The 1971 feature Le Mans is mostly notable as the rare commercial flop during the height of Steve McQueen’s box office reign. Gabriel Clark and John McKenna’s documentary on the making of Le Mans offers an intriguing look at why the film failed, with most blame going on the star.
Initially hoping to be an on-camera participant in the celebrated 24-hour auto race, McQueen was forbidden to drive by the production company’s insurance brokers—and when McQueen crashed his personal car during a reckless drive in an evening rainstorm, his personal assistant Mario Iscovich (who broke his arm in the accident) took the blame and later lost his job on the film. Le Mans saw two lethal accidents during production: driver Derek Bell’s auto caught fire and left him with facial burns, while driver David Piper lost a leg following a crash.
McQueen’s behavior became more erratic while on location in France, with an increased level of adultery that ultimately derailed his marriage to singer Neile Adams coupled with a wave of paranoia after learning he was on the Manson Family’s hit list. He also began exerting strong opinions on how to film the Le Mans race, much to the chagrin of director John Sturges.
Rare behind the scenes footage, interviews with surviving members of the film’s production and audio taped interviews with McQueen complete this fascinating view of a doomed film.