Our review of Best of Warner Brothers: 20-Film Comedy Collection, published July 14th, 2013, is also available.
The movie with the 20,000-mile or one-million-laugh guarantee!
It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World set the stage for The Great Race, Blake Edwards' idea of a comedic competition-race film. Set in the early 1900s, the film follows contestants on a 20,000-mile race from New York City to Paris, at the urging of famous daredevil The Great Leslie (Tony Curtis, Some Like It Hot). A suffragette reporter and Leslie's evil nemesis Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon, The Apartment) join in for a slapstick-filled romp dedicated to Laurel and Hardy. Now The Great Race comes home on DVD with a new transfer, sound mix, and extra features, thanks to Warner Brothers.
Facts of the Case
Professor Fate (Lemmon) and his sidekick Max (Peter Falk, television's Columbo) have been attempting to one-up the Great Leslie's stunts in vain. Finally, Fate worms his way into the Great Race competition, eager to unseat Leslie for the first time. Also joining the two is suffragette Maggie Dubois (Natalie Wood, Gypsy), a brash and confident reporter for the New York Sentinel. Her car doesn't last long so she hitches a ride with Leslie, until an iceberg incident and Fate's kidnapping undoes her hesitantly romantic bond with Leslie. Slapstick comedy keeps the plot jumping from one destination to another, leading all our heroines and arch nemeses to Carpania, a small Russian-esque town. There, a Baron tries to make use of Fate's resemblance to the crown heir Prince Hapnick (also played by Lemmon) for his own evil desires. A daring rescue and pie fight later, our competitors are on their way to the final showdown in Paris.
Slapstick comedy isn't easy, but when you're working with Lemmon and Curtis—formerly teamed up in that comedy of all comedies, Some Like it Hot—well, it's hard to screw up. About the worst thing you can do is not get to the Great Race itself for 40 minutes. Unfortunately, Edwards commits this crime, as we watch never-ending battles between Fate and Leslie as they each perform homegrown stunts on native land. A few yawns later, the Race FINALLY starts.
After a smooth trip cross-country, the competitors survive a bar fight in a small Western town, sail an iceberg to Siberia, and manage not to kill each other on the way. Trouble strikes again when Fate realizes Leslie is falling for DuBois, and kidnaps her in Siberia. However, the game isn't over yet—when Fate himself is then kidnapped by an evil Baron in Carpania, the action and comedy heighten to a fever pitch. Lemmon's dual role as Prince Hapnick is one of the funniest I've seen. Foppish, full of great one liners ("you great Leslie you!"), Lemmon emits most of the truly laugh-out-loud moments. He's a bit too much at times—but wouldn't you prefer too much Jack Lemmon as opposed to not enough?
Wood, as gutsy reporter Maggie DuBois, adds great charm and verve to the whole mix, confounding the men she meets and creating nice chemistry with Curtis. Their banter doesn't exactly stand up to the best romantic comedies of the day, but there is something very sweet and charming in how they react to each other. Why, she even sings Henry Mancini's lovely "The Sweetheart Tree" to him, and guess what kids: You can sing along with her. Remember subtitled lyrics with the bouncing ball? Yes, you too can serenade Tony Curtis as he frolics lakeside! Woo hoo!
This film is best known for its comedy, however, not romance, and as Leslie and Max conspire to save their sidekicks in Carpania, the best moments of the movie come to pass, including a freewheeling pie fight. Boy, I haven't seen a good pie fight in years! (Not enough Cartoon Network viewing for me these days.)
This brand-new 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks nice—really nice. The colors are crisp, vivid, and exceptionally clean. Nary a trace of grain, and the letterbox transfer ensures complete capture of the ostentatious scenery of the open road and far-flung settings. Flesh tones were a little flat, but this is to be expected of the Technicolor of the '60s—overall this is a nice look at the Hollywood gaudy color schemes of the day.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is very nice, detailed, and clean. Probably due to the age of the film, there is a "cap" on the noise range—high-pitched sounds and some dialogue tend to sound cloudy. However, sound effects are nicely dispersed once in a while—there are a few instances where the rear speakers actually kicked in. Otherwise, this is a well produced track that is free of any excessive hiss or distortion. Also included on the disc are subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Thai.
Extras are not too plentiful, but a thoughtful addition is the "documentary" Behind the Scenes with Blake Edwards' The Great Race. Obviously a studio-produced tidbit, the documentary is a charmingly promotional look at the making of the film. Shots of actors relaxing and rehearsing look painstakingly rehearsed, and typical of such studio-made films from this era. It's not very informative as far as the nuts-and-bolts of filmmaking, but it's a delightful peek into the movie and a fun glimpse into the Hollywood machine of old.
The trailer is also in letterbox and another nice archival feature to include on the disc, however standard it may be.
A rote description of cast and crew round out the extras.
Maybe, without the gadgets that make our lives work at lightning speed, people had more time on their hands for long movies. Hey, I'm not against length; all I'm saying is, if the film is called The Great Race, perhaps the race itself should start, oh, sometime within the first 40 minutes of the film. Aside from that, this DVD is an entertaining addition to any classic or adventure film fan's collection.
The extras could be kicked up a bit and the movie's a little long…eh, but I'll keep the sentence light: Ride in the same car to Paducah, Kentucky and back with nothing but a scratchy AM radio in the dash and premium gas prices!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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