The Great Race (1965)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Slapstick isn’t always funny.

            The Great Leslie (Tony Curtis), who makes a living performing in wild stunts during the early twentieth century, decides to stage the world’s longest car race that will span over three continents. It will pit him against the evil Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon) and Fate’s slightly dimwitted assistant Maximilian Meen (Peter Falk) who will employ any dirty trick that they can in order to win.

It promises to be a grandiose comedy, but comes off as overlong and trite. In fact out of the total 160 minute run time I didn’t find any of it funny, it’s not even good for a chuckle. The gags are unimaginative, strained, and forced. It reverts to all the age-old shtick like a tired pie fight and equally tiring barroom brawl without adding anything new to it. Although the cinematography is excellent the action is cartoonish and will easily bore someone who is looking for something slightly more sophisticated. The film fails to achieve any momentum and seems to rely solely on its many lame jokes and stabs at unfunny humor to carry it.

The story is staggeringly threadbare with nowhere to go. The film’s title is misleading when you factor in that very little of an actual race is ever shown. The script goes off on a lot of side-stories and tangents all of which become increasingly more stupid as it goes along.  The worst one comes near the end when the audience should be gearing up for an exciting climax, but instead are treated to an inane scenario were the group find themselves trapped in a palace and dealing with a drunken prince who looks identical to Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon in a dual role).

It would have been better had there been more participants in the race instead of just the two. At the beginning there are several more drivers, but their vehicles all either crash, or break down right away in a highly uninspired fashion.

Curtis is boring in the lead and having him always seen in white makes him annoyingly clichéd. Lemmon’s character, who wears all black, is irritating as well in the opposite way.  Initially it was fun seeing Lemmon ham it up, but the character gets overplayed. I also didn’t like that medieval castle that he resided in, which appeared to be nothing more than a miniaturized model made of paper.

There are also many irritating logistical flaws that go overboard even for silly slapstick. One of the worst is the scene where both racers are stranded in a blizzard presumable somewhere in Alaska. Then the next morning they somehow find themselves on an iceberg that quickly melts as it floats into warmer waters, but how does that happen when before they were landlocked? Also, the Professor slips into the icy waters several times, which should have killed him.

If there is one good thing I can say about this film it is in the presence of Natalie Wood who plays a feisty feminist named Maggie Dubois. She is stunning and easily steals every scene that she is in. I loved the character’s gumption and I wished that she had been able to have her own car the whole way and competed against the two instead of having the derivative romance with Leslie. I also didn’t particularly care for ‘The Sweetheart Tree’ song that she sings, which is sappy, nor did I like the lyrics getting printed onto the screen along with a small bouncing ball.  Did writer/director Blake Edwards actually expect movie audiences to start singing along with her?

Supposedly this whole mess is a tribute to the slapstick films of the 20’s and 30’s particularly the Laurel and Hardy comedies, but as is the case with most of these things the originals are far better. The production values are high, there is a pretty good dual scene between Curtis and actor Ross Martin, and in the scene requiring a polar bear it is nice to see that a real one was used instead of a guy in a bear costume, which always looks tacky. Still, overall, it is a waste of celluloid that seems geared for an audience that no longer exists.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1965

Runtime: 2Hours 40Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Blake Edwards

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

5 responses to “The Great Race (1965)

  1. The only point you got right is that it is overly long. Consider the movie’s premise and time depiction and the main actors are nowhere near boring. Curtis’ Great Leslie is meant to be the ultra squeaky-clean hero, flashy smiled and so forthright he has to be rigid.
    Not to find Jack Lemmon and Peter Falk’s scene stealing goof ups funny makes me wonder if you can appreciate slapstick comedy. Even the score adds to the hilarity. The cameo scenes of Dorothy Provine and Larry Storch are true treats. Then there’s the world’s biggest pie fight. Not funny??
    Maybe you should watch this movie again in the manner which it was presented, the epic slapstick comedy, and perhaps you will see what virtually everyone does, a comedic gem.

    Watch this movie again and try looking at it in the spirit which was intended and you might change your

  2. Have to agree with Bill here, this is a slapstick comedy classic, a true gem. One of Blake Edwards shining moments. Lemmon and Falk are great together as the villainous duo. Then there’s the second part that Lemmon plays of the spoiled king that’s also hilarious. Can’t say enough about this one, if you like slapstick and you like to laugh,then check it out.

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  4. Joseph Kearny

    The Great Waste! The race is endlessly sidetracked and the characters are annoying.

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