Constructed with the logic of Ping-pong balls imprinted with plot points and picked at random from a bingo cage, Red Hot Tires doesn’t waste any time and launches right into the action. Midget race cars roar forward in process shots, the peculiar aerodynamics of rear screen projection slightly diminishing the dramatic effect, the autos appearing to drift back and forth across frame like hovercraft. A perfectly acceptable opening for a B movie about car racing, it hardly prepares an audience for the story that follows, which doesn’t so much have a plot as a series of narrative non-sequiturs.
The race ends, and it’s disconcerting to learn that Johnny (Frankie Darro), the winner of the race, isn’t the hero of the movie but rather the young kid who wants to be like the hero, Wallace Storm (Lawrence Talbot), who has been standing “heroically” at the edge of the track…not doing much of anything. A dictionary definition of the word “hero” might read “a man of exceptional courage, nobility, and strength, who is celebrated for bold exploits,” but in Red Hot Tires, a hero is someone who drives a car—and that’s it.
Given the constraints of Storm’s character, it’s surprising how little driving he does. His heroics behind the wheel are restricted to a race at the beginning of the movie, which goes unfinished because of an accident, and part of one at the end. He is seen racing one other time, autos crashing and burning all around him, a crazy smile on his face as he threads his way through a montage of stock footage and newspaper headlines depicting his meteoric rise as a racer south of the border.
Despite being released in 1935 (two years after midget car racing became a sport), Red Hot Tires plays like the final entry in an extended series of films, doing its best to put a new spin on an old idea. But with decades of racing movies still to come, the basic story beats of the genre were far from played out. What seems more likely is that even in 1935, the fatal flaw in racecar movies was apparent.
A not unlikely story conference: