THE GREAT RACE || 1965, USA || Comedy || Directed by – Blake Edwards / Written by – Arthur A. Ross, Blake Edwards / Produced by – Martin Jurow / Music by – Henry Mancini / Cinematography – Russell Harlan / Production designer – Fernando Carrere / Starring – Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, Peter Falk, Keenan Wynn, Arthur O’Connell, Vivian Vance / Running Time: 160 mins.
“Blake Edwards’ spectacular homage to slapstick comedy and silent film in general. The generously budgeted The Great Race matches the scale of Around the World in Eighty Days, which was released almost a decade earlier. The concepts are rather similar, as here, we follow the rivalry between a daredevil and his arch nemesis on an automobile race across three continents, from New York to Paris. But it’s clear that Edwards is more interested in visual humour, which is just as well.
Despite the ambition of the storyline, The Great Race would have felt far too structured and stale, relying on tired stereotypes and familiar twists, had it not been for the creative use of its many gags. Of these, the highly regarded, glorious pie fight finale is worthy of mention, as well of course as Jack Lemmon in the role of the “despicable” Professor Fate, in one of his most hilarious outings, ably supported by Peter Falk in the role of his incompetent assistant Maximilian. The two recall the antics of the beloved Laurel and Hardy. On the other side of the scale, Tony Curtis’ matinee idol figure and the ambitious suffragette reporter played by Natalie Woods, both perfectly cast in their respective roles, share a romance that is far less interesting but which still reserves some fine screwball quips.
Exceeding the two hour and a half mark, this film feels rather lengthy, and risks wearing out on several occasions. If it manages not to, it is due to Edward’s warm touch. Though the film doesn’t rank among his best, it is clear that his tribute is true, so much so that it feels like a vanity project, and one which everyone, cast included, is more than willing to buy into.
Bonus marks to the art direction by Fernando Carrere. The automobiles alone are wonderful pieces of machinery, fine and fabulously looking specimen of slapstick engineering.” – 4/5