Starring: Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Natalie Wood
Director: Blake Edwards
Running Time: 160 mins
The Great Race is an American film about a famous daredevil who decides to stage an epic race across three continents, from New York to Paris. It seems he can’t lose, but a plucky journalist and two of his dastardly rivals have other ideas.
Wacky Races started in 1968, so I can only imagine that this film was the principal influence for the TV show, because that’s exactly what this is: a two and a half hour long episode of Wacky Races. In that, it’s just as silly as you’d expect, filled with harmless and moronic slapstick humour from start to finish that does make for some good laughs, but with such an insanely long running time, the film eventually exhausts itself and outstays its welcome.
Now, I know that there was a big trend for these big-budget epic comedies in the mid-60s, for example Those Men In Their Magnificent Flying Machines or It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that The Great Race’s biggest problem by a mile is that it’s far too long. A light comedy it may be, but that easy-going watching experience disappears when you have to spend a good part of the whole day watching the movie.
Quite simply, this film could have, and frankly should have, been about 90 minutes long. When it’s moving quickly, and it’s in full slapstick swing, then it’s great fun, but the problem is that it stops on so many occasions and breaks away from the actual race to give us some bizarre and often irrelevant show in some random place that the competitors have stopped in.
That happens about three times in the movie, and although the first couple of stops don’t take too long, it’s the final stop, effectively the final act of the film, that’s just too exhaustive. About two-thirds of the way into the movie, the race comes to a juddering halt, and we’re introduced to this manic and completely out of left field side story about a European monarch and some rebels that the main characters get tied up in.
Yes, there are still some great jokes here and there, but when you’re so far into a such a long movie, and then are subjected to a further half hour of random chaos, it becomes incredibly tiring and eventually just boring.
However, although its length is a serious problem, The Great Race does have some great moments, largely thanks to some fantastic lead performances. Tony Curtis plays the generic hero of the film, and doesn’t really have much to do, so doesn’t stand out much, but there’s a barrel of fun that comes from Natalie Wood, who plays a pushy suffragette (and believe me, this film amazingly manages to poke fun at the suffragette movement), and Jack Lemmon who, although annoying at first, puts in an energetic and hugely enjoyable performance as the Dick Dastardly villain: Professor Fate.
Also, as a cinematic spectacle, this film is pretty impressive too. Spanning three continents, the film looks fantastic, and brilliantly captures the various environments that the racers end up in, allowing for colourful and crazy hijinks to ensue all over the world.
Overall, although it’s got some good laughs, strong directing and great performances, The Great Race is a typical example of an overlong and exhaustive comedy epic. Featuring uneven pacing and a painfully tiring final act, this film’s fun atmosphere disappears at the end of its still unfathomably long runtime, and that’s why it gets a 6.8 from me.