Hot Rod Films

Cars Culture

how d-list Hollywood exploited hot rod culture

Fifties America was extremely adept at the production of moral panics.

Call it the paranoia produced by Sputnik, the atom bomb and the rise of the Soviet Union. Call it an unholy obsession with the preservation of the chrome-clad economic boom emerging at home. Call it the misunderstanding of the WW2 generation for the rise of the teenager – kids who for the first time had money in their pockets, rock ‘n’ roll on the radio and cars and bikes with which to express themselves.

Of all these folk devils, hot rodders were amongst the most feared.

You saw mainstream Hollywood get involved at the apogee when in 1958 James Dean alienated himself from his parents and his hopped up car-racing mates in Rebel Without a Cause by playing chicken on a cliff top.

A couple of decades later George Lucas made an appealing sketch of the times in 1973’s American Graffiti – but by then of course it was all tinged in a fog of cosy nostalgia of the long-vanished good times whilst American B52 carpet-bombed Cambodia.

But way back in the fifties itself, there was a slew of hot rod exploitation movies churned out by the lower rent studios – where bad boys corrupted nice girls, or bad girls corrupted nice cops – all wrapped in an aesthetic creed of speed and the kind of schlock-horror b-movie script that echoed through the drive-ins of middle America and fuelled a burgeoning myth of teenage apocalypse.

Here’s a good one.