Thursday, 14 November 2013

THE GREAT RACE (1965) WEB SITE

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I wish I could answer this - THE GREAT RACE and THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES both came out in 1965. It would be interesting to know who came up first with the idea of the car and/or the airplane film. Fortunately, aside from some brief cross-referenced scenes, THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN remained bound to the sky as THE GREAT RACE was bound to the earth.

In 1907 the world's first really great automobile race occurred: the Peking to Paris road race. It was such a success that it was hoped that a similar long race would be tried soon after. The result was the 1908 New York to Paris road race, which is the factual basis of THE GREAT RACE. It was won by a Thomas Flyabout, which had an appearance very much like the car driven by the Great Leslie. The cars in the 1908 race were to drive from New York City to Seattle, Washington, then get shipped by steamer to Vladivostok, and then to transverse the Russian Empire, Europe, and finally reach Paris. So keep in mind, there was no use of icebergs as in the film.

Blake Edwards always has enjoyed playing around in his comedies and musicals with images from the times of the story. For example, in THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLY one of the two male leads wears eyeglasses, and (to see his girlfriend) climbs the side of an office building - in short (as the story takes place in the 1920s) he is imitating Harold Lloyd in SAFETY LAST. He dedicates this film to Laurel and Hardy, although it is set before the 1920s.

In THE GREAT RACE he uses the forgotten 1908 race to build upon many different social events of the day like the suffragette movement that involves Natalie Wood (as the Nellie Bly like reporter Maggie) and her friend Vivian Vance as the wife (and temporary successor) of husband Arthur O'Connor a newspaper editor. There is also the final days of the American frontier, as seen in the sequences involving the town of Borracho and Tony Curtis' confrontation with Larry Storch over Dorothy Provine. There is (finally) the unsettled state of Balkan Europe, wherein the plot of Anthony Hope's THE PRISONER OF ZENDA is lampooned, concluding with a pie fight.

The film marked the reunion of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon after their first pairing in SOME LIKE IT HOT, but Lemmon's character there was not as comically sinister as Professor Fate is here. Fate is totally captivated by his own ego. He certainly has engineering ability, but he is incapable of being friendly (when he is about to test out a rocket device early in the film his picture is being taken - some kids are touching the rocket, and he angrily yells at them to go away). He also is stuck with having the faithful but totally inept assistant Max (Peter Falk - who comes close to stealing the film) who constantly is pushing the wrong buttons on Fate's machines, with disastrous effects. And he is constantly trounced by the handsome, accessible, "Frank Merriwell" like "Great Leslie" (Curtis) who is far better organized, and a hell of a deal luckier.

Not that Leslie is without flaws. A man of the Edwardian period, he does not think woman are fully the equal of men. Notice that Leslie's most fair minded complement to Maggie is that her choice of a Stanley Steamer for the race was the wrong car. It is, he says, meant for picnics and Sunday drives. But, he adds, her success in getting it across half of the U.S. before the boiler gave out was quite an accomplishment...and she should be proud. The self-satisfaction is annoying as Maggie shows. I might add that in the period of the film, Stanley Steamers won several races - steam engines can build up tremendous amounts of power but they have to be replenished more frequently than gasoline engines.

Besides the four leads (five if you count the under-used Keenan Wynn) the performances of Storch and Provine were good (Provine being allowed a lively dance hall tune - "He Shouldn'ta, Hadn'ta, Oughtn'ta Swung On Me!", with Storch being unable to get the right amount of room he needs to cut loose on Curtis without falling on his face. Wood (like Provine) was given a nice tune - the charming, "Sweetheart Tree". And in the Balkan section, besides a second role for Lemmon, the conspirators George Macready and Ross Martin make the most of the "Ruritania" story - and demonstrate their own flair comedy (a rarity for Macready).

For Martin it is particularly welcome, as his last appearance under Edwards' direction was as the evil criminal in EXPERIMENT IN TERROR three years earlier. While Baron Von Stuppe (what a name - possibly a cousin to Lily Von Stuppe (Madeleine Kahn) in BLAZING SADDLES) is a villain, he is shown to be confused sometimes - see Wood threaten him with President Theodore Roosevelt's wrath, and start singing the "Star Spangled Banner". Martin doesn't know what to do with this female nut.



CRITICA EN EL PERIODICO "LA VANGUARDIA"
Con la inauguración del espacioso y confortable Waldorf Cinerama, la ciudad cuenta con un nuevo y amplío local para la proyección de esta modalidad cinematográfica, que avanza cada día más a favor de los grandes públicos. La inauguración del antiguo cine Mistral, dañado por las nevadas de hace cuatro años, ha sido tan completa como satisfactoria. El nuevo local es digno, y sumamente acogedor. La apertura al público del Waldorf Cinerama se ha procurado subrayar con un estreno de relieve "La carrera del Siglo" la película elegida está inscrita en las características de gran difusión que persigue el Cinerama. Dos echos fundamentales caracterizan, su tema: lo espectacular y lo cómico. estas condiciones se ajustan a un lenguaje universal en el que las imágenes toman prominencia sobre las palabras y son legibles para públicos de todas las edades. La carcajada no tiene idioma propio, y la admiración por unos exteriores excelentemente captados en tecnicolor, también están en "El mundo esta loco, loco, loco, loco", la cinta ahora estrenada, es una evocación de films y estilos pretéritos. Allí se recordaban "gags", aquí con personajes y citas que ocupan lugar preeminentes en el recuerdo de muchos, casi todos los géneros cinematográficos están presentes en este film, que simboliza, en cierto modo, la historia del cine americano, a través de una carrera de "genonevas" de principio de siglo, a través de tres continentes, dos superhombres de la época, el "Gran Leslie" y el "Profesor Fate" se enfrentan a lo largo de la película. Con un humor extraordinario convertido el primero en la encarnación del "Bien" y el segundo en el del "Mal". Las aventuras se desconectan de la realidad por medio de un desafío que convierte a los tipos en muñecos y devuelve a éstos el enfrentamiento, a través del intencionado y malicioso prisma con que se les hace actuar. La riqueza creadora del humor de Blake Edwards encuentra paradójicamente el freno de su propia fantasía. Son tan diversos, espectaculares y fantásticos sucesos que registra la cámara, que la película no pierde su calidad de unificado con una acción válidamente articulada y un ritmo apropiado. Dos horas y media de los mas disparatados, imaginativos y regocijantes tiene de extraño que se produzcan baches en la calidad, e incluso desinterés. Con unos medios materiales extraordinarios, el realizador ha situado un nivel técnico importante. La ambientación es fastuosa, alegre y simpática. Los diálogos chispeantes y divertídos, y la cámara de una gran calidad, potenciada por su amplitud y por un color excelente. La interpretación, Jack Lemmon es quien corre con el papel más difícil, acidez expresiva y su versatilidad son puestas a duras pruebas y sale airoso de las mismas. Tony Curtis es el bueno por antonomasia, héroe cuya prestancia a sido acentuada con acierto. Natalie Wood es la gentil actriz de todos conocida, aunque algo mecanizada por imposiciones de un personaje gracioso pero escaso en matices. "La carrera del Siglo", es una farsa descunyunturada y repleta, de la que hay que destacar, entre otras muchas escenas; la batalla de tartas, resulta por su tratamiento, una página antológica del cine. MUNTAÑOLA.

 






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