Hot Rods to Hell

Hot Rods to Hell

Infobox Film
name = Hot Rods to Hell

caption = Promotional poster for "Hot Rods to Hell"
director = John Brahm
producer = Sam Katzman
eproducer =
aproducer =
writer = Alex Gaby
Robert E. Kent
starring = Dana Andrews
Jeanne Crain
Paul Bertoya
Mimsy Farmer
Laurie Mock
Gene Kirkwood
music = Fred Karger
Ben Weisman
cinematography = Lloyd Ahern
editing = Ben Lewis
distributor = Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
released = January, 1967
runtime = 92 or 100 mins
country = United States
awards =
language = English
budget =
gross =
preceded_by =
followed_by =
amg_id = 1:95672
imdb_id = 0061784

"Hot Rods to Hell" is a 1967 suspense film, originally intended for television but released in theaters instead after its producers considered it too intense for TV viewers. It is one of many exploitation-type films from noted producer Sam Katzman, whose work is generally regarded as of higher quality than are most such films. Film buffs of today, some of whom have described the film for the Internet Movie Database, are sharply divided in their opinions of this film.


Traveling salesman Tom Phillips (Dana Andrews) is driving home to Boston, Massachusetts for Christmas when he encounters a drunken driver on a rain-streaked road. He cannot avoid a collision, and is hospitalized with spinal damage. Since he cannot be a traveling salesman anymore, his brother arranges for Tom to buy a remote motel in the desert town of Mayville, California. Tom is reluctant, since he has never been an innkeeper before--but in the end he decides that he must travel in order to get as far away from the site of his accident as possible, as soon as possible.

So Tom sets out for California with his wife, teen-aged daughter, and son. But when they reach the desert they are accosted by a pair of drag racers and a "party girl" in a modified, high-performance 1958 Chevrolet Corvette who jokingly force them to swerve and avoid a collision.

This is only the first of a series of escalating encounters with the local youth. Teenaged children of relatively well-off local farmers, they are apparently given "everything they want" but are still bored and are locked in a never-ending desire for "kicks" in which they will never be satisfied. The adults, including the owner of a local filling station, are fed-up with them. One of these adults, however, turns out to own the very motel that Tom Phillips has bought--and he is selling out after having let the wayward youth use his motel as an illicit trysting place for years.

When Tom tells the filling-station owner that he has "just bought himself a motel," one of the kids, named Ernie (Gene Kirkwood), overhears. Soon after, he tells his friend Duke (Paul Bertoya), who is the driver of the Corvette. Duke organizes a campaign of harassment against Tom and chases the hapless family all the way to the motel.

Matters come to a dangerous head when Tom's daughter (Laurie Mock), fascinated by Duke, goes to see him in the motel bar and grill, called the "Arena." Duke's current girlfriend Gloria (Mimsy Farmer), in a jealous rage, informs Tom, who tries to strangle Duke--but his back goes out and he must desist. He then informs the former motel owner (George Ives) that he will not go through with the sale. This causes a confrontation between the former owner and the youths, which ends when the owner tells Duke and Ernie that Tom is going to the next town to "bring the police down on this place."

Duke and Ernie resolve never to let Tom Phillips reach that town--and so, as the family tries to escape, they engage them in a deadly game of "chicken." This game ends only when Tom outwits the teenagers by parking his car on a narrow bridge, with the headlights on, evacuating him and his family to a safe spot twenty yards off the road. Faced with an unmoving object, Duke turns "chicken" himself, running his car off the edge of the bridge--after which he and Ernie, bruised, battered, and with scraped knees, swear that they will never give Tom any trouble. Tom agrees not to turn them in to the police--but tells them that he will go back to his motel and run it properly from now on.


Primarily, the film follows a man who loses his basic confidence in himself and keeps running from trouble, beginning with his wanting to remove himself literally across the country from the site of an accident that has compromised his physical fitness. But he runs from one source of trouble into another--a source that gives chase. He finally finds his courage and joins battle when he cannot run anymore--and after winning the battle, he realizes that he need never run away again.

The film also explores the motives of Duke, Ernie, Gloria, and their friends. Beneath their bravado, the kids are scared, and scared most of all from boredom, from which they, too, have been running. Gloria nearly goes, quite simply, insane at the end. Duke and Ernie turn their scare into rage at the one adult who threatens their pursuit of "kicks." When that adult defeats them, their race for "kicks" is over--and they almost seem relieved.

Finally, the film explores the dynamics of a family whose father, because of the nature of his vocation, has neglected them in seemingly minor but critical ways. The deadly crisis that the family faces brings them together--and one senses that Tom, once he decides to stop running, will do a better job as a family leader than he has done before.

Most viewers, however, are likely to miss these themes, since the movie spends most of its time building suspense (will the confrontation end in death for Tom, or for Duke, or for both?) and too little time developing its characters.

Background and Production

This film was originally intended for television release, and was in fact shot in the 4:3 "full-screen" aspect ratio that persisted on television for decades even after film had long since gone to wide-screen aspect ratios of 1.65:1, 2:1, or even 2.25:1. When the project was finished, however, the producers deemed it too intense for television and released it to theaters (including drive-in theaters) instead, with a runtime of 92 minutes.

Eventually, ABC-TV bought the broadcast rights and exhibited the film on their ABC Sunday Night Movie series in 1968. Unaccountably, they used a print having a runtime of 100 minutes. When Turner Classic Movies bought the rights to MGM's extensive film library, they acquired this 100-minute print. This is the print shown on the infrequent occasions when they exhibit this film to their viewers.

Filming Locations

Filmed largely near the Southern California desert town Lake Los Angeles and Wilsona Gardens, east of Palmdale, California. Specific locations include "Charlie's Last Chance" gas station coord|34|40|15.27|N|117|49|37.88|W|; 150th Street E, where a majority of chase scenes were filmed, coord|34|38|31.45|N|117|51|46.25|W|; and the exact location of the narrow bridge crash at the end of the film (the bridge was actually constructed by the film crew) coord|34|38|43.59|N|117|51|46.58|W|.


*Dana Andrews as Tom Phillips
*Jeanne Crain as Peg Phillips, his wife
*Paul Bertoya as Duke, leader of the wayward youth
*Gene Kirkland as Ernie, Duke's sidekick
*Mimsy Farmer as Gloria, Duke's girlfriend
*Laurie Mock as Tina, Tom Phillips' daughter
*Jeffrey Bryon (credited as Tim Stafford) as Jamie, Tom Phillips' son
*George Ives as Lank Dailey, owner of Dailey's Motel and the Arena roadhouse
*William Mims as another family man who is a careless driver himself; he eventually has a losing encounter on the lonely road with another driver, who might (or might not) be Duke
*Hortense Petra and Peter Oliphant as his wife and son
*Paul Genge as an unnamed California Highway Patrol officer
*Charles P. Thompson as Charley, the elderly filling-station owner
*Harry Hickox as Bill, Tom Phillips' brother


This film received nearly universal scorn from critics but had a profitable run, probably as much because of its very modest budget as because of any artistic merit that the film might have had. It received no major award nominations.

2007 DVD Release

"Hot Rods to Hell" premiered on DVD June 26, 2007 from Warner Brothers Home Video. This DVD release has been modified from the original 4:3 (1.33:1) aspect ratio to a widescreen format of 16:9 (approximately 1.85:1). This was done by both cropping the top and bottom of the frame, however, more information on the sides is viewable from the original 4:3 television presentation as well.

External links

*imdb title|id=0061784|title=Hot Rods to Hell
*amg title|id=1:95672|title=Hot Rods to Hell
*tcmdb title|id=15832|title=Hot Rods to Hell

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