The Great Race

1965, Movie, NR, 157 mins


Both panned and praised when it was released, this zany cross-continental romp zooms ahead full throttle for all of its 157 minutes. Tony Curtis is "The Great Leslie," and Lemmon is the arch villain, "Professor Fate." Falk is Lemmon's Igor-like sidekick, and together they scheme to best Curtis in a 22,000-mile road race from New York City to the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The year is 1908, and the period cars are a delight. Wood is a femme fatale who also hopes to win the race. Her car breaks down almost immediately, so she reluctantly rides with Curtis and his mechanic, Wynn. Lemmon's car is an evolutionary precursor to the MAD MAX vehicle. The Hannibal 8 is equipped with a cannon, smoke screens and sundry other gadgets. Curtis is always dressed in glowing white: even after the most elaborate pie fight in film, he comes out spotless. Right from the start, it's a two-car race, because Lemmon disposes of all the other autos. The mishaps that follow include a Western brawl and just about every sight gag imaginable. (That's the problem with this film: we've seen much of it before, done in silent black-and-white with a lot more taste and artistry.) The two cars meet in Alaska enroute to Siberia. As they ride side-by-side on ice floes, Lemmon and Falk kidnap Wood and whisk her off to the mythical country of Carpania where Lemmon, in a good spoof of THE PRISONER OF ZENDA, plays an effete king. In a takeoff of the Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone swashbuckling clashes, Curtis duels with Ross Martin, the nefarious Baron Von Stuppe, foiling his plans to incite revolution. Wood rejoins Curtis in defeating Lemmon, but the villain demands a rematch, so they're off again. Several attempts at "big" comedies followed this one, but none approached its success. THE GREAT RACE runs far too long, and its direction is far too indulgent. While many of the jokes don't pay off, it's still funny enough to merit your attention. Mancini's score adds pace and flow. This spectacle is almost totally uncontrolled, and therein lies much of its charm. The film one an Oscar for Best Sound Effects, and was nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, and Best Song "The Sweetheart Tree" (Mancini). leave a comment

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