Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Great Race

Tony Curtis's obituaries include the first time he worked with Jack Lemon in Some Like it Hot but overlook their second movie, The Great Race. That is a shame. The Great Race is a marvelous piece of slapstick.

The movie centers on the rivalry between The Great Leslie and Professor Fate. Curtis played Leslie who was always perfect. He wore white outfits which never got dirty. His (white) car was always clean. His teeth sparkled. He was a noted escape artist (a nod Tony Curtis's role as Houdini) and held various speed records.

On the other hand, Professor Fate, played by Jack Lemon, always failed, often crashing into a barn and landing in a pig wallow.

The race itself was from New York to Paris, the long way. A race like this was actually held in 1908. The organizers expected that the cars could drive across the frozen Bering Strait. This didn't work out and the racers had to ship their cars across. In the movie the cars rode an iceberg.

While most of the movie was a straight-out comedy, it did have an adventurous side-plot near the end. This involved a Prisoner of Zenda plot around Professor Fate. The Professor's assistant, Max, and Leslie had to rescue the others climaxing in a duel between Leslie and an evil baron played by Ross Martin. This gave Curtis a chance to show off his fencing skills and his buff physique.

Jack Lemon and Peter Falk as Max got to chew the scenery. Curtis as the straight man managed to keep from being overshadowed.

The Great race also starred Natalie Wood at the peak of her career.

No comments: