Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Great Race (1965)

The most famous scene in this movie is an enormous pie fight that apparently took several days to film.  At the end of each day, the actors had to photographed so that the next morning, they could be slathered in matching patterns of multi-colored goop.

And right there is a perfect encapsulation of what's wrong with this film.  "If someone getting hit in the face with a pie is funny, then twenty someones getting hit by hundreds of pies must be exponentially funnier!"  No, movie, it's not.

The Great Race was apparently Blake Edwards's attempt to make"the funniest comedy ever".  From this, I can only surmise that Edwards thought the Road Runner cartoons were highlarious, since this is two and a half hours - yes, two and a half hours - of the bad guy attempting to use some gadget to nobble the good guy, and instead having it blow up in his face.  I mean, I'm exaggerating a little, but only a little: "Ha ha!  Professor Fate's contraption has backfired!" is the punchline of the vast majority of the film's attempts at humor.

The unfortunate Professor is one of two daredevils who perform dangerous stunts to impress audiences in pre-WWI America.  Fate is a mustachioed, black-clad villain straight out of a silent films (the debt owed to early cinema is openly acknowledged by the film).  His bête noire is "The Great" Leslie, a dashing exemplar of heroism who always dresses in immaculate white.

Leslie comes up the idea of a transcontinental car race, from New York to Paris (with a short sea voyage from Alaska to Russia).  Fate immediately enters, intent on defeating Leslie (why does he hate Leslie so?  The movie never bothers to say.  He just does).  There are other entrants, but Fate's assistant sabotages most of them, so only suffragette Maggie DuBois manages to last any amount of time.

Various set piece contrivances ensure that Maggie, Leslie and Fate continually run into each other during the film, from bar room brawls to encounters with polar bears and even a 'Prisoner of Zenda' knock off.  If it was handled with an ounce of dexterity or finesse it would probably be pretty good fun, but it's not: there's a leaden obviousness to all the jokes, and none of the principal actors seem entirely at ease in their roles.

This one doesn't make it off the starting grid.

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