on January 27, 2003
I have loved "The Great Race" since I first saw it on network TV sometime in the early 1970. And I still enjoy it in spite of its flaws I couldn't detect when I was younger -- it's just too darn long, the Prisoner of Zenda takeoff needs to be edited more tightly, and the Maggie DuBois character is just plain annoying. But when it's funny, it's hilarious, with one of the most underrated punchlines in film history (the response to the line "Leslie just left town with a friar.").
So I'd love to be able to recommend the DVD, but I can't give it more than a passing grade.
First, the pluses. It's nice to have it presented in a roadshow format, with an overture, intermission and exit music. And it's past time this movie was released in widescreen (you can see the stack of pies before the fight breaks out, where I've seen cropped versions that leave you wondering where all the pies came from). The digital transfer produces a clean, sharp picture. And I'm not a stickler for pristine sound, so the remix of what is, after all, a nearly 40-year-old movie is serviceable enough. The performances (save Natalie Wood's) are quite good. And I've always thought this was one of Henry Mancini's best scores, especially the theme that plays over the beginning and end of the race.
But the minuses are huge. The movie cries out for commentary, if not from Blake Edwards, then at least from Tony Curtis and Peter Falk. The making-of feature is from 1965 and is representative of the studio hype of the time, but it adds nothing to the enjoyment of the film. A documentary about the making of the film (and the real-life 1908 race New York to Paris race that inspired it) are sorely missed. And I hope whoever screwed up the sound cues during the opening credits (cheers for Professor Fate???) had their mustache snapped off.
If you like the film, buy it. The price is right and this is likely to be the only DVD edition we're going to get. If you're only mild about the film, never mind. There's nothing here to change your mind.
on December 6, 2002
Though I don't love it quite as much as I do "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines" (another movie comedically focusing on an early-20th-century technology and a race), I added this title to my video collection very soon after I bought my first VCR, and there it has remained. "Race" is at once a headlong adventure and a spoof of old silent melodrama, with Lemmon as the black-clad and black-hearted Professor Fate, Curtis as the spotless hero The Great Leslie (a professional daredevil), and Wood as Maggie DuBois, suffragette and would-be reporter (a character clearly modelled on Nellie Bly). It also includes a send-up of Anthony Hope's swashbuckling novel "Prisoner of Zenda" in which Lemmon takes on a secondary role, as the cackling, far-too-fond-of-wine king whom Fate is coerced into replacing on the throne. Peter Falk as Fate's assistant Max steals every scene he's in (the man should have gotten the Best Supporting Actor Oscar), and such veterans as Keenan Wynn (as Leslie's assistant Hezekiah) and Ross Martin (as a sinister but suave nobleman) add their high-octane skills. Though more slapsticky than "Magnificent Men" (I could have done without the pie fight, personally), it's still great lighthearted fun and suitable for the entire family.
on November 22, 2002
THE GREAT RACE is a lavishly-filmed comedy on the grandest scale. Director Blake Edwards' unmistakeable touch is all over this sprawling comedy about a long-winded race from New York to Paris, and is highlighted by Henry Mancini's delightful score.
The Great Leslie (Tony Curtis) and Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon) challenge each other to win 'the great race', a foolish flight of fancy that will take them through the Wild West, fighting off polar bears in the Artic and thwarting Royal imposters in Europe.
Coming along for the ride is feisty sufragette Maggie DuBois (Natalie Wood at her loveliest), and Fate's dimwitted assistant Max (Peter Falk). Watch the hopeless quartet as they attempt to win the greatest race of the century - with hilarious results!
Featuring Vivian Vance and Dorothy Provine (as the sexy saloon singer Lily Olay). Henry Mancini's score includes "The Sweetheart Tree" and "He Shouldn't-a, Hadn't-a, Oughn't-a Swang on Me".
The DVD presents the film in a wonderfully clean print, in its 2:35:1 cinema ratio, complete with the Overture, Intermission and Exit Music sequences. The soundtrack has been newly-remastered in dynamic 5.1 from the original session tapes.
The DVD also includes a Making-of featurette and the trailer. (Single-sided, dual-layer disc).
on August 29, 2002
Blake Edwards' The Great Race starring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Natalie Wood is a fun filled and entertaining comedy for probably the whole family. Sure, it's a it old and the jokes are classic type and not the parody type we have today but who cares. It's still a great comedy from the director of the Pink Panther.
Jack Lemmon is Professor Fate (not really the bad guy but the villain), a grumpy insulting man who always wants to beat the Great Leslie (Tony Curtis), his arch-nemesis who always wins and is supported by everyone. Professor Fate is supportd by his henchman max (Peter Falk) a real idiot. When the Great Leslie proposes a race from New York to Paris, Professor Fate and Max sign up and build themselves an ultimate car to win. And now the race is on with laughs all the way including a cake-throwing contest , a battle in a castle, and cars crashing into stores.
Highly recommended especially for the late and great Jack Lemmon. When you think about it, he really is the main character in this movie. I wont tell you who wins. You'll have to watch it yourself. It's definetely worth owning. You'll laugh every time.
on August 9, 2002
When I think of big-budget comedies of the 1960s, the only one that I remember with any fondness at all is It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. That was hilarious. But The Great Race, right from its theatrical release, just struck me as so broad and cartoonish as to be unwatchable for anyone over the age of maybe 10. I mean literally I didn't laugh out loud once, and I didn't laugh once when I saw it on video recently (checking to see if my memory was faulty). Just a big clunking thud of a movie that reminds me of "Life with Lucy," Lucille Ball's ill-fated attempt to revive her sitcom persona decades later but with her same "I Love Lucy" writing team, who hasn't realized that comedy tastes had changed. When The Great Race stages a chase or a pie fight, it's not like watching a witty 60s homage to 20s physical comedies -- it IS a 20s comedy, but in cumbersome 60s clothing. Has Jack Lemmon made a worse movie (besides Under the Yum Yum Tree)? I give this one star for its Oscar-winning song, "The Sweetheart Tree," which deserved a better vehicle. See It's a MMMM World if you want to laugh.
on July 25, 2002
The Great Race is a fantastically funny film. Directed by Blake Edwards (Mr. Julie Andrews and director of movies like The Pink Panther and 10.) this film is the hilarious story of to aristocratic racers racing from New York to Paris. Set in the year 1908 at a time were classic cars were really classic cars the movie has slapstick, special effects, wonderful period costumes and the most important element of all - humor.
This movie was made in the in style of not taking itself seriously enough to break the fourth wail. The fourth wall is when a character in a movie looks into the camera and allows the audience to interact with him or her. Either with the eyes or actually speaking to the camera while performing in the scene in real time. There is also a magic charm about the good guy (Tony Curtis) smiles and an animated 'sparkle' appears in his teeth.
Jack Lemon is the one who is having the most fun. As you'll read in my other reviews, you'll discover that my favorite actor of all time is Mr. Lemon. He plays the incredible evil Professor Fate. He play is way over the top down to his mustache and evil his walk. The most creative part about Jack was his other character he played as the drunk and obnoxious Prince of Bulvergaria.
Natalie wood plays an overbearing reporter, Ed Wynn plays Tony Curtis' (The Great Leslie) right hand man and mechanic and a stellar performance by Peter Falk as Professor Fates bumbling sidekick. There is also a reoccurring role by Viviane Vance. Also another great villain performance was by Mr. Ross Martin of TV's The Wild Wild West fame. He wields a mean foil and saber!
The DVD extras are great. The original behind the scenes look and some interesting cast and crew notes. The DVD and the movie are great examples of movie making at its best. You'll laugh a lot and even sing-along (with the bouncing dot) with a couple of clever and original songs by Henry Mancini. I loved this movie a lot! You will to!
on June 29, 2002
Tony Curtis stars as The Great Leslie, a daredevil trying to win a car race from New York to Paris. His chief competition is Jack Lemmon as the inept Dr. Fate, the villain with many tricks up his sleeve, most of which never work. Along with them in the race is Natalie Wood as Maggie DuBois, a feminist newspaperwoman out to prove that women are men's equal. Their adventure takes them through the Old West and an old fashioned bar room brawl, on an iceberg, and through the Court intrigues of a mythical European country about to crown a new king who looks very much like Dr. Fate. Director Blake Edwards throws everything he can into this comedy, with tons of sight gags and physical humour. His biggest asset in the film is Jack Lemmon. Lemmon goes over - way over - way, way over the top in his characterization of the villain, the kind of villain found in silent films, all dressed in black with the sinister moustache to boot. With his wicked laugh and constant shouting, he's not exactly subtle, but he gives the film the edge and energy it needs to sustain the drier, less interesting parts surrounding Curtis and Wood. Lemmon is well assisted by Peter Falk as Max, Dr. Fate's poor assistant. The rest of the cast is fine, including Vivian Vance as Wood's boss' wife, another feminist. It's rare to see Vance in a theatrical film, although she has few scenes to shine. I admire the film and those involved for trying everything and anything and playing it with much energy. Not every scene works, and not all the gags work, but the film is worth a look, if only to see Lemmon like you'll never see him in another film. Watching this film, I was reminded of a Road Runner/Coyote cartoon, with lots of visual action, hairbrained schemes, and characters placed in precarious situations that survive and comeback for more. The only thing missing is an anvil being dropped!
on June 14, 2002
If one had to sum up THE GREAT RACE in a single word, then that summary could be nothing other than: "fun". And what a hugely fun movie it is too. It's silly, it's frothy, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and half the cast have their controls set to Ludicrously Over The Top mode. But who cares? It's one of the most enjoyable films that I've ever had the pleasure to watch.
The film would be worth the price of admission just by the acting talents of Jack Lemmon as the dangerously devious Professor Fate and Peter Falk portraying the Henchman of Evil, Max. Constantly trying to out-act each in the Insanely Evil department, there are portions of the film where their scenery chewing simply can't be measured by conventional science. Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood are far more subdued in their performances and as a result their scenes are slightly less entertaining. Of course, anything less than those two actors jumping around like orangutans would have seemed subdued in comparison, so we almost welcome the change in pace.
There are only a few portions of the film that don't quite work for me. I didn't find the main romance between Tony Curtis' Great Leslie and Natalie Wood's modern woman to be much in the way of entertainment. It's certainly expected, given the script is satirizing the type of movie where the good guy always gets the girl. Yet it never felt quite plausible, just gratuitous and hastily tacked on, as if the romance was only happening because the story conventions said that it had to happen. Neither one of the characters seems to be all that interested in their romance either, which at least gave them something in common with me. I realize it seems odd to criticize an outrageous and off-the-wall comedy for not portraying a realistic romance, but all of those scenes are played so seriously and so straight, that one has to wonder if perhaps the joke is that there aren't any jokes. I couldn't understand the need to break away from the hilarity of the main story into an uninvolved, lackluster, and pseudo-heartwarming subplot. Whatever the reasons, it generally failed to entertain me.
And speaking of non-entertainment, I'm afraid that thanks to the DVD chapter breaks, I'll never sit through an entire performance of that musical number again (He Shouldn't-a, Hadn't-a, Oughtn't-a huh?). Fortunately, these minor irritations only take up the smallest portion of the film. The poorer scenes never go on for very long, the merriment from the rest will more than make up for anything that fails to amuse.
THE GREAT RACE is definitely worth a DVD purchase. The restored picture is absolutely gorgeous and the sound quality is terrific. The Behind The Scenes featurette is cute, featuring a fair amount of raw, backstage footage and also a cheesy 1960's narrator reading a script that could have been penned by Professor Fate after a night on downers. Definitely a film to enjoy again and again, THE GREAT RACE will be a welcome addition to your DVD collection, and one that is just perfect for a rainy Sunday afternoon.
on June 10, 2002
"The Great Race" probably deserves its middling reputation, since your enjoyment of the film is predicated almost entirely on whether or not you get the joke. If this type of humor is not to your liking, then "The Great Race" will be a bewildering ordeal. The combination of comic styles (farce, slapstick, satire, corn) gels quite efficiently in Blake Edwards treatment, but if you don't find that sort of stuff funny, it AIN'T. Still, if you do appreciate such nonsense, this film is quite simply a hysterical treat. The satirical tone is established early, with one ridiculous scenario following another as Lemmon's Professor Fate (that name) tries to outwit and outmaster Curtis' Great Leslie (all twinkling eyes and gleaming smile). Natalie Wood's energetic portrayal of the heroine hits just the right note of camp. She has been roundly criticized for this performance, but I think people misunderstood her approach. She's TRYING for the broadness and arch over-delivery in her line readings that she was taken to task for. That's her whole point. I find her performance an absolute delight and quite funny indeed. Two throw away moments stand out: her "on guard" in the duel followed by the sound of her tearing the tent with the sword tip, and her defiant singing of the Star Spangled Banner (complete with full orchestra) while being tortured by the villains. These trifling bits come out of nowhere and are gone, but that's why they're fun. Jack Lemmon, the most mannered of movie stars, actually uses his bag of tricks quite effectively as the evil professor. This part cries out for the type of overacting Lemmon was often guilty of, and his overdone delivery is a delight to behold. I particularly like him in moments such as when he laughs uproariously about hearing car #5 will lose its engine, only to pause and calmly say "we're number five." The digital transfer of the film is the usual first rate job that Warner Home Video always does, although the remastered soundtrack has some mis-synchronized sound effects in the opening credits. There's not much in the way of extras here, but the featurette is interesting, if only as an example of the cornball way they used to "sell" films to the public circa 1965. "The Great Race" may be an aquired taste, but if you're up for it, it's a million laughs.
on June 7, 2002
I know this film like the back of my hand. (Has anyone else noticed that Frisbee's foot vanishes into the composite matte for a brief second while he is hanging from the 2nd story ledge of the Sentinel?) I saw it it theatres when it was first released and have had the vhs, laser disc and now the dvd. Like many, it is my all time favorite film. Unfortunately, this dvd release has a flawed sound mix (which is a crime for a film which was nominated for Best Sound - and won for Best Sound Effects). For almost the first 20 minutes (until the end of the Boardroom Scene when the race is proposed), the Dialogue Track is about 50% of the volume it should be. Music and Sound Effects are fine. Dialogue, however, is sometimes almost inaudible. (It's not my dvd player, as I've tried it on a second one - further, it only applies to the English track, as the Foriegn Language tracks are fine.) Hopefully, this problem will be corrected in future pressings and I can add a 'perfect' dvd of my favorite film to my collection. P.S. The new transfer of the negative for this release is absolutely outstanding! Beautiful colors and absolutely clean!