Thursday, May 27, 2021

Diamonds on Wheels ( 1973 )

Buckle up for danger in this delightfully entertaining children's adventure film from Walt Disney Studios! 

Three teenagers embark on a 24-hour road rally but the fun turns into danger when they discover that a group of criminals is chasing after them!

Peter Firth stars as young mechanic/racer Bobby Stewart. He is restoring a 1948 MG roadster and is eager to enter it in his very first road rally, the 310-mile Hampshire Rally. He built the car using parts from various other MGs, most of which he obtained from junkyards. His most recent acquisition was a black leather driver's seat. Little does he realize that a thief hid a stash of diamonds in the stuffing of that seat and a gang of diamond smugglers is desperate to get their hands on it!

A failed attempt at stealing the seat on the eve of the race leads the diamond thieves to steal the map outlining the rally course and its various checkpoints. The rally organizers discover the theft and, to make it fair for all participants, re-route the course turning it into a "treasure rally". Each driver and his team is given a puzzle to solve that will lead them to the next checkpoint. 

Joining Bobby on the rally is his friend Charlie ( Spencer Banks ) and his little sister Susan ( Cynthia Lund ), who is acting as their chief puzzle-solver. Scotland Yard is hot on the heels of the criminals but is unable to apprehend them before the rally begins and so Inspector Cook ( Patrick Allen ) races to warn the youngsters of the danger they are in. Danger, indeed! With guns in hand, the thieves have no qualms about murdering three children to get their diamonds back. 

Diamonds on Wheels was one of many productions that Walt Disney Studios made in England in the 1970s. It is a particular favorite of mine not only because of its treasure rally theme but because of its great cast and the location filming around Buckinghamshire.  

Treasure rallies were quite popular from the 1960s-2000s. Unlike regular road rallies where driving speed and time are of the utmost importance, winning a treasure rally relied upon your thinking and problem-solving skills. Rebuses, riddles, anagrams, and math problems were just a few of the puzzles you would likely encounter during the race, which could stretch on for hours, sometimes days. 

An episode of the British spy series The Avengers ( "Dead Man's Treasure", 1967 ) featured Steed and Mrs. Peel embarking on a treasure rally, but they are rarely shown on films so Diamonds on Wheels is a particular treat because the entire plot centers around the rally. 

Peter Firth is excellent in the lead role as our crime-busting hero. Spencer Banks and Cynthia Lund are also excellent as his sidekicks. It would have been nice to see a television series develop with these three juveniles driving around in their sporty MG solving capers each week. 

Christopher Malcolm, Barry Jackson, Derek Newark, and Dudley Sutton portray the "thugs" with Allan Cuthbertson taking the role of their leader, Mr. Ashley. Also in the cast are familiar British character actors George Sewell, Richard Wattis ( Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ), George Innes, Edwin Richfield ( The Odd Man ), Patrick Holt, and Ambrosine Phillpotts. 

If you are looking for an exciting adventure to watch with your children then Diamonds on Wheels is a little film well worth taking a gander at....that is, if you can track down a copy. That is a treasure hunt in itself and it is a puzzle as to why Walt Disney has not released this as part of their print-on-demand Generations DVD series. 

Check out the International Movie Car Database to see images of the other great cars that appear in this film. 

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a lot of fun! I can’t believe how young Peter Firth looks. We watched MI-5 for the first time last year...terrific show and Firth was first rate in it. Diamonds on Wheels will make perfect summer viewing. Delighted to see there’s a good print on YT.