The Great Race (1965)

THE GREAT RACE (1965)
Article 2983 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-9-2009
Posting Date: 10-14-2009
Directed by Blake Edwards
Featuring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood
Country: USA

At the turn of the century, a noted daredevil decides to hold a great automobile race from New York to Paris. However, his arch-rival, the nefarious Professor Fate, seeks to win the race by the foulest means possible.

I was a little surprised to see this childhood favorite of mine enter my hunt list, as I didn’t feel it fell within the bounds of the genres that I was covering, but it looks as if some of Professor Fate’s inventions do push the movie into marginal science fiction. I loved this one as a kid; in fact, I remember seeking out SOME LIKE IT HOT because it featured the same stars, though I ended up being very disappointed by that one (at that time, I must add). Still, knowing that this movie fell into that dubious category of “sixties epic comedies” made me dread a little watching it again as an adult. No, it’s not quite as much fun as I remember it; the laughs seem more than a little obvious nowadays, and, having seen the range of Jack Lemmon’s acting over the years, I have to admit that seeing him as such a stereotyped villain as Professor Fate left me feeling a little embarrassed. Yet, I think the movie more or less holds up, at least partially because the movie keeps itself focused and refuses to succumb to the excesses of, say, IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD. And it’s got a good cast, which includes, along with those listed above, Peter Falk, Keenan Wynn, George Macready, Larry Storch, Vivian Vance and Arthur O’Connell. Of course, it’s too long, and it’s really tempting to suggest they should have cut the whole “Prisoner of Zenda” sequence that dominates the second half of the movie. But I don’t have the heart, because on this viewing, truth to tell, I found it my favorite part of the movie; not only does it feature one of the funniest pie fights I’ve ever seen and perhaps the most memorable screen role for Ross Martin, but it also has the best comic performance in the movie – by Jack Lemmon, here stealing the movie from everyone (including himself) in a second role as the crown prince of Potsdorf. And the movie does have a nice sense of old time cinema and mellerdrammers, and even features a “follow the bouncing ball” sing-along. Still, for a movie that dedicates itself to Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy, I can’t help but wish the movie did a little better job at tapping into the comic genius of those two greats than it does. Still, I’m glad it held up for me.

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