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Downhill Racer is based on a 1963 novel by the California writer Oakley Hall, whose masterpiece, Warlock, came to the screen stillborn due to the incompetent midwifery of less-than-Majestyk director Edward Dmytryk, also responsible for 1962’s Walk on the Wild Side, playing here because of its John Fante script. Wild Side reunites many the successful elements of 1955’s The Man With the Golden Arm, save that film’s director, Otto Preminger. There’s a seedy Nelson Algren source novel, a swinging Elmer Bernstein score, and a Saul Bass title sequence that prowls in time to it—after which the movie falls right off a cliff, into the grossest off-label Tennessee Williams. Proof positive, even in this celebration of the screen scribe, that a screenplay counts for plenty—but it can’t go it alone.

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