The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Visit From an Old Friend: Return of "The Great Race"

The Times has a nice appraisal of Blake Edwards' The Great Race:
dedicated to “Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy,” it was a similarly self-conscious, super-deluxe homage to American slapstick, as well as an evocation of primitive cinema, set in the early-20th-century world of horseless carriages and hot-air balloons.

Tony Curtis, always in white, plays a Houdini-like daredevil, the Great Leslie, lured into an around-the-world automobile race against the mustache-twirling, accident-prone villain, Dr. Fate (Jack Lemmon). Natalie Wood is on hand as a cheroot-smoking suffragist (with a phenomenal wardrobe), but the movie is largely powered by Lemmon’s energy, roaring like Jackie Gleason as the bombastic Dr. Fate and later appearing as his double, the klutzy crown prince of a Ruritanian kingdom.

A live-action cartoon, full of jokey names (a lustful Baron von Stuppe, a Western town called Boracho), “The Great Race” is surprisingly light on its feet. The action moves from New York (site of a seemingly continuous feminist demonstration) to the Wild West (where Dorothy Provine’s song-and-dance routine provokes a barroom brawl), pauses at intermission on an Arctic iceberg, then passes through pre-Revolutionary Russia (allowing Wood to show off her Russian), before settling down for a spell in “Prisoner of Zenda” land.

It is there that Edwards staged the movie’s famous, nearly five-minute pie fight. Heralded with a two-page color spread in Life magazine, the scene required five shooting days, involved 4,000 strawberry, blueberry and lemon-cream pies, and cost $200,000. The money is on screen, particularly in this excellent restoration of the original Technicolor.
I admit it; I love this movie. It ain't deep, but Lemon's brio is outstanding, aided and abetted by Peter Falk; Curtis sends up every annoying hero in every film of the kind, and Natalie Wood lights up the screen.

Oh, and Leslie does pretty well in the fencing scene:

(But, kids, always wear a shirt when you duel at home!)

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