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The Great Race

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 of excellent.

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 5.1
Starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Natalie Wood
Produced by Martin Jurow,
Written by Arthur Ross, Directed by Blake Edwards


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Updated May 13, 2006