Is this the best sports movie ever made?

Just weeks after Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid made Robert Redford into a megastar in 1969, the actor turned up in a very different kind of picture—a documentary-style movie about a fearless skier with an all-consuming desire for Olympic gold. Downhill Racer (available from Criterion 11/17) shows Redford at his early best: outrageously charming, naturally physical and unrelentingly sexy.

Much of Downhill Racer—which was directed by Michael Ritchie, who reteamed with Redford in 1972 for The Candidate—is a sort of thrill ride: Cameras mounted to actual skiers provided bird’s-eye footage of what it’s like to careen down slopes at what looks like a million miles an hour. Sure, there’s a love interest, and a rival or two, but the film focuses mostly on the development of one great undisciplined athlete into a bona fide star. Plus, Redford’s coach is played by a young Gene Hackman, who gives us a peek at the guy we love so much in Hoosiers.

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