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Steve McQueen "Le Mans" Released in Theaters

Updated: Jan 4, 2022

Le Mans is a 1971 film depicting a fictional 24 Hours of Le Mans auto race starring Steve McQueen and directed by Lee H. Katzin, which was released on June 23, 1971. "Le Mans" was filmed on location on the Le Mans circuit between June and November 1970, including during that season's actual 24 Hours of Le Mans race in mid-June. McQueen had intended to race a Porsche 917 together with Jackie Stewart, but the #26 entry was not accepted. Instead, he is depicted as starting the race in the blue #20 Gulf-Porsche 917K driven by Jo Siffert and Brian Redman. The race-leading white #25 Porsche 917 "Long tail" was piloted by Vic Elford and Kurt Ahrens, Jr.. Here is the official theatrical trailer:

The Porsche 908/2 which McQueen had previously co-driven to a second place in the 12 Hours of Sebring was entered in the race by McQueen's Solar Productions, complete with heavy movie cameras capturing actual racing footage. This #29 camera car, which can be briefly seen in the starting grid covered with a black sheet and again at just before the 79 minute-mark (at 1:18:42) racing past the starting line, was driven by Porsche's Herbert Linge and Jonathan Williams. It travelled 282 laps, or 3,798 kilometres (2,360 miles) and finished the race in 9th position, but it was not classified as it had not covered the required minimum distance due to the stops to change film reels. It did, however, manage to finish 2nd in the P3.0 class. The film contains one of the more famous lines in cinema: When asked why it is so important to drive a car the fastest, McQueen's character replies "Racing is life. Everything that happens before or after is just waiting." Here is that clip from the film:

Additional footage shot after the race used actual Porsche 917 and Ferrari 512s, in competition liveries. In the crash scenes comparatively expendable technologically obsolete Lola T70 chassis were fitted with replica Porsche and Ferrari bodywork. Though depicted as the factory-backed Scuderia Ferrari team, the 512's used were borrowed from Belgian Ferrari distributor Jacques Swaters after Enzo Ferrari balked at supplying cars due to the script's Porsche team victory. Here is a clip of the dramatic start of the race at Le Mans:

McQueen had wanted to employ Christopher Chapman's new multi-dynamic image technique in the film, as had been done at his instigation with "The Thomas Crown Affair", in which he starred in 1968. Chapman advised against it, much to McQueen's disappointment; in Chapman's words, "it was much too big a film, with too many writers; it wouldn't work that way. Here is a clip with footage of the initial laps of the race at Le Mans:

Steve McQueen and Director John Sturges long worked on the project and originally had the film set up at Warner Bros. as "Day of the Champion". But with Warner Bros selling the studio to Kinney National Services, Inc., McQueen's multi picture deal with the studio was cancelled. After securing a deal with Cinema Center Films and National General Pictures the project was reborn "Le Mans". After a troubled pre-production and partial production Sturges quit the film and the studio took over the project. Lee H. Katzin was brought in to finish the project. Here is a clip of Steve talking to another driver and at a press conference, explaining that he was forbidden to drive in the race by the studio for insurance reasons:

McQueen had previously established himself as a professional race car driver after he competed in Sebring the previous year and gained the respect of professional race car drivers. Here is a clip of McQueen being interviewed at the race at Sebring in 1970, which he almost won, despite having a broken foot:

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