The Great Race on DVD
Blake Edwards tackles the big budget, widescreen screwball comedy in
this 1965 effort that's actually a long and live action version of the
"Road Runner Vs. Coyote" cartoons.
The man behind the Pink Panther movies indulged his love of classic
slapstick comedy (the movie is dedicated to Laurel and Hardy) in this
overlong effort that throws just about every comedy schtick at you from
the barroom brawl to pies in the face (both of which are carried to their
most absurd extreme).
The movie reunites Some Like It Hot's Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, but
this time the female interest is provided by a spunky Natalie Wood as
an emancipated journalist/suffragette. Curtis is "The Great Leslie," the
white hatted daredevil extraordinaire, while Lemmon is the black-attired
Professor Fate - also a daredevil but one who, like the Warner Brothers
Coyote, always has his attempts blow up in his face.
They become embroiled in a New-York-to-Paris auto race, a twenty thousand
mile trek across land and sea that'll test the mettle of vehicles and
crew alike. Thanks to the nefarious work of Professor Fate's put-upon
assistant (Peter Falk), all but three cars (Leslie's, Fate's, and the
steamer entered by Wood's character, Maggie DuBois) are eliminated and
the remaining trio head across the American heartland determined to outlast
the other and become the toast of the world.
It doesn't take long for the DuBois vehicle to run out of steam, forcing
her to hitchhike with the other contestants for the remainder of the race.
Needless to say, director Edwards is in top form here, though the movie
doesn't seem as funny today as it did when it first came out. Part of
the reason is that there's probably a good and frenetic 100 minute movie
here - but it's spread out over a running time of 160 minutes including
Overture, Entr'Acte, and Exit Music.
Therefore, the jokes are spread too far apart, and a long subplot that
happens when the contestants reach Europe - where Jack Lemmon gets to
play a second role as a pampered and drunken prince - seems oddly out
of place in that it has little to do with the race itself.
The performances are all good, though Lemmon is a tad over the top at
times, and the chemistry between the principles is excellent. A splendid
time appears to have been had by all during the production.
Also along for the ride are Keenan Wynn as Leslie's manservant, and Arthur
O'Connell and Vivian Vance as the publisher (and his wife) of the newspaper
for which DuBois writes.
The DVD is pretty good. The anamorphic widescreen picture (16x9 TV compatible),
is sharp and bright and the colors are very crisp and clean. This is courtesy,
according to Warners, of a new digital transfer, and it shows - though
of course it still isn't up to the standards of the best of today's films'
picture quality. It also isn't as good as Warners' recent release of Victor/Victoria,
though of course that's a much more recent movie.
Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, though we defy anyone to detect
anything coming from the rear channels. Still, the three front channels
are all used well, and Henry Mancini's score comes through very well indeed.
The sound quality is generally very good, though it stops a tad short
The extras include a short Behind the Scenes documentary, actually a
promotional film used to hawk the original release, that mostly indicates
how much fun - and how much work - bringing The Great Race to the screen
was. There's also the trailer and a little bit of cast/crew info.
The Great Race is a noble attempt at the big budget screwball comedy,
but for our money we prefer Stanley Kramer's "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad
World" for more consistent laughs and lunacy from that era of Hollywood.
The Great Race, from Warner Home Video
160 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital
Starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Natalie Wood
Produced by Martin Jurow,
Written by Arthur Ross, Directed by Blake Edwards
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