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The Motorway File (1975)



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Credited cast:
William Abney William Abney ... Captain Henry Preston
Peter Armitage ... Eddie Johnson
Edgar Lustgarten Edgar Lustgarten ... Himself - Commentator
John Malcolm John Malcolm ... John Gibson


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Release Date:

7 November 2011 (UK) See more »

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Written and performed by J.J. Cale
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Death on the roads
2 January 2013 | by alanbnewSee all my reviews

This is an absolutely first class extended public information film about the risks of motorway driving. Although it was made in 1975 its messages remain just as valid today.

The film, lasting thirty two minutes, adopts an unconventional approach as it re-creates a fictional motorway crash, depicting it as if it were a police enquiry. In this respect the choice of Edgar Lustgarten as the narrator and sometimes in-vision presenter was ideal. The film opens with scenes of an eerily deserted motorway with a haunting electronic tune adding further to a disconcerting mood. Lustgarten then advises us of a fatal traffic accident that occurred one afternoon in excellent weather. We know that someone is going to die - but who? And how? He outlines the backgrounds of the four drivers at the centre of the story. John Gibson is a travelling salesman with a huge amount of driving experience. Tony Wilton drives a sports car and is generally a good and experienced driver but rather too fond of speed and taking chances. Mary Stafford is a business-woman who is a very safe and capable driver but her experience is predominantly on other roads. Finally Captain Henry Preston is an airline pilot with an excellent driving record who picks up a hire car after leaving the airport. None of these drivers has ever had an accident and only Wilton has any driving convictions, in his case for speeding.

All four therefore are good and experienced drivers - but all four exhibit faults that, in the wrong circumstances, could be disastrous. Gibson hogs the outside lane and continues to drive in spite of tiredness. Wilton continually takes chances, weaving in and out of traffic, relying on the power of his vehicle and his quick reactions. Mary Stafford sits in the middle lane and seems less than aware of when she needs to change lane. Finally Captain Preston has neglected to familiarise himself with the controls of his hire car. All this is overseen by roadside recovery driver Eddie Johnson.

Almost every motorway driver will recognise these faults, certainly in other drivers and - in most cases if they are honest - themselves. As Lustgarten describes, most drivers only regard death on the roads as a vague possibility but every day it happens to drivers like the ones shown on the film - essentially good, safe experienced drivers but ones with faults as well.

The ending is certainly a shocking one and the credits roll over the final scene of the aftermath of the accident, again backed by the haunting electronic tune. Ferdinand Fairfax deserves immense credit for excellent writing and direction while cameraman Ronnie Maasz, who worked extensively with John Krish, a master of this type of film, also does a splendid job. The film is thankfully now available on DVD and even to this day is a salutary lesson to drivers as well as a gripping piece of drama for all.

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