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Sunday, September 28, 2014

'The Great Race' BD: Blake Edwards Classic Live-Action 'Wacky Races'

Great Race, The (1965) (BD)
Warner Archive once again proves skeptics wrong regarding the value of releasing non-hi-def films on Blu-ray; the recent BD release of the 1965 Blake Edwards classic comedy "The Great Race" looks mahvelous simply mahvelous in that format. The images and sound are exceptionally crisp and clear, and the famous scene that takes a slapstick staple to an awesome new level seems tailor-made for Blu-ray.

Standing alone, this hilarious film that has Jack Lemmon hilariously hamming it up as stereotypically 20-style villain (complete with black top hat and moustache) as Professor (rather  than the helmet donning Doctor) Fate and Tony Curtis playing daring and dashing daredevil The Great Leslie is uber-awesome. The fact that "Race" inspires the classic '60s Hanna-Barbera cartoon "Wacky Races" makes "Race" that much more special.

"Races" Peter Perfect is as great an homage to Leslie as the more popular Dick Dastardly is to Fate and snickering hound Muttley is to Fate's human sidekick.

As a bonus, Unreal TV is sharing a YouTube clip of the 2006 Cartoon Network pilot for "Wacky Races Forever" before getting down to business regarding "Race."

"Race," which is set in the '20s, has Leslie and Fate soon becoming the only competitors in a 20,000 mile car race from New York City to Paris; they take the long route.

Intrepid (but disaster-prone) girl reporter Maggie Dubois, played by a very alluring (and buoyant) Natalie Wood, coming along for the ride adds a wonderful "Superman" vibe to the film; this is especially true regarding Maggie finding herself traveling back and forth between the Clark Kent like Leslie and Lex Luthor style Fate.

Maggie further contributes to the "Wacky Races" vibe by wearing a head-to-toe pink racing outfit with white gloves. "Races" Penelope Pitstop, who goes on from "Races" to star in the uber-awesome spinoff "The Perils of Penelope Pitstop," may have worn that outfit better, but Maggie wore it first.

Other notable stars in "Race" include a perfectly cast Peter Falk as Fate's henchman Max. The pairing of Falk and Lemmon is as good as Jonathon Winters teaming up with Robin Williams on "Mork and Mindy."

The equally talented Keenan Wynn does very well as Leslie's aptly named low-key assistant Hezekiah Sturdy.

"Lucy" sidekick Vivian Vance also shines as the increasing liberated wife of a New York newspaper editor. Aside from Vance doing a great job with the role, it is nice to see her play a character that does not require downplaying her personal beauty or acting neurotic and/or frantic.

Larry Storch of the classic '60s sitcom "F Troop" also deserves notice for hamming it up in a bit part that has him playing a gunfighter who finds Leslie with his girl when the race passes through a frontier town. No one plays broad characters better than Storch.

Archive deserves special praise for artistic integrity regarding retaining the theatrical overture and intermission of the theatrical presentation of "Races." These elements tremendously contribute to the '20s vibe of the film.

Despite this likely being considering cinematic heresy, the only flaw regarding "Race" is a segment that takes this 2 hour and 40 minute film from being a long one to one of epic length. Said (otherwise well-regarded subplot) has our trio getting caught up in literal palace intrigue in a small European monarchy.

Said segment is very clever and provides the benefits of allowing Lemmon to bring his hamming to a new high, Curtis to strip waist and swashbuckle with the best of them, and Edwards to show his talent for satire. At the same time, cutting it would not diminish the enjoyment associated with the main story one iota.

The Blu-ray-worthy special features include the theatrical trailer and a "making of" documentary.

The "finish line" regarding this review is that this edition of "Race" deserves a place in the home video library of ANYONE with an applicable interest in film. The Blu-ray-related enhancements make it a particularly good choice for a gloomy Sunday afternoon.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Race" is welcome to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.