|Directed by||William Asher|
James H. Nicholson|
Samuel Z. Arkoff
American International Pictures
|Distributed by||American International Pictures|
|Box office||$2 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)|
Fireball 500 is a stock car racing film, blended with the beach party film genre. A vehicle for stars Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, and Fabian, it was one of a string of similar racing films from the 1960s. Written by William Asher and Leo Townsend, and directed by William Asher, it tells the story of Dave Owens (Avalon), a stock car racer forced to run moonshine.
Stock car racer "Fireball" Dave Owens from California goes to race in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where he intends on competing against local champ Sonny Leander Fox. Dave beats Leander in a race, impressing the latter's girlfriend, Jane, and the wealthy Martha Brian.
Martha persuades Dave to drive in a cross country night race, not telling him he is in actuality smugging moonshine. Agents from the IRS threaten to send him to prison unless Dave helps them bust the local moonshine ring.
After a driver, Joey, is killed while doing a run, Dave and Leander agree to team up to investigate the accident. They discover it was caused by placing a huge mirror across the road. It turns out that Martha's partner, Charlie Bigg, was responsible for the moonshine and the murder... and tried to kill Dave because he was jealous of Martha's attachment to him.
Dave wins the big race but Leander is injured. Jane helps him recover and Dave drives off into the sunset with Martha.
- Frankie Avalon as Dave "Fireball" Owens
- Annette Funicello as Jane Harris
- Fabian as Sonny Leander Fox
- Harvey Lembeck as Charlie Bigg
- Chill Wills as Big Jaw Harris
- Julie Parrish as Martha Brian
- Sandy Reed as Race Announcer
- Douglas Henderson as Hastings
- Baynes Barron as Bronson
- Ed Garner as Herman
- Mike Nader as Joey
- Vin Scully as The Narrator (prologue)
The movie was part of a conscious attempt on AIP to move away from beach party movies, which were losing popularity, and go towards youth rebellion films such as Fireball 500 and The Wild Angels. AIP executive Deke Heyward said that:
The next big thing for teenage films is protest. Teenagers empathize with protest because they are in revolt against their parents... These films represent a protest against society. These will be moral tales, there will be good guys and bad guys. But we will show the reasons for young people going against the dictates of the establishment.
Stock car racing had already been the subject of Red Line 7000 but this movie would be specifically told from the teenagers point of view.
Fabian signed a multi picture deal with AIP in late 1965 and this was the first movie he made for them. It was shot in early 1966. The "Fireball 500" is a 1966 Plymouth Barracuda, heavily customized by George Barris, with a 1966 Hemi 426 Plymouth engine that develops up to 425 h.p. At one point in the film, the car is referred to as the Batmobile, prompting Frankie Avalon's character to quip, "Yeah, well this was built first." Barris also built the Batmobile for the Batman television show which premiered in January 1966.
Footage from Fireball 500, specifically shots of the 4B car (Jim Douglas' car) toppling over on its roof, show up later in the demolition derby scenes at the beginning of The Love Bug. When making the film AIP would hire a race car driver and install cameras in the front and rear of his car to obtain shots. The film is notable for its depiction of the inherently dangerous Figure 8 racing.
Funicello and Fabian starred together again (without Avalon) the following year in AIP's follow-up feature, Thunder Alley.
- "Fireball 500,"
- "My Way" (not to be confused with the song made popular by Frank Sinatra),
- "Turn Around,"
- "A Chance Like That", and
- "Country Carnival."
Annette Funicello sings "Step Right Up."
The Los Angeles Times said the film "leaves American International's beach formula pretty much intact despite William Asher's attempt to inject some sophistication into his story" but thought it was "always easy to watch" with "a brisk tempo, a stylish verve that leaps over large holes in the story." The New York Times called it "a real turkey... one old bird that should have been cremated, not cooked."
- "Big Rental Pictures of 1966", Variety, 4 January 1967 p 8. NB "Big Rental Films of 1967", Variety, 3 January 1968 p 25 puts this figure at $1.5 million. Please note these figures refer to rentals accruing to the distributors.
- Dodgers' Vin Sully Calls 'Fireball 500' Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 26 Aug 1966: c19.
- Tide Running Out for Beach Films, In for Protest Movies Thomas, Bob. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 12 Feb 1966: b7
- 'Bloomer Girl' on 20th Slate Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 29 Nov 1965: c23.
- George Barris' site at Barris.com
- 'FIREBAL' IN BRISK TEMPO Thomas, Kevin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 09 Sep 1966: C11.
- Screen: Dean Martin in 'Texas Across the River': Weak Western Spoof Has Local Premiere 2 Other Movies Open at Theaters Here By BOSLEY CROWTHER. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 24 Nov 1966: 65.
- 'Grand Prix' Starters Named Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 10 June 1966: d15.
- American International Expanding Operations Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 04 May 1966: e13.
- Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide 2006, p. 428. New York: Penguin/New American Library, 2006.
- Fireball 500 at the Internet Movie Database
- Fireball 500 at Brian's Drive In Theatre
- Fireball 500 at TCMDB