raines
by @Roger Crow
Long before staged reality TV was a thing, when it came to compelling Brit superstars, the only way was Essex. David Essex.
I would love to have been one of the punters sat in the cinema when the final few seconds of this vehicle played out. Like Slade in Flame, it’s one of those endings where you’re left thinking “What just happened?”.
Essex of course is no stranger to the big screen having shone in offerings such as That’ll Be the Day and Stardust. By 1980 he still had that cheeky charm and bags of charisma. But as Days of Thunder proved a decade later, there’s something rather dull about watching vehicles race around a track.
Director David Wickes, helmer of Michael Caine’s brilliant Jack the Ripper mini series, does a great job juggling the drama and romance. Okay, there are times the obligatory training montage whiffs of ripe cheddar, but Cristina Raines (who starred in Ridley Scott’s feature debut The Duellists) is a delightful love interest, and the ever brilliant Clarke Peters (The Wire) adds solid support as Essex’s sassy sidekick, Cider. Brit films of the era that needed Americans usually featured the likes of Bruce Boa (who fared better in The Empire Strikes Back the same year) and Ed Bishop (years after making cult classic UFO). Both are present and correct. It mattered little that Boa was Canadian; he was always good value for money as an outspoken ’States’-man.
Look out for Hull’s own Barrie Rutter, the man behind award-laden theatre company Northern Broadsides. It’s also good to see Harry H Corbett in a glorified cameo, even if this was his final film.
Trivia fans may note that Wickes’s screenplay was based on an idea by Michael Billington, the UFO veteran who was screen-tested for James Bond many times, and wound up being bumped off by 007 at the start of The Spy Who Loved Me.
“Top drawer cast”
That title theme is a cracker; I even bought it a few years ago after interviewing Essex for a 2013 film called Traveller, which vanished without a trace. I’d love to get the chance again and ask him about SDR, a film which boasts a top drawer cast and crew, including the dreamy Diane Keen, who worked with Wickes a few years earlier on the big screen version of TV classic Sweeney!.
Silver Dream Racer may not be a brilliant film, but it’s a fascinating curio which like the eponymous vehicle is well put together and streamlined. Director of photography Paul Beeson does a great job, and though it was obviously desperate to attract an American audience, with Beau Bridges giving a solid turn as Essex’s rival, that ending is a downbeat joy-sucking gob smacker. As mentioned before, I can only imagine the mood of those 1980 cinemas when punters emerged onto rain-lashed British streets and considered the futility of existence… while humming “I’ve a dream. Sil-ver dreeeam machiiine.”
However, apparently two different endings were shot and released, so some cinemagoers may have had more of a spring in their step after those closing credits. I know which ending I prefer, and it’s as bleak as a wet January weekend. Rock on David(s). Well played.