Classic Cars on Film: Checkpoint

Featuring arguably the best-ever footage of the 1956 Mille Miglia, this action-packed but oh-so-British ‘heist’ movie is one not to miss

The story so far: Bill Fraser – racing-car designer, ace driver and all-round decent chap – has created a wizard new model for Volta D’Italia. He also seems to say ‘gosh!’ rather a lot. Warren Ingram, the British motor magnate, craves this design and despatches the villainous O’Donovan to Italy to persuade our hero to switch sides – but after the rotter fails in his mission, he decides to swipe the blueprints.

During the subsequent raid on the Volta D’Italia plant, a night watchman and four other employees are killed. The bounder eventually makes his escape by holding Bill hostage during the Mille Miglia, which is definitely not playing the game.

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So, is Checkpoint worth purchasing? The answer has to be an unreserved ‘yes’. Once the viewer has overcome the impression of blazered and sports-jacketed, Brylcreemed types all joshing and saying ‘golly’ between bouts of pipe-smoking, the fact remains that the cars on show are little short of incredible.

The producer Betty Box was a longstanding automotive devotee, while Sir David Brown knew the director Ralph Thomas. In consequence, the picture features a brace of Aston Martin DB2/4s courtesy of the factory, plus a DBS3. A contemporary newspaper report noted that while on location the main cast members had lessons in: ‘Handling some of the world’s most powerful cars. Instructing them – John Wyer, manager of the famous Aston Martin team, and crack race driver Roy Salvadori… Said John Wyer: “(Anthony) Steel handled the car with surprising ease – and it isn’t an easy thing to drive.”’

If this was not reason enough for viewing the film, there is superb colour cinematography and footage of the 1956 Mille Miglia that is beyond priceless. This picture will have you freeze-framing the screen on countless occasions, in order to better appreciate the Ferrari 250 MM, Fiat 8V Zagato, Maserati 150S, Lancia Aurelia GT 2500, Mercedes-Benz 300SL ‘Gullwing’ and a slightly more affordable Sunbeam Rapier Mk1.

These are merely a few of the motoring delights on offer, as Checkpoint also features cameos from a Porsche 356 A Carrera 1500 GS, MGA, Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce and other fine vehicles that are too numerous to mention. Sharp-eyed viewers will notice that Fraser is working on a Lotus Mark X in one scene, while the narrative’s principal car is a Lagonda DP115 V12 Le Mans – or rather, a pair of them.

As for the human cast, Anthony Steel was a dashing Rank Organisation leading man who turned useful character performer in later life, but in Checkpoint he has little to do bar look manly. The most interesting performances are from Stanley Baker as O’Donovan, the actor already moving beyond the stock ‘heavy’ roles that Rank had in mind for him, and James Robertson Justice as Ingram.

The latter was always rather more than Doctor in the House’s Sir Lancelot Spratt, and here he manages to create a plausibly human businessman who knows that he is out of his depth.

And there is one final reason for acquiring Checkpoint, one that occurs during the opening factory break-in scene. If the ‘sports cars’ in the background look remarkably a) non-sporting and b) redolent more of Chalfont St Peter than of Italy, this is because they are Fairthorpe Atoms…

You can purchase 1956's Checkpoint here!

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