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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer ( )
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • French: Dolby Digital Mono
  Subtitles
    English, French, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, Thai
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Cast/crew biographies
  • Behind the scenes footage

The Great Race

Warner Bros./Warner Home Video . R4 . COLOR . 160 mins . G . NTSC

  Feature
Contract

Start.

Director/writer/pipe smoker Blake Edwards certainly is an interesting gentleman. Responsible for some unquestionably classic pieces of cinema – one of Peter Sellers’ best works in The Pink Panther and the utterly swoonsome Breakfast at Tiffany’s (oh for a luvverly little duck egg blue box to call my very own!), and what many, depending upon their tastes, would label utter celluloid cack – stuff like 10 and Victor Victoria, it can’t be denied that he’s mixed things up through his vast catalogue of works. The Great Race hit the world’s screens way back in 1965, and could hardly be described as anything less than epic, in a time when everybody seemed to be hell-bent on making Ben-Hur look like it was some simple, cheap and inconsequential little throwaway flick by comparison.

So, we get a film that populates 160 minutes of screen time, pleasingly including the original cinematic overture, entr’acte and exit music sequences, boasting a stellar cast including Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Natalie Wood, and one which takes us on a thrill-ride through the cities and backwaters of the US to icier climes, the Eastern Bloc and then trundling through many of the prettier parts of Europe.

Set around 1908, when the automobile was quite the new fangled and decidedly rickety looking contraption, the tale revolves around Tony Curtis as The Great Leslie (YAYYYYYY!!!), gallant lover and heroic daredevil. A man of glinting eyes and sparkling dental work, a man’s man able to make a damsel swoon at 20 paces and possessing the ability to turn any lesser male into a green with envy shadow at the mere mention of his amazing exploits. Ah, but every great hero must have his nemesis, and The Great Leslie’s is Jack Lemmon in the shape of one Professor Fate (BOOOOOOOO!!!), the meanest villain who ever twirled a moustache and all ‘round dastardly mean bean (and quite possibly a relative of one Wile E. Coyote – although the mind boggles at the family tree which that would entail). So far so good, but what tale such as this is complete without a damsel in distress? Enter Natalie Wood as Maggie Dubois (WOO WOO!!!) – not your usual lily-livered wussy girlie-girl, nuh-uh – she’s a poster-woman for women’s suffrage with a fire in her heart, a spring in her step and cigars in her pocket book. In a time where males dominate most every field of work-like endeavour, she is determined to become the first female reporter for the New York Sentinel newspaper, and what better way to do it than to cover the latest challenge for The Great Leslie and Professor Fate, a race from New York to Paris designed to prove the greatness of the American automobile– a very long, and very great, race?

And so the race begins with much hoopla, with our two arch enemies, four other competitors who will probably only last a few frames and the plucky proto-Penelope Pitstop in Dubois. From barroom brawling brouhahas with Texas Jack to arctic ice floes, permanently pissed Potzdorfian princes to the Parisian finishing line, our heroine, hero and anti-hero face all manner of challenges ranging from the elements to political insurrection to custard in their quest to prove their superiority. And in the end it’s all for...

Nothing short of delightfully demented and fabulously farcical, The Great Race is an always entertaining exercise in abject silliness from, well, start to finis. From Fate’s array of diabolical devices of destruction all carrying evil faces with big pointy teeth painted on to one of the most over-the-top pie fights you’ll ever bear witness to and boasting sound effects seemingly pilfered straight from Roadrunner cartoons, it’s an exercise in slapstick that’s about as sophisticated as a fart joke, yet is insanely infectious and still uproariously funny today. It gives us a world where the good guys always wear white, the bad guys always wear black and the sheep are nervous. Or something like that...

  Video
Contract

This is yet another Warner NTSC transfer which some thimble-headed gherkin has decided to release in what is now and always has been a PAL region. BOOOOOOOO!!!

It is, however, presented in anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1. YAYYYYYY!!!

It appears to have been rather lovingly restored, quite surprisingly for its age displaying virtually no flecks, scratches or other unwanted intruders, resulting in a quite lovely and clean representation of the film. WOO WOO!!!

It does, however, suffer from other problems, such as regular examples of edge enhancement, occasional outbreaks of grain, shimmering and moire patterns at times and those utterly horrid NTSC jerk-jerk-judder-judder pans. BOOOOOOOO!!!

The layer change has been carefully placed in a break so as to be almost completely imperceptible, and certainly not intrusive. YAYYYYYY!!!

Colours are beautifully vibrant and, well, Technicolor looking – with a generally pleasing solidness that sees everything from almost vicious reds to blacks blacker than the heart of Professor Fate. WOO WOO!!!

The decent sharpness of the image, whilst not always fabulous and leaving shadow detail lacking at times, is at other points good enough to really expose the use of rear projection to a laughable degree. BOOOOOOOO!!!

Despite its flaws, and the incredibly objectionable lack of a PAL transfer, it’s doubtful anybody has ever witnessed The Great Race looking this clean and lovely. YAYYYYYY!!!

  Audio
Contract

There’s none of those dastardly old mono mixes for this little filmic gem, no siree! Well, unless you’re French, in which case you’ll just either have to learn English, or get cosy with that single speaker (strangely there’s no Russian or Arabic included...) The English audio has all been remixed into Dolby Digital 5.1, and whilst not always a success, it does offer quite the improvement over the original sound – although purists may justifiably poo-poo the lack of a mono track to get all down and dirty with.

Dialogue is fabulously clear, the sound effects jump with a joi de vivre they had hitherto never experienced and the front soundstage in particular is used quite well to spread things out from their original squishy confines. Surround usage isn’t overpowering or indeed particularly obvious, but it’s there enough to be of benefit. The subwoofwoof has a strange old time of things, present for some booms, thrums and roars, yet noticeably absent on others. It does tend to hum along every so subtly more often than you may realise, just extremely subtly.

Henry The Pink Panther Mancini’s score should get billing as a character in its own right. It’s another masterpiece from the master maestro, with suitably heroic themes for The Great Leslie, and nefarious ones for Professor Fate. There’s the odd song and dance number, but mercifully there are only a few – just enough so as you don’t jump up from your comfy and well-cultivated couch divot then run from the room screaming, “No! No! Make the Julie Andrews-ness stop!”. Or perhaps that’s just how I react to such things...

  Extras
Contract

A classic film demands a classic array of extra features. It may stomp its feet, slam its fists on the bar and jump about petulantly staking its claim for such, however sadly The Great Race doesn’t deliver much in this department to get particularly excited about.

The menus are static and boring, the cast and crew bios are almost as perfunctory as they come – only “almost” as there are five pages of filmography for Blake Edwards on top of the two static screens of cast and crew information that are otherwise less interactive than a dead puppy. There’s an almost comically pointless awards screen which lists the many, many bright and shiny baubles bestowed upon the film – erm, a (much-deserved) Oscar for ‘Best Sound Effects’ and nothing else... A theatrical trailer is also included, it runs for 2:53, and although only carrying a mono soundtrack, it is in a 2.35:1 ratio with anamorphic enhancement. It’s a classically silly trailer full of custard pies, boasting that The Great Escape is the “greatest, gayest, wildest and funniest” film you’ll ever see blahblahblah, and is kind of quaint and fun – even if the picture quality is quite icky.

The final extra inclusion is actually quite a good one. It’s a fairly brief (15:26) making of special from 1965, replete with an engaging voiceover and virtual travelogues of Vienna, Salzburg and France, with some film clips and lots of behind the scenes peeks. Oh, and lots of pipes...

  Overall  
Contract

Able to invoke great memories from childhood at a single pace and still ludicrously silly-funny (and great!) today, this DVD sees The Great Race presented in a fairly wonderfully great restored, albeit non-great NTSC, format including all the great extra cinematic bits we never got to see on telly, plus boasting a pleasingly great audio remix and one desirably great bonus feature. If you have fond remembrances of it being great from years ago, then there’s every likelihood you’ll be greatly surprised at how downright gosh-darned entertaining and great it still is today, and if you can deal with the horrid NTSC-ness of it all, it comes highly recommended. Simply because it’s, well, great.

Finis.


  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=2106
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      And I quote...
    "It’s, well, great!"
    - Amy Flower
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DV-535
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Onkyo TX-DS494
    • Speakers:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse RBS662
    • Centre Speaker:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECC442
    • Surrounds:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECR042
    • Subwoofer:
          DTX Digital 4.8
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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