The Great Race (1965) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Great Race (1965)

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Danny DISLIKEGrowing up, I was well acquainted with the cartoons of Hanna-Barbera, a company that specialized making it's characters almost lively enough to compensate for the necessary minimal animation to make a network cartoon. Wacky Racers is the cartoon I'm slowly making my way to from there, a globe trotting series of silly competitions, and specifically three characters: Peter Perfect, Penelope Pitstop, and Dirk Dastardly. Even if you lack the frame of reference for the show, the character's names are all you really need to know: good guy, girl, bad guy, all three racers.

There. And with barely a name change, we're right at The Great Race.

Tony Curtis plays The Great Leslie, a daredevil and lady killer who proposes a cross-continent race to show off a car made in his honor. He will be the one dressed in white through the movie.

Jack Lemon plays Professor Fate, a wannabe evil genius who is obsessed with bringing Leslie down. He has a quirky sidekick in Peter Falk, and both spend the movie mugging through slapstick like its no one's business. He is in black.

The lovely Natalie Wood is pretty much the bright spot in the film for me. She's given the same cartoon character as the rest of the cast-- in this case, the fast talking His Girl Friday newspaper girl-- but with an added dose of masculinity. She smokes cigars, and challenges men to a brawl if they get in her way. She's devious and cunning, but also sweet and determined, giving her at least three adjectives more than anyone else got. As for her wardrobe, when she's not in her knickers, she's mostly in pink.

Despite her professed independence, she almost immediately falls for the Great Leslie, who is disgusted with her claims of female independence. He promptly kicks her out of his tent and prepares for the race. After a mixed up attempt at winning Professor Fate over for an interview, she decides to enter the race for herself.

And so the movie takes our characters from New York to Paris. Wood quickly loses her car and gets a ride from Leslie, and the audience-- wait, I mean Leslie is made to suffer through Fate's repeated attempts to derail him with bombs and pies and all manner of silly villainy.

Will Leslie win the race? Will he and whoever Wood is playing fall in love? Is Jack Lemon actually getting paid to do this role, or did they just pump him full of LSD and let him loose? And am I the only person on the internet who can use the word 'loose' correctly anymore or am I just getting crotchety in my old age?

Okay, those questions all have answers (1) it doesn't fucking matter, 2) duh, 3) maybe just huffing ether, 4) crotchety and full of shit), but the real question in this 150 minute turgid wooden block of a film is what will happen to Wood's character. Will she retain her fiery independence as a strong-willed and human character, or will she end up in her underwear and stockings covered in pie?

Well, the latter half of that sentence seems awfully specific by any account.

Speaking of a latter half of sorts, this movie has a running time of over two and a half hours. The first portion relates to the cross continent race, but the second involves a completely out-of-the-blue and lame Prisoner of Zenda send-up. For those of you not up on this story, Zenda is the old make an impostor the king and then have the king come back to take his thrown deal, and it has nothing to do with car racing at all.

It's hard to believe that the people making this film about a global race decided to devote an hour to a marginal retelling that does nothing but drag the proceedings on. While Jack Lemon is a great actor (and one of my favorites), having him play both the role of a dumb prince and the conniving Fate only underlines just how one dimensional each portrait is.

Curtis isn't much help, as he's mainly required to look good and smile on cue. I know he has some wit and joy in him, but that's not evident here, as he plays the smile and not much else.

And while Wood is beautiful, her character is so damn lame that it's just pathetic.

If you have extremely small children who are entertained by bright colors, there are many, many movies that will satisfy them. Saying that this is one of them is the highest praise I can afford it.

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The Great Race (1965)

The Great Race is currently available on DVD and Netflix Instant.

Directed by Blake Edwards
Written by Arthur A. Ross
Starring Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, and Jack Lemon

Posted by Danny

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