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The Great Race Movie Review

leslie fate jack professor

1965 – Blake Edwards –

Dashing daredevil record breaker The Great Leslie Gallant, III (Tony Curtis) enjoys testing the laws of physics with daring and dangerous new stunts. Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon), The Great Leslie's arch nemesis, has a comical and very loud obsession with topping him. Pitting the two against each other in the first-ever New York to Paris car race makes for two and a half hours of laughs. Throw in a perky suffragette and would-be reporter (Natalie Wood) determined to cover the race from start to finish, along with Professor Fate's trusty assistant Max (Peter Falk), and prepare to be thoroughly entertained.

The Great Race employs comedy in all its various forms from slapstick to puns to completely unexpected sight gags. As the Great Leslie effortlessly succeeds at every new stunt he attempts, his foil, Professor Fate, barely survives his botched attempts with a resilience reminiscent of Wile E. Coyote.

The action moves along quickly as the race carries the characters through barroom brawls in the Old West to a floating iceberg. Unfortunately, the pace grinds nearly to a halt as the foursome's iceberg approaches land and a Prisoner of Zenda spoof begins. This sizable portion of the film is slower, but it does yield a surprisingly entertaining performance by Lemmon as Prince Hapnik (with the lilting laugh). Once the race recommences, the fun also resumes and continues all the way to the finish line.

The comic caricatures even in the smaller roles, such as Texas Jack played by Larry Storch, are a joy to watch. These comic figures, like the perfect hero Leslie, in gleaming white pitted against the evil villain Fate, in tattered black cape and top hat, work so well because they are easy to recognize and satirize. The Great Race is a grand, unsubtle comedy as impressive for its colorful period costumes, automobiles, expansive sets, and destruction of expansive sets as it is for the performances of its players.

Cast: Jack Lemmon (Professor Fate/Prince Hapnik), Tony Curtis (Leslie Gallant, III), Natalie Wood (Maggie DuBois), Peter Falk (Maxamillian Mean), Keenan Wynn (Hezekiah Sturdy), Arthur O'Connell (Henry Goodbody), Vivian Vance (Hester Goodbody), Dorothy Provine (Lily Olay), Larry Storch (Texas Jack), Ross Martin (Rolfe von Stuppe), George Macready (General Kuhster), Marvin Kaplan (Frisbee), Hal Smith (Lord Mayor), Denver Pyle (Sheriff) Screenwriter: Arthur A. Ross Cinematographer: Russell Harlan Composer: Henry Mancini Producer: Martin Jurow for Warner Bros. Running Time: 160 minutes Format: VHS Awards: Academy Awards, 1966: Best Effects, Sound Effects; Nominations: Best Cinematography (Russell Harlan); Film Editing; Song “The Sweetheart Tree”); Sound Box Office: $11M (rentals).

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