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On April 1, 1983, 20th Century Fox unveiled the racing biopic Heart Like a Wheel in theaters. The film went on to earn an Oscar nomination for costume design at the 56th Academy Awards. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
The most accomplished top fuel racer in the history of the National Hot Rod Assn. is a woman. This Aurora Films presentation chronicles the story of Shirley Muldowney in her quest to break the sex as well as the time barrier in one of the nation’s most macho arenas, motorsport racing.
Heart is an often enthralling film of determination, heartbreak and triumph, but it may have trouble getting off the box-office line fast enough to register any winning receipts. While captivating, this Fox release seems more suited as a TV movie of the week than a foot-to-the-floor feature.
While there are legions of fanatical drag racing fans across the country, the question is whether these primarily male fans, who were skeptical of Muldowney to begin with, will flock to a film about a woman’s personal triumph — it would be nice to think so.
Ken Friedman’s meticulous and sensitively drawn script portrays the personal struggles and stages in Muldowney’s against-the-odds career. Bonnie Bedelia saucily plays the young street-rodding Muldowney, through her growth as a mother, her miniskirted “Cha Cha” phase and her eventual acceptance as a winning and deserving professional.
Beau Bridges, in the role of drag racer Connie Kalitta, Muldowney’s competitor-mentor-lover, is a champion charmer as the charismatic Kalitta. Leo Rossi as Muldowney’s ex-husband and Bill McKinney as racing king Don “Big Daddy” Garlits get checkered flags for their portrayals under director Jonathan Kaplan.
The time-fitting music under the supervision of Laurence Rosenthal complements as well as charges this generally high-performance production. — Duane Byrge, originally published April 1, 1983.
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