Color, 1980, 111m.
Directed by David Wickes
Starring David Essex, Cristina Raines, Beau Bridges, Clarke Peters, Harry Corbett, Sheila White
Scorpion Releasing (US R0 NTSC), Network (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9), Carlton (UK R2 PAL) / WS (2.35:1)

A lot of trash film fans know the story behind a notorious little 1978 film called To Be Twenty, an Italian-made sex comedy by Fernando Di Leo that sent audiences hurling for the exits when it first opened. At the end of the film, the two carefree, fun-loving female characters were suddenly assaulted and brutally murdered in the closing minutes, a violent reversal of all the fluffy antics preceding it. The distributor panicked, yanked the film, and recut it into an upbeat, sunny concoction in which the girls live to hitchhike another day, and for years that's the only version most people saw.

What does that have to do with a 1980 motorcycle-racing movie, you might ask? Well, Silver Dream Racer is the To Be Twenty of sports films. It's impossible to go any further without jumping into spoiler territory, so if you want to stay blissfully ignorant, just skip on to the next paragraph. Anyway, Silver Dream Racer opened in UK screens and seemed like your average Rocky-style, feel good story about an underdog who beats the odds with the love of a good woman. Unfortunately, it also horrified many audience members when, after the expected victorious finale, our hero meets one of the cruelest, most brutal fates ever seen in a PG-rated family title. Rank, the company behind the film, responded to the public outcry by recutting the film, including the wholesale removal of the last two minutes and some crafty editing to turn it into a much more typical climax. This alternate "happy version" was the only one ever seen in the United States (including VHS and cable versions) and even replaced the British cut for its initial DVD release from Carlton in its native country.

As for the actual storyline, it's basically the same plot from Viva Las Vegas transposed to the motorcycle set as Nick Freeman (pop star David Essex), mourning the death of his brother in a bike mishap, is seen competing in a race against his greatest nemesis, American racer Bruce McBride (Bridges), who even wears a big American flag design on his helmet to avoid confusion. Both of them have their eyes on pretty Julie (Raines, fresh off The Sentinel), and Nick spies his chance at greatness when his brother's widow asks him to sell off the bikes in their garage. There he discovers the untested prototype for, yes, the Silver Dream Racer, an innovative (and apparently real) creation that could change the motorcycle community and propel Nick to glory. With Julie agreeing to get him the backing to get the bike ready for the race, he decides to go for his big shot...

While it was common for pop stars to go for movie stardom at some point in their careers, David Essex's method is a little more interesting than most (next to David Bowie, of course). His first lead role was in 1973's That'll Be the Day, one of the decade's best rock movies and still a strong cult favorite, which featured one of his biggest hit singles ("Rock On," later covered by Michael Damian and featured prominently in The Devil's Rejects) and spawned a much weirder sequel, Michael Apted's Stardust, the following year. He focused mainly on his musical career and originated the role of Che in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita onstage in London, while popping up for occasional TV show appearances, a guest stint on Jeff Wayne's smash 1978 recording of War of the Worlds, and even a cameo in the bizarre disaster movie spoof, The Big Bus. By the time Silver Dream Racer came around, he had found a way to combine his love of motorcycles with moviemaking for what amounts to a love letter to the sport. Despite some unconvincing green screen work in a few shots, the racing sequences are exciting to watch, and the titular vehicle is a nifty bit of machinery whose own history could have made for an entirely different film. Aside from the startling original ending, the film's other strongest asset is the excellent soundtrack, featuring Essex's catchy, synth-laden theme song "Silver Dream Machine" and a pulsating score by library music regular John Cameron, who still had Jaws 3-D looming before him. It took 11 more years before Essex starred in another film, and this one was even more unexpected: Gordon Hessler's Shogun Warrior, opposite Christopher Lee and Sh Kosugi!

Despite the thrashing it received from critics, Silver Dream Racer went on to amass a fan following through TV airings particularly among Essex fans and bike fanatics. Of course, many of them weren't aware of the film's harsh original ending, but the American DVD from Scorpion presents the full original cut intact in anamorphic widescreen (both of the UK editions are 4:3 letterbox, though at least the Network reissue contains both endings). The American ending is included here as the sole extra, though fans weaned on the happy version might wish a seamless branching option to view either version in its entirety had been offered instead. Image quality is a bit dated but fine considering the source; it's about on par with Rank titles on DVD from that period like The Eagle Has Landed or Riddle of the Sands. The big selling point here is the restoration of the original scope photography, which was completely obligerated on tape and TV. The film was subsequently issued on Blu-ray by Network, also featuring both endings and an image gallery. Certainly worth a peek on a lazy afternoon, but brace yourself for that ending; it's a doozy.