An unjustly neglected British film from Butcher’s film Service, set partly at the long-gone Walthamstow speedway. It’s known as ‘Wall of Death’ in the US but I prefer the original title.
It is a piece of low-budget grit with a bit of a gay vibe to modern eyes, as upcoming prizefighter Laurence Harvey idolises the motorbike racer from the wrong side of the tracks (Maxwell Reed), turning a blind eye to his sleazy ways.
It starts in a fairground where the crowds are jaded and the characters shady, including Hermoine Baddeley (Harvey’s partner off-screen at the time) and Nosher Powell.
Both Harvey and Reed are perhaps best known these days from revelations and gossip about their lives off the screen, but put that aside and Harvey comes off better as a screen performer – Reed, with a hint of Irish brogue, eyeshadow and bizarre eyebrows, looks faintly ridiculous today and is the least convincing biker since Jimmy Hanley in ‘The Black Rider’.
The ‘boy’ racer needs money to start biking again and will stop at nothing to get it – but will his devoted admirer help him right to the end? Unpleasant characters and situations abound and although Susan Shaw is the nominal female lead and romantic interest she’s too much of a drip to be interesting.
Predicable fare, perhaps, but Lewis Gilbert does a good job in soaking up the atmosphere of the fairground, the smoky club, and the racetrack.