For a long time I’ve set my DVR every time TCM shows The Great Race. TCM broadcasts in HD, and I was hoping to see this film in that format. I then watch the first few minutes of the recording, only to find the quality is, once again, sub-par VHS quality. Delete. Unless you saw this film in a theater in 1965 as I did, you have no idea what a treat is in store. The just-released Blu-ray edition restores the film to its big screen quality for the first time. This film is truly an epic, both in terms of laughs and length.
By 1965, Blake Edwards had built a reputation for comedy as director of the Pink Panther series with Peter Sellers. The Great Race was his shot at a big-time epic comedy. He was 100 percent successful about 80 percent of the time. The film had a running time of 160 minutes, which was reduced on VHS releases to 140 minutes. Now the full film is back – including an overture, intermission and end credit. This is both good and bad. Some judicious editing – cutting a few subplots and scenes – would reduce the running time to 140 minutes, which is about right.
Why should you watch this film? It contains the biggest pie fight ever filmed, with a record 4,000 pies thrown. It features double Oscar winner Jack Lemmon as the dastardly Professor Fate. Peter Falk plays his toady. JL’s son says this was his father’s best film role. Tony Curtis plays the hero, Leslie Gallant III, aka The Great Leslie. Natalie Wood plays a thoroughly modern young lady, journalist and suffragette. Her ever-changing costumes alone are worth seeing in HD Blu-ray.
The film is loosely based on an actual 1908 auto race from New York to Paris. Along the way, there’s plenty of hilarious slapstick and physical humor. This includes the above-mentioned pie fight, as well as a Wild West saloon brawl with all the dance hall girl trimmings. For the most fun of all, JL takes on a double role: the loopy leader, Crown Prince Frederick Hoepnick, of a small nameless country, and Professor Fate. It doesn’t get much better than this.
The race travels across the U.S., north to Alaska, across the Bering Sea on an ice shelf, and then all the way across Russia to Paris. Henry Mancini’s score keeps everything moving, even when the action slows down.
Appropriately, the film is dedicated to Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, two of the greatest film comedians. The disc extras include a 15-minute documentary, “Behind the Scenes,” which is mainly a long promo with some actual behind-the-scenes footage. The original theatrical trailer is also included. The Blu-ray restores all the color and glory that I remember so well from the big screen, and have missed for the last 49 years. It was worth the wait.
Rated 3.99999 out of 4.0000 reasons to watch the RPMs and avoid saying “Push the button, Max.”