Downhill Racer

By Christopher Redmond

Mailed on May 14, 2012

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Dear Natalie Wood
Production Assistant

Dear Natalie,

When a star rises so fast, so far, there's sometimes nowhere left to go but down. And in this particular race to the bottom, you certainly won. From three-time Academy Award nominee at age 25, to production assistant at age 30? Downhill Racer, indeed.

I'm kidding, of course. I understand it was a nicety and by no means a necessity that you recopied script pages and wardrobe-shopped for Robert Redford's 1969 passion project. Luckily, the Criterion Collection's restored copy of this forgotten classic has done a great job giving you, and the film itself, some well deserved credit after the film first stumbled and crashed on its release. Yet the premise must have struck a chord with you. So down you went. On to the film set. To lend a hand. Like a good friend.

You had some help. Director Michael Ritchie does a brilliant job of giving the audience a first-person perspective of the breakneck adventures of downhill skiing. But by all accounts in the DVD extras, it was Redford's personal determination that got the film made. For your sake, however, I hope Redford was nothing like the film's arrogant and bullish hero: abundant with talent and indulged by those around him by the promise of fame, fortune, and glory.

I imagine you instead being spirited away by his passion (and possibly his good looks) to create a film about the mantra of winning at all costs. And, if that was the case, maybe you would have been smarter to hitch your horse to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which came out the same year. The cliffs he jumped off in that one were much sexier to audiences.

Sure, Roger Ebert would later call it "the best movie ever made about sports", but his young thumbs weren't yet helping direct the taste of the masses. So tell me, what's the big mystery about why this film died?

And actually, while you're at it…

Oh, never mind.



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