Palatable: Fantastic Voyage

Fantastic Voyage (1966)
Directed by Richard Fleischer
Written by Otto Klement, Jerome Bixby, David Duncan, Harry Kleiner
Produced by Saul David
Starring Stephen Boyd, Donald Pleasence, William Redfield, Arthur Kennedy, Raquel Welch
An indispensable scientist is likely another victim of Cold War designs, injured during an assassination attempt mere minutes after deplaning on U.S. soil and transferred to a underground operating theater, where his comatose body is subjected to an unprecedented mode of surgery. Under the command of a jittery physician (Pleasence), an unsurpassed surgeon (Kennedy), his technical coadjutor (Welch) and a coolly jocular G-man (Boyd) are deployed in a nuclear research submarine helmed by a naval captain (Redfield) that’s miniaturized to atomic proportions and infused into the patient’s carotid artery, from where a sally to the brain where a clot’s to be dissolved with a laser rifle seems a daunting yet brief task that won’t exceed the hour before the sub and its occupants re-magnify…until a succession of whammies and a presumptive saboteur cumber their efforts, inspire resourcefulness and endanger both the crew and their patient. Varicolored sets and detailed miniatures of imaginative construction enhanced with rear-projected and animated SFX represent the internal environments of adventurous passage from sterile facilities to corpus via syringe, and through arteries, veins, a stopped heart, capillaries, pleural cavity, lymphatic system and the inner ear to the destinal brain — corporeal sites rendered as outlandish as any otherworldly. Fleischer sustains a fixating suspense heightened by silences and Leonard Rosenman’s atonal score to the last few minutes by exploiting the tensions within the submarine’s tight confines and the hazards of a sprawling intramural world — alacritous antibodies, a fistula’s whirlpool, gusting respiration, liquidizing corpuscles — without neglecting potentially treacherous human dangers. Pleasence outshines his co-stars as the claustrophobically misappointed honcho, but his very casting adumbrates a few painfully prognosticable plot points. As one of the last expensive Old Hollywood sci-fi hits, Voyage succeeds on the merits of its technical excellence and conceptual novelty, but its miniature drama is satisfactory withal…for whoever can overlook its numerous plot holes.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Innerspace.

Palatable: Le mans

Le mans (1971)
Directed by Lee H. Katzin
Written by Harry Kleiner
Produced by Jack N. Reddish, Alan Levine, Robert E. Relyea
Starring Steve McQueen, Elga Andersen, Siegfried Rauch, Ronald Leigh-Hunt, Christopher Waite, Fred Haltiner, Louise Edlind, Luc Merenda
At least so much a document of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1970 as a human drama, this pet project of its superstar leading man and semi-professional racer finds McQueen as a contender in the “Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency,” vying with a frequent German rival (Rauch) and haunted by the death of an Italian competitor a year earlier to whose widow (Andersen) he gravitates mutually. At Katzin’s behest, DPs René Guissart Jr. and Robert B. Hauser cunningly shot their principal footage from profuse prospects and panoramas during and after the actual event at its picturesque Circuit de la Sarthe, commencing with exhaustive establishing shots of and about the venue, its shoaling spectators, correspondents, medical facilities, pit lanes, sprawling parking lots, a police detail assigned to security and cramped traffic en route to the race. No conversational dialogue’s uttered during the first half-hour, when industrious preparation by pit crews and drivers alike culminates to a gripping depiction of the standing start exclusive to the ’70 race. During breathers while their alternates race, a Swiss driver (Haltiner) of Porsche’s team moots the prospect of retirement in discourse with his wife (Edlind), Andersen and McQueen reflect on the sport’s hazards and personal significance, and journalists probe their subjects for ancillary insights. Otherwise, the true stars here are sleekly swift Porsche 917s, Ferrari 512s and their functional mock-ups streaking across the circuit’s lengthy straights. On a track that’s claimed no few lives, numerous shunts were spectacularly staged and meticulously cut with intermittent slow-motion effects to evoke crashers’ disoriented kinestheses and emphasize a looming, treacherous, often fatal facet of automotive racing. Close-ups of the drivers and blistering first-person vistas from their cramped seats afford indispensable outlooks adjunct to ample exteriors, along with gorgeous nocturnal shots punctuated by dazzling headlights, periodically accompanied by Michel Legrand’s jazzily jaunty and emotively orchestral music. Like many fine pictures pertaining to marginal sports, McQueen’s and Katzin’s venture suffered commercial failure in ’71, but has since found favor in a cult audience including gearheads, racing enthusiasts and McQueen’s fans, whose appreciation of its authenticity and technique fortify its preeminence as a nonesuch of auto racing cinema.