Friday, June 1, 2007

The Great Race

For no particularly good reason, I have decided to watch a bunch of "driving coast-to-coast" movies. You know, Cannonball Run is part of a grand tradition of movies, many of which do not feature Jamie Farr.

First up: The Great Race! Okay, so it's actually a New York-to-Paris auto race and not just coast-to-coast, but I think it's close enough.

This is a big-budget Blake Edwards extravaganza. I never know quite what to make of movies with Overtures. I always feel like I'm cheating if I skip ahead to the movie. But DVDs must have the "skip scene" button for a reason, right? Anyway, by the time I got to the Intermission and the Entr'acte (...seriously), I was keenly interested in skipping ahead. This movie was the inspiration for The Wacky Races. Okay, now try to imagine a 160-minute episode of The Wacky Races. Now take out the "Race" and put in lots of tiring "Wacky".

I did not like the movie. I didn't realize just how much like The Wacky Races it would be, nor did I really consider the effect of watching it for two straight hours. Man. Jack Lemmon's Professor Fate had me longing for the subtle acting of Dick Dastardly. Everything is paced very slowly so the actors have to mug it up just to keep things going. I guess it's possible that the endless reaction shots are actually the point of the movie; it is Blake Edwards, after all.

In 1965, a movie like this was an excuse for a series of set pieces. Two minutes of racing, then everyone's in a wild west saloon watching the can-can waiting for the fight to break out. Eventually they're on their way, but the racing is stopped for an ice floe or a European Principality power struggle or something. Almost all of the movie was shot on backlots, so you never get more than a couple blocks of driving at a time.

In the 1970s, they'd come up with an interesting twist on race movies: they actually focus on the driving and not on elaborately-choreographed dance sequences. Plural. And the big, stupid pie fight. I do approve of the fact that they appear to have used actual fruit and cream pies instead of the usual shaving cream, but that doesn't make up for the total pointlessness of the scene. The swordfight was pretty good, but I would have preferred to see it in a movie about swordfighting.

I did enjoy a couple of things, like the way Tony Curtis's excessively stiff delivery meant that he kept saying "auto-mobile". Professor Fate's car and submarine were very pleasing to my eye. That's about it.

Anyway, I think this movie clearly demonstrates that just because Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon were funny together in Some Like It Hot, that doesn't mean it'll always work. It might have helped to give them some scenes together. And maybe a whole new script.

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