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Movie Review: The Great Race (1965, Directed by Blake Edwards, Starring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Natalie Wood)

Updated on December 22, 2012


Professor Fate (Lemmon), stereotypical villain and stunt performer, can't stand his archrival, the Great Leslie (Curtis), an irritatingly heroic hero and fellow stunt performer perpetually clad in white with teeth and eyes that literally sparkle and a special talent for winning... and attracting female admirers. When Fate learns of Leslie's entry in a car race from New York to Paris, he is determined to thwart him in what would otherwise doubtless be his greatest triumph. He signs up for the race as well, and with the help of his sidekick Max, he rigs the other cars to self-destruct, eliminating most of the other contestants within the first few minutes of the race. A mere mile or so out of town, only Leslie, his friend Hezekiah, and Maggie DuBois (Wood), a feminist and reporter for the New York Sentinel, remain. Throughout the rest of the movie, the contestants face greater and far more ridiculous obstacles than Fate's sabotages, from brawls in country western bars, to the attempted usurpation of a small European throne, to entrapment on a melting Alaskan iceberg. The film contains the largest successfully filmed pie fight in Hollywood history and ends, rather fittingly, with a bang.


The majority of the charm in the movie comes from the delightfully caricature-like performances of the cast, particularly the diabolical Fate, who with his black attire and maniacal laugh serves as the film's Snidely Whiplash. Even louder and more hysterical than Fate is Prince Hapnik, also played by Lemmon, the constantly laughing, perpetually drunken heir to the throne of Potsdorf and unwitting pawn in political intrigue. Overall, the movie is highly enjoyable, a quirky slapstick comedy gem unlike anything in the theaters today.


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