"The Great Race" Standard DVD review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

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post #1 of 3 Old 09-28-08, 05:43 AM Thread Starter
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Richard W. Haines
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Location: Croton-on-Hudson, NY
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"The Great Race" Standard DVD review

As I mentioned in my reviews of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" and "The Jayne
Mansfield Collection" I guess I'm an afficiando of epic comedies with wretched excess
and live action cartoon features from the fifties and sixties. They certainly gave you
your money's worth back then.

"The Great Race" was the third big budget comedy adventure of the era the earlier
ones being "Mad World" and "Around the World in 80 Days". All three had all star
casts, impressive stunts and action scenes, exotic locations and rich Technicolor
photography along with 'cameos' of famous television and movie personalities to
amuse viewers. All were 'shows' rather than conventional narratives intended to
'wow' people away from the usurping television medium and they certainly did that.
You could not experience these widescreen movies at home properly...until now if
you have a home theater and DLP.

The picture stars Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in their second co-starring vehicle
after the smash hit "Some Like it Hot" which was the best drag comedy of all time.
Curtis is in fine form as a Houdini type of escape artist and daredevil in 1908.
Lemmon camps it up to a greater degree than in any other film he made as his
antagonist dressed up like a silent picture melodrama villain all in black with a
large mustache. Peter Falk steals the movie as his dopey henchman, two years
away from his defining role as "Columbo" on TV. Natalie Wood is incredibley
sexy as a suffragete and reporter covering the race who trades sexual barbs
with Curtis before they team up as a couple. The rest of the cast are the cameos
which range from major roles like Vivian Vance ("I Love Lucy") to smaller ones
played by lots of TV veterans from "The Andy Griffith Show" and "The Wild Wild
West". Like many Blake Edwards comedies back then ("The Pink Panther"), he
takes breaks for song sequences in this case Dorothy Provine ("Mad World") to
sing the catchy tune "He Shouldn't a Hadn't a Oughtn't a Swung on Me".
Even Natalie gets to sing the ballad "Light in the Forest" with an animated
bouncing ball for the viewer to sing along with her. Like all Henry Mancini
scores, the music tracks are funny and catchy. The Blake/Mancini collaborations
were among the most successful of the era along the lines of Hitchcock/Hermann
and Lean/Jarre. The two men complimented each other's talents effectively.

The movie is based on a real life race at the time...from New York to Paris as
a stunt to sell automobiles. The story is a series of adventures along
the way including a Wild West sequence, a Prisoner of Zenda spoof and the biggest
pie fight in cinema history. Is it funny? It is if you like over the top acting
and slapstick which I do. In the credit sequence (which is a spoof of early
slide show presentations), the picture is dedicated to Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy
which seems inappropriate since their unique 'tit for tat' style of character
humor is not contained in this story. It's more along the lines of a 3 Stooges
short with violent slapstick that is painless no matter what type of abuse
the recipient takes. Not everyone is partial to this type of comedy. Fortunately,
I am.

The locations and massive crowds show off the enormous budget if you see it
in widescreen. The Technicolor is a great example of what made it "Glorious".
Not realistic but aesthetically pleasing to the eyes if not eye candy. They filmed
the Zenda spoof in Austria and used real castles and cathedrals.

Warner has presented the "Roadshow" version of the 70mm blow up screenings of
the time rather than the 'General Release' 35mm Technicolor/anamorphic version
I saw at the Triangle theater back in 1965. Included is the overture, intermission,
entre acte' and exit music. The six track stereo sound has been re-mixed into
the 5.1 format and it sounds very good and lively with lots of rear channel ambience
in the crowd scenes. The nutty sound effects are spread out nicely too. The 16:9
Panavision image is spotless with fantastic color and sharpness. It almost looks like
a blu ray presentation. There are a few minor flaws. On occasion you'll see a hair
in the film gate which was always part of the image but should've been digitally
cleaned off. Also, for unknown reasons, the 'bouncing ball' sing along of "Light in
the Forest" isn't complete. It starts in wide shot but when they cut to a close up
of Natalie Wood it disappears. Originally it continued for the entire song.

On www.imdb.com, a number of viewers have noted the anachronisms in the movie
but since it's suppposed to be a cartoon, I don't find them objectionable. Wood changes
her outfit for every scene and sometimes from shot to shot but that's supposed to be
part of the joke. A record plays music from "The Desert Song" in Tony Curtis's tent
even though that musical wasn't written until 1928 and couldn't be heard in 1908.
It doesn't matter any more than the screech sound effect when Curtis stops his car...
on sand. It's all tongue in cheek and the inaccuracies and anachronisms can be
laughed off when Curtis's eyes and teeth glisten with animated sparkles indicating
neither he nor Edwards are taking the film seriously.

If you like violent slapstic and epic, overlong Roadshow comedy adventures then you'll enjoy this movie. If not, you'll probably find it tiresome and exhausting like those who dislike the other pictures I mentioned above for the same reason I like them. You're
supposed feel exhausted after watching these features.

In summary picture quality, sound design, cinematography and screenplay all A.

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 11-25-08 at 12:18 PM.
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post #2 of 3 Old 09-28-08, 10:59 AM
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Re: "The Great Race" Standard DVD review

Nice review, Richard. I'll have to check it, (and the others), out, as my tastes do run to that kind of comedy.
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post #3 of 3 Old 09-28-08, 11:13 AM Thread Starter
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Re: "The Great Race" Standard DVD review


If you like this type of "show" you'll enjoy them all. However, I recommend
seeing them in the order they were made. You'll see how one influenced the
other. And if you watch TVLand you'll recognize many of the cameos.
People who have never experienced a "Roadshow" presentation way back
then often find these movies too padded and overlong...and they were...but
if you can simulate the 'event presentation' in your home theater I think they'll
understand what they were all about. Since viewers were paying a premimum
price to see these films and had to reserve their seats, the producers felt they
should be given enough entertainment to make it a worthwhile experience. Lots
of scenery in widescreen and Technicolor, lots of stars and guest stars and
episodic plots. Those used to the 'megaplex experience' might find these types
of pictures a waste of time. Certainly a conventional comedy
should stay within the 90 minute range but these weren't conventional movies.
That's why the sword fight in "The Great Race" is played straight without laughs
and very well done. Pretty much a shot by shot replica of the Ronald Colman
version of "Zenda". But they follow that suspenseful action scene with that
massive pie fight which did have me laughing out loud, especially when Peter
Falk enters and gets pelted with 10 pies. It was a 'variety show' movie. The
last one I recall in this genre was "The Blues Brothers". They seem to have
fallen out of favor...or they would be too expensive to produce now for the
limited demographic that attends cinemas.

I try to simulate the Roadshow experience when I project these movies.
I keep the lights on until the overture is over. I have the poster, pressbook
and Dell comic book adaptation on display too so viewers can skim through
them at intermission.

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 09-29-08 at 05:17 AM.
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