|Blink and you'll miss her: Vivian Vance|
Near the turn of the century, rival daredevils Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon) and the Great Leslie (Tony Curtis), among others, embark on a race from New York to Paris [they go way up north and head for Siberia to make their way into Europe]. They are joined by Maggie Dubois (Natalie Wood), a suffragette and wannabee reporter. Along the way -- the very longgg way -- they have assorted misadventures ... Frankly, I only put on The Great Race because I heard Vivian Vance [The Blue Veil] was in it. Unfortunately, "Ethel" -- now playing the wife of newspaper editor Arthur O'Connell -- is a mere "guest star" and is on screen for at best a minute and a half. Boo hiss! Worse, the movie is nearly three hours long. No, it's not awful and there are enough entertaining moments and good acting to keep you watching, but there's no need for this picture to be so long. [The movie is, rather presumptuously, dedicated to Laurel and Hardy, who certainly never needed three hours to make a funny movie!] Probably inspired by the success of such mammoth productions as Around the World in 80 Days and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, The Great Race is bloated and episodic, with way too many digressions. There is a long and unnecessary detour involving a foppish (or stereotypically gay?) prince who happens to be a lookalike of Fate's, a sequence which could and should have been excised from the final cut, despite some good performances from Lemmon as the prince and George Macready as a conniving member of his court. A sequence for some reason situated in the old west has Dorothy Provine [Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die] -- looking sort of like a monkey with a bouffant hairpiece that threatens to topple off of her head any minute -- belting out a terrible number, but at least it leads into a fairly rousing bar fight. On the other hand, a pie fight that caps the prince sequence goes on too long [keeping in with the "theme" of the movie] and hasn't a single laugh. Oddly, the best scene in the movie is a well-cut and choreographed sword and saber fight between Curtis and Ross Martin that isn't played for laughs but plays. Jack Lemmon is in manic mode (as he was in Luv) throughout the movie but is effective on that sometimes irritating level. Curtis and Wood are Curtis and Wood, although they are well-coached in their line readings. Keenan Wynn, Larry Storch, Macready and Martin make a better impression.
Verdict: Not quite "Blake's Folly" -- but not for lack of trying. **1/2.