|The Great Race
1965 - NR - 150 Mins.
|Director: Blake Edwards
|Producer: Martin Jurow
|Written By: Blake Edwards, Arthur A. Ross
|Starring: Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, Peter Falk, Keenan Wynn, Ross Martin, Vivian Vance
|Review by: Carl Langley
The Great Race advertised its tagline as “the movie with 20,000-mile or one-million-laughs guarantee.” There was another one that stated it to be “the funniest comedy ever.” It is hard to decipher whether this was a marketing scheme or if they wholeheartedly believed The Great Race to be the funniest movie up to that particular point in cinema history. Either way, they were sadly mistaken. The film is filled with slapstick, spoofs, tributes, and an abundance of heavy-handed pranks, gags, and stunts, most of which find it difficult to muster any type of chuckle.
I promise the sequel will be drastically shorter
Blake Edwards was behind the camera for The Great Race and he hired the two stars that assisted in making what AFI listed the number one comedy all-time in Some Like It Hot. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon starred along side Marilyn Monroe as two drag queens hiding from the mob through the city of Miami. Both stars had worked with Edwards before, but only Curtis could contest to Edwards’s ability as a comedic director; he played the goofy lieutenant on Cary Grant’s submarine in the absurd World War II farce Operation Petticoat. Lemmon had previously worked with Edwards in Days of the Wine and Roses, which featured his most traumatizing performance and earned him an Oscar nomination. In addition to the two studs, Natalie Wood was brought on board as the broad that swoons Curtis off his feet.
Now one might ask how an incredible cast and a prominent director (remember he also had Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Pink Panther on his resume) can fail so miserably at a satirical endeavor. The answer is simple: the film’s running length. At 150 minutes, The Great Race drives exceedingly slow way past its welcome time and drags and drags and drags. By the end of the film, I was shocked the race did not detour into outer space; it would have only been fitting for the film’s absurdity.
Tony Curtis plays Leslie 'The Great Leslie' Gallant III, a stunt man always impeccably dressed in white and adored by many, except for Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon), whose long life goal is to ruin Leslie’s name. Assisted by his sidekick, Max (Peter Falk from “Columbo”), Fate cartoonishly tries over and over again to put a stop to Leslie and break his records, but they inevitably backfire. The bad guy challenges the good guy and forty-five minutes into the film, the race finally begins. The starting point is located in New York and the first one to Paris carries all the bragging rights.
The race takes them all over the place from the West to a European setting where an infantile prince (also played by Jack Lemmon) resides. Here is where the film reaches its nadir, spending oodles of time at this location. All of the stars are forced to battle an evil baron (Ross Martin), who wants to use Fate, who ostensibly has similar physical looks to the prince, to overthrow the throne. This whole extravaganza is boring and tedious to sit through; they could have easily left this bit on the cutting floor.
The Great Race is not always discomforting as it is exhausting. There are actually some delightfully bantering moments, such as the biggest pie fight scene ever committed to celluloid. Here the actors just gracefully have fun and do not even try to act and the scene works. The zaniness in each actor’s antics are easily noticeable and it makes the sparingly amusing scene much more appreciative.
The performances are noteworthy as well, except for Curtis who never really impressed me, especially for comedic roles. Natalie Wood lays her voluptuous appeal on thick and mixes it with qualified humor. This results in quite the juxtaposition. But the real scene-stealer, which is no surprise, is Jack Lemmon. In a rare bad guy performance, Lemmon goes over-the-top with his hysterical portrayals. Lemmon truly is a riot from start to finish, albeit his unduly annoying laugh becomes tiresome at times. Refreshing, hilarious, and wacky best describes his show. Peter Falk adds some humor as Lemmon’s sidekick.
The intentions of The Great Race were to parody a large-scale of adventure films, mainly the silent era that headlined most of the roadster flicks. The film carries every cliché in the book, from the good guy dressed in white to the villains dressed in black. There are preposterous crashes, saloon fights, the aforementioned pie fight, sword fights, and unbelievable stunts to plant the film’s laughs. An occasional memorable scene here and there, The Great Race is just too darn long. It would have faired better cut down to an hour and a half; it then may have been considered a classic. Instead the elongated race becomes the great endurance trial and the ones left at the finish line of this film deserve some sort of prize.