The Great Race is a big, expensive, whopping, comedy extravaganza [from a screen story by Blake Edwards and Arthur Ross], long on slapstick and near-inspired tomfoolery whose tongue-in-cheek treatment liberally sprinkled with corn frequently garners belly laughs.
A certain nostalgic flavor is achieved, both in the 1908 period of an automobile race from New York to Paris and Blake Edwards’ broad borrowing from The Prisoner of Zenda tale and an earlier Laurel and Hardy comedy for some of his heartiest action. [Pic is dedicated to L&H.]
Characters carry an old-fashioned zest when it was the fashion to hiss the villain and cheer the hero. Slotting into this category, never has there been a villain so dastardly as Jack Lemmon nor a hero so whitely pure as Tony Curtis, rivals in the great race staged by an auto manufacturer to prove his car’s worth.
Strongly abetting the two male principals is Natalie Wood as a militant suffragette who wants to be a reporter and sells a NY newspaper publisher on allowing her to enter the race and covering it for his sheet.
To carry on the overall spirit, Curtis always is garbed in snowy white, Lemmon in black, a gent whose every tone is a snarl, and whose laugh would put Woody Woodpecker to shame.
Lemmon plays it dirty throughout and for huge effect. Curtis underplays for equally comic effect. Wood comes through on a par with the two male stars.
1965: Best Sound Effects.
Nominations: Best Color Cinematography, Editing, Sound, Song (‘The Sweetheart Tree’)