The Great Race (1965) starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Natalie Wood, Peter Falk, Keenan Wynn, by Blake Edwards
Synopsis of The Great Race
From Blake Edwards comes this classic, all-star farce. It is the turn of the previous century, and American automakers are worried about how to sell their new product. Professional daredevil The Great Leslie convinces them that a race from New York to Paris will do the trick. However, Leslie’s arch-rival, the evil Professor Fate, vows to beat Leslie to the finish line in a car of his own invention. Gags, mishaps and laughs abound! It’s a funny comedy, scored to the music of Henry Mancini.
Review of The Great Race
In short, The Great Race is a comedy. A funny, fast-paced comedy that centers on a road race. The protagonist is The Great Leslie (Tony Curtis), who’s assistant/mechanic is Keenan Wynn. His primary adversary, Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon) is assisted by henchman Peter Falk. It’s hilarious.
Jack Lemmon plays the mustached villain to the hilt, and his interactions with Peter Falk are hilarious. They’re frankly 90% of the reason to watch the film. Professor Fate’s repeated attempts to cheat are ridiculous, hilarious, and backfiring … And they never get old.
Technically, Tony Curtis’ Great Leslie is the protagonist, whom the audience is supposed to root for. But, frankly, I didn’t find the character compelling. Likewise, poor Keenan Wynn gets abandoned about halfway through the race. Courtesy of “reporter” and “feminist” Natalie Wood. Both of those are in quotes for a reason. She’s a reporter (with no experience) who gets the assignment by blackmail. Her “feminism” is talking about how she doesn’t fall into the arms of the first handsome man to come by. And then proceeds to do exactly that.
- Jack Lemmon (The Apartment.) … Professor Fate / Crown Prince Frederick Hoepnick. Frankly, he’s absolutely hilarious as the inept villain. He and Peter Falk are literally the main reason to see the film.
- Tony Curtis (Houdini) … The Great Leslie. The protagonist of the movie. Frankly, he pales in comparison to Professor Fate.
- Natalie Wood (The Silver Chalice) … Maggie Dubois. The faux feminist. She doesn’t need a man! Until she sets eyes on the Great Leslie, and immediately throws all pretense to feminism out the window.
- Peter Falk (Columbo) … Maximilian Meen. Professor’s Fate sidekick, who’s completely hilarious! If you associate Peter Falk only with Columbo, you’re selling him short. He has great comedic timing.
- Keenan Wynn (Neptune’s Daughter) … Hezekiah Sturdy. Leslie’s right-hand man and mechanic. Who’s discarded by him without a second thought.
- Arthur O’Connell (Anatomy of a Murder) … Henry Goodbody. The publisher who’s blackmailed by Maggie to let her cover the great race. Even though she has zero experience.
- Vivian Vance (I Love Lucy) … Hester Goodbody. The publisher’s wife, who pushes him into hiring Maggie.
- Dorothy Provine (Never a Dull Moment) … Lily Olay. The showgirl who shows attention to the handsome Leslie.
- Larry Storch (F-Troop) … Texas Jack. The local outlaw who becomes jealous of Lily’s attention to Leslie. Resulting in a saloon brawl.
- Ross Martin (The Wild Wild West) … Baron Rolfe Von Stuppe. One of the conspirators planning to overthrow Crown Prince Frederick Hoepnick. They kidnap the quartet of racers.
- George Macready (Knock on Any Door) … General Kuhster. The other conspirator.
Editorial review of The Great Race courtesy of Amazon.com
Director Blake Edwards, fresh from the success of the first two Pink Panther movies, indulged his love of classic slapstick comedy with this long free-for-all, which throws in everything but Laurel and Hardy’s kitchen sink. The film reunites Some Like It Hot stars Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, ably aided by a spunky Natalie Wood. The subject is a New-York-to-Paris auto race in the early years of the 20th century, pitting the Great Leslie (Curtis), a goody-goody dressed all in white–even his teeth sparkle–against the malevolent Professor Fate (Lemmon), whose coal-black heart is reflected in his handlebar mustache. He looks like a bill collector from a silent- movie melodrama.
Lemmon does double duty, also playing the pampered, drunken king of a small European country, whose laugh sounds like the wail of a cat in heat. The film may be too long for its own good, and you really have to love Jack Lemmon to put up with his over-the-top performance, but it’s side-splitting in spots. It’s one of those movies, if seen in childhood, that stays in your mind for years afterward. Some of the bigger routines, such as a pie fight of epic proportions, don’t work as well as the simple chemistry between the perpetually exasperated Professor Fate and his much-abused assistant, Max (a terrific Peter Falk). Push the button, Max. –Robert Horton