on August 6, 2003
The race of "The Great Race" is nothing more than a clotheslines for hanging a magnificent series of set pieces in many filmatic styles. A mixture of early twentieth century daredevil thrill work combined with slapstick early in the movie gives the erroneous impression that it's what the movie's about. Some viewers who don't like that sort of Wile E. Coyote doings tune the movie off at that point. Others, who want it to continue throughout the movie, become bored. In fact, comedy is hard to sustain, so working the movie out through largely self-contained episodes was probably a good idea. The slapstick sections give way to a lighthearted western romp with a notable saloon brawl, then to an interlude on an ice floe that strengthens the bonds between the characters and allows character development that was impossible thus far, and finally to a subtle and mature adventure story largely based on "The Prisoner of Zenda". The controversial "Zenda" spoof dominates the second act (after the intermission). Some see the Pottsdorf segment as a huge mistake, while others view it as the point which the first act inextricably led. The culminating pie fight of this episode, the largest in history (and not particularly funny in itself, though it does provide more character development), gives some credence to the latter school. Perhaps Edwards created the whole segment, the whole movie, to give us the pie fight. The whole "Prisoner of Zenda" spoof is itself a remarkable achievement. The episodic quality of the movie made "The Great Race" one of the movies that worked best back in the 1960s and 70s when networks broke it up and aired it over two nights in prime time (as they used to do very long movies). And along the way "The Great Race" sends up many more topics, some of which, like suffragettes, are sacrosanct today.
What "The Great Race" is not, is a gag-a-minute clone of "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines". The race is important only as a McGuffin to get the action rolling and bring the characters together for their mutual interests. "The Great Race" is a clinic on various types of movie genres -- slapstick, western, adventure -- that were antiquated by the mid sixties (a time when most moviegoers probably had a nostalgia for those types of movies, which they'd have seen as children). "The Great Race" not funny in the way 1990's and 2000's movies are, with the unearthly wildness of Robin Williams and Jim Carrey or the "if-this-laugh-doesn't-work-another's-coming" approach of Abrahams and Zucker and the Farrelly brothers. Rather, the comedy is is the lighthearted approach to the various subjects introduced (though there are plenty of wisecracks to go around). The only problem is that, along the way in the "Prisoner of Zenda" spoof, Blake Edwards seemed to have forgotten he was making a comedy. Even that does not particularly detract from the movie as a whole, as Max (Peter Falk) comes into his own in this segment and Tony Curtis' "Great Leslie" proves he's more than just a pretty face, but will put his life on the line for Right with a dueling scene foreshadowed much earlier.
And there are two -- count 'em, two -- places where the movie pauses for a breather to give a fine Mancini/Mercer song. Mancini may be the best movie composer ever; certainly his incidental music is wonderful throughout this movie.
The cast makes the movie hit on all cylinders. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, reteamed a few years after their comedy success "Some Like it Hot", fully understand their roles and play them to the hilt (Lemmon's Fate is quickly tiresome, but since Lemmon has the duel role in the "Zenda" spoof he must work hard to differentiate the characters). Natalie Wood is refreshing and brings excitement to every segment she's in. Along the race route, some excellent supporting players make cameos: Arthur O'Connell, Vivian Vance, Marvin Kaplan (New York); Larry Storch, Denver Pyle, Hal Smith, Dorothy Provine (Boracho); Ross Martin (Pottsdorf). And, as the sidekicks of Leslie and Fate (respectively) Keenan Wynn and Peter Falk couldn't have been better chosen for their parts. Falk, whose part at first looks small and unrewarding, becomes one of the funniest characters in the movie; while Wynn's character, mostly buried in blustering, provides one of the biggest (and necessary at that point) laughs in the movie. And director Blake Edwards, just coming off "The Pink Panther" and "A Shot in the Dark", is at the pinnacle of his career.
If you haven't seen this movie in widescreen, you've never seen this movie. Repeated television showings have cropped fully a third of the movie by taking away both ends of the screen. To be fully appreciated, "The Great Race" requires viewing on the canvas Blake Edwards envisioned for it. The DVD is remarkably well done, with vibrant colors (Natalie Wood's wardrobe is one of the finest things in the movie), and the whole shebang looks good as new. The sound effects (for which, believe it or not, the movie won an Oscar) were given a good brush up and sound great. Extras for the DVD release are so disappointing they're barely worth mentioning; except to say that the original trailer is one of the worst I've ever seen. An audio track with Blake Edwards and Tony Curtis would've been welcome, and maybe a comment or two by Peter Falk if he'd do it.
All in all, "The Great Race" is a superb movie, with the caveat that it must be taken for what it is, rather than judged by what it's not.
on May 31, 2003
As a kid, I remember seeing "The Great Race" at least twice on those long Sunday afternoons after football season, usually when there was nothing else to put on TV. Everything in the movie worked for me back then--the slapstick, the sound effects, even the ending--and it was a joy to watch.
Imagine my delight, then, when I found out that "The Great Race" was available on DVD. Though it looks and sounds absolutely gorgeous--the boos and cheers in the opening credits were in the right places on my copy--it didn't make me laugh very much. In fact, Natalie Wood's character began grating on my nerves. Even the ending (I won't spoil it for those of you who've never seen it) doesn't ring as true to how I remember it. And given what that ending is, it might not pass muster in today's climate.
It's very possible that the length of time that passed between last seeing "The Great Race" on TV and watching it on DVD has biased my opinion. While it is funny in spots, it was simply too long and too dated to enjoy, and that's a shame. The one movie that keeps getting compared to this, "It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World", is infinitely funnier, and I'd recommend it over "The Great Race."
Incidentally, there's a reason the sound effects are so familiar. Treg Brown, who worked for many years on the Warner Bros. stable of cartoons, also did the sounds for "The Great Race". The Academy Award the movie won for sound effects was indeed well-deserved.
on May 26, 2003
This flick originally hit the streets about the same time as Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines. A local critic here in Minneapolis compared Race with Magnificent Men in a somewhat unfavorable vein. One evening I found myself casting about for a movie to see and found nothing more interesting than The Great Race available; I went in with that review somewhat souring my attitude. When I left the theatre almost 3 hours later my ribs literally ached from having laughed so hard and often. All I can ask today is, "So who watches Those Magnificent Men . . . once or twice a month?"
A few years back I got the VHS and introduced my then 5 year old daughter to The Great Leslie, Maggie DuBois, Professor Fate, and Max. She laughed about as much I had the first time and the pie fight nearly finished her off. Recently my 3-year-old son saw it for the first time and watched enraptured. Now he understands "Push the button, Max."-Before this he'd always respond with "I'm not Max!"
One thing I don't think I've seen mentioned in any other reviews is the uncanny impression of Richard Nixon that Jack Lemon seems to be doing in his portrayal of Professor Fate--and this before we got to see [him] at his best during his presidential reign.
on May 13, 2003
At last this 1965 slapstick goodie from the pen of Blake Edwards has made it to widescreen DVD! I first saw it when I was a kid, and I've never forgotten one of my all-time favorite comedic moments: Jack Lemmon, as the dastardly, nefarious Professor Fate, his faithful manservant and whipping boy Max (played wonderfully by Peter Falk) arrive at one of their stopover towns for refueling and refreshment. Lemmon sees that their arrival is going improperly unheralded, so he rises slowly, majestically, removing his tall black hat, and announces, "I. . .AM PROFESSOR FATE!"
He perfectly reverses the rise, as if he is being agonizingly rewound, the hat going back on his head. His handlebar moustache, which all true Villains must have, twitches slightly.
Max tells the villagers that they are connected with the Great Race, and happy pandemonium erupts.
Some may say that the movie is too long, that it's too big, that it's too over the top, but that is the point. Edwards wanted to pay tribute to his comedic heroes, most especially Laurel and Hardy, and this is his love letter. And don't forget to listen for one of Hank Mancini's funniest scores.
Highly recommended to those with a bent toward divine silliness. Ya gotta love a movie in which the hero's teeth literally glint at you!
on April 10, 2003
I first saw this movie on network TV when I was a kid back in the 60's. They aired it over two nights due to length. I've seen it again a few times since then and, unlike a lot of movies and TV from childhood, this one was actually as good as I remembered it.
Jack Lemon and Tony Curtis are absolutely hilarious in their roles as Professor Fate and The Great Leslie. Natalie Wood and Peter Falk are equally delightful in their supporting roles as a reporter and Professor Fate's not-very-bright henchman. One of the other pleasures this movie offers is spotting all the movie and TV stars in small roles. Keenan Wynn, Vivian Vance, Larry Storch, and Ross Martin are among the faces you might recognize.
To people whose ideas of movie comedies have been shaped entirely by such fare as "Airplane" or "Me, Myself, and Irene" this flick may seem kind of leisurely in its pacing and tame in its jokes. What can I say? If you think somebody getting slugged with a sex toy is funny, but a pie fight isn't, then you may not enjoy this movie. It is, though, an excellent movie that one can sit down and watch with kids without fear of inappropriate material.
Big budget comedies like this are not something produced very often these days. Buy this one and see how it used to be done.
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.