“THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE” (2000) Review

“THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE” (2000) Review

I never saw “THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE” in the movie theaters when it was first released years ago. I have a low tolerance of sports movies and there are only a few that I consider favorites of mine. Another reason why I never saw this film in the theaters is that my family simply had no desire to see it. 

Based upon Steven Pressfield’s 1995 novel and directed by Robert Redford, “THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE” was a box office flop. Worse, it had received mixed to negative reviews. Among the criticisms directed at the film was the accusation that the Bagger Vance character was basically a “Magical Negro” trope. I have to be honest. I was never aware of these criticisms or the film’s status as a flop. I barely noticed the film when it was first released. And I did not see it for the first time until a few years later on cable television.

Near the end of the 20th century, an old man from Savannah, Georgia named Hardy Greaves began experiencing his sixth heart attack, while playing golf. This led him to reminisce about his love of the game and how it connected to his childhood idol, one Rannulph Junuh. The latter turned out to be one of Savannah’s Junuh is the favorite son of early 20th century Savannah, Georgia and a highly regarded golfer. He became engaged to Adele Invergordon, a young socialite from a wealthy family before he went off to war. While serving as an Army captain during World War I, Junuh became tramatized when his entire company was wiped out during a battle. Although he earned the Medal of Honor, Junuh disappeared after the war for several years, before returning to Georgia to live a life of a drunk.

During this time, Adele’s father attempted to create a local golf resort. Mr. Invergordon finally opened the resort, but the Wall Street crash of 1929 and the Great Depression bankrupted him. In an effort to recover her family’s fortune before the banks could claim her land, Adele decided to hold a four-round, two-day golf match between At the start of the Great Depression (circa 1930-31), Adele is trying to recover her family’s lost fortune by holding a four-round, two-day exhibition match between two golf legends of the era – Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen with a grand prize of $10,000.

However, she needs a local participant to generate the city’s interest. The young Hardy Greaves (J. Michael Moncrief) speaks up for his golf hero, Junuh, prompting Adele to ask her estranged love to play. Junuh is approached by a mysterious traveler carrying a suitcase, who appears while Junuh is trying to hit golf balls into the dark void of night. The man identifies himself as Bagger Vance (Will Smith) and says he will be Junuh’s caddie. With Greaves as the young assistant caddie, Bagger helps Junuh come to grips with his personal demons and play golf again.

It was not that surprising that “THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE” was based upon Steven Pressfield’s 1995 novel. However, I was very surprised to learn that Pressfield had loosely based his novel on the Hindu sacred text, the Bhagavad Gita. In this text, Warrior/Hero Arjuna (R. Junuh . . . get it?) refuses to fight. And the god Krishna appears as Bhagavan (Bagger Vance) to help Arjuna (R. Junuh) follow the path of the warrior and hero (sports hero) that he was meant to take.

Considering that this movie was not that popular with moviegoers or critics, one would be hard pressed to even like it. I have my complaints about “THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE”. There were moments when the movie threatened to become a little saccharin, especially midway into the golf tournament when Junuh finally began displaying those exceptional golf skills that made him such a legend before the war. Savannah’s reaction to Junah’s golf game and yes . . . even the ending struck me as a tad syrupy. I realize that this movie is one of those feel-good movies wrapped up in sports, but I think Redford could have tone down the saccharin a bit. I also feel that he could have tone down some of the performances of the supporting cast. Overall, all of them gave solid performances. But there were times when the supporting cast – namely those portraying Savannah’s citizens – seemed to be chewing the scenery.

Despite the flashes of saccharin and hamminess, I have to admit that I enjoyed “THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE” as much as I did when I first saw it. There is so much to enjoy about this film. One of them is the movie’s production values. I wish I could say something about Rachel Portman’s score. Mind you, I thought it blended well with the movie’s narrative. But I did not find the particularly memorable. However, I thought hers and Redford’s use of early 20th century songs and music well done. As for the movie’s re-creation of early 20th century Savannah, I found it more than memorable. Frankly, I found it mind-blowing. Stuart Craig had managed to acquire a good number of awards and nominations for his work, but he never received any acclaim for his production designs for “THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE”. Personally, I find this rather criminal. His production designs were exquisite. And they were enhanced even further by Michael Ballhaus’ cinematography, which was nominated for Satellite Award. Yes, I realize that a Satellite Award is not the same as an Academy Award, a BAFTA or a Golden Globe Award. But at least someone acknowledged his work on this movie. Judianna Makovsky has done her share of costume designing for Marvel Films and other movies. And she has also received at least three Academy Award nominations. But she did not receive any for “THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE”. Again . . . criminal. Her costumes struck me as an exquisite recreation of the period between 1917 and 1931 – especially the latter. If you think I am exaggerating, take a look:

Hollywood always seemed to have difficulty in re-creating the 1930s in costumes and hairstyles. Thanks to Ms. Makovsky, “THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE” proved to be one of those movies that got that period – especially the early 1930s – right.

But I was really impressed by how director Robert Redford and screenwriter used the game of golf to portray Rannulph Junuh’s post-war struggles. Unlike many other sports films, Junuh had already achieved a reputation as a superb golfer in the opening scenes. This meant that the conflict was not about Junuh trying to prove to the world that he was a talented golfer. In fact, this movie was not even about Junuh trying to prove that despite the passage of fourteen years, he was still a top-notch golfer. That was proven by the tournament’s second day. World War I had left Rannulph Junuh traumatized and broken to the point that he returned home as an alcoholic – estranged from Adele Invergordon and many of Savannah’s citizens. It was the golf tournament that led Junuh to Bagger Vance, the story’s embodiment of a deity or spirit that not helped the former get back his groove as a top notch golfer. Bagger also helped Junuh, through the game of golf, regain that human spirit everyone thought he had lost during the war.

As I had earlier pointed out, “THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE” was not a box office hit. One of the main complaints charged by film critics and others was the Bagger Vance character portrayed by Will Smith. Many had accused the character of being a “Magical Negro” stereotype. Considering Bagger’s role in the film as spiritual guide for Rannulph Junuh and the fact that the character was portrayed by African-American actor Will Smith, it is not difficult to agree that Bagger Vance was a “Magical Negro”. I do find it ironic that a fictional character labeled as a “Magical Negro” was based upon a Hindu religious figure. Did that affect my viewing of the film? Honestly? No. I enjoyed Smith’s performance too much to really care. Was his Bagger Vance very saintly? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Smith did portray Vance as a friendly and soft-spoken man with a well of good advice on the game of golf. However, Smith also did a superb job in conveying Vance’s controlling and occasional sardonic nature underneath the soft-spoken manner.

Ironically, Matt Damon had the easier job portraying the damaged World War I veteran/golfer, Rannulph Junuh. His job was easier, due to the fact that he was never criticized for portraying a stereotype. Otherwise, Damon did an excellent job in conveying Junuh’s emotional journey from a happy-go-lucky sports figure to shell shocked war veteran, later an alcoholic community pariah and finally to a battered yet satisfied survivor who managed to regain his life after so many years. If I have to be perfectly honest, the Adele Invergordon has to be one of my favorite characters portrayed by Charlize Theron. Thanks to actress’ energetic performance, Adele proved to be a passionate and outgoing woman who had to resort to charm, guile, brains and God knows what else to overcome the traumas of losing her father to suicide and Junuh to his personal demons in order to save her family’s fortunes and plans for a golf resort. Theron practically lit up the screen whenever she appeared.

“THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE” also featured excellent performances from Bruce McGill, who did such a wonderful job in portraying the theatrical golfer, Walter Hagen; Joel Gretsch, who skillfully portrayed Bobby Jones as a man who hid a raging ambition behind a gracious persona; and Peter Gerety as the hard-nosed city councilman/businessman, Neskaloosa. I do not know if I could regard J. Michael Moncrief (who was 12 years old at the time) as an excellent child actor. But I must admit that I admired the enthusiasm and energy he poured into his portrayal of young Hardy Greaves. As for Jack Lemmon, he did an excellent job as the elderly Hardy and the movie’s narrator.

Overall, “THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE” had its few shares of flaws. And utilizing the “Magical Negro” probably hurt its chances to be a successful movie. But . . . “Magical Negro” or not, I really enjoyed this movie, thanks to director Robert Redford and the screenplay written by Jeremy Leven. The movie also benefited from a superb production design and a first-rate cast led by Will Smith, Matt Damon and Charlize Theron.

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Favorite Films Set in the 1900s

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Below is a list of my favorite movies (so far) that are set in the 1900s decade:

 

FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1900s

1 - Howards End

1. “Howard’s End” (1992) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this exquisite adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel. The movie starred Oscar winner Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham-Carter, Samuel West and Oscar nominee Vanessa Redgrave.

 

2 - The Assassination Bureau

2. “The Assassination Bureau” (1969) – Oliver Reed, Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas starred in this delicious adaptation of Jack London’s unfinished novel about a woman journalist who uncovers an organization for professional assassins. Basil Dearden directed.

 

3 - A Room With a View

3. “A Room With a View” (1985-86) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this excellent adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1908 novel. The movie starred Helena Bonham-Carter, Julian Sands, Daniel Day-Lewis and Oscar nominees Maggie Smith and Denholm Elliot.

 

4 - Gigi

4. “Gigi” (1958) – Oscar winner Vincente Minelli directed this superb adaptation of Collette’s 1944 novella about a young Parisian girl being groomed to become a courtesan. Leslie Caron and Louis Jordan starred.

 

5 - The Illusionist

5. “The Illusionist” (2006) – Neil Burger directed this first-rate adaptation of Steven Millhauser’s short story, “Eisenheim the Illusionist”. The movie starred Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell.

 

6 - The Great Race

6. “The Great Race” (1965) – Blake Edwards directed this hilarious comedy about a long-distance road race between two rival daredevils. The movie starred Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood.

 

7 - Flame Over India aka North West Frontier

7. “Flame Over India aka North West Frontier” (1959) – Kenneth More and Lauren Bacall starred in this Imperial adventure about a British Army officer who serves as escort to a young Hindu prince being targeted by Muslim rebels. J. Lee Thompson directed.

 

8 - Meet Me in St. Louis

8. “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944) – Judy Garland starred in this very entertaining adaptation of Sally Benson’s short stories about a St. Louis family around the time of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition World’s Fair in 1904. Vincente Minelli directed.

 

9 - The Golden Bowl

9. “The Golden Bowl” (2000) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this interesting adaptation of Henry James’ 1904 novel about an adulterous affair in Edwardian England. The movie starred Uma Thurman, Nick Nolte, Kate Beckinsale and Jeremy Northam.

 

10 - North to Alaska

10. “North to Alaska” (1960) – John Wayne, Stewart Granger and Capucine starred in this surprisingly fun Western about how a mail-to-order bride nearly came between two partners during the Nome Gold Rush. Henry Hathaway directed.

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1920s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1920s: 

 

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1920s

1-Some Like It Hot

1. “Some Like It Hot” (1959) – Billy Wilder directed and co-wrote with I.A.L. Diamond this still hilarious tale about two Chicago jazz musicians who witness a mob hit and flee by joining an all-girls band headed for Florida, disguised as women. Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon starred.

2-Bullets Over Broadway

2. “Bullets Over Broadway” (1994) – Woody Allen directed and co-wrote with Douglas McGrath this funny tale about a struggling playwright forced to cast a mobster’s untalented girlfriend in his latest drama in order to get it produced. John Cusack, Oscar winner Dianne Weist, Jennifer Tilly, and Chazz Palminteri starred.

3-Singin in the Rain

3. “Singin in the Rain” (1952) – A movie studio in 1927 Hollywood is forced to make the difficult and rather funny transition from silent pictures to talkies. Starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds starred in this highly entertaining film that was directed by Kelly and Stanley Donen.

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4. “The Great Gatsby” (2013) Baz Luhrmann produced and directed this energetic and what I believe is the best adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel. Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire star.

5-Five Little Pigs

5. “Five Little Pigs” (2003) – Although presently set in the late 1930s, this excellent adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1942 novel features many flashbacks in which a philandering painter was murdered in the 1920s. David Suchet starred as Hercule Poirot.

6-The Cats Meow

6. “The Cat’s Meow” (2001) – Peter Bogdanovich directed this well-made, fictionalized account of producer Thomas Ince’s mysterious death aboard William Randolph Hearst’s yacht in November 1924. Kirsten Dunst, Edward Herrmann, Eddie Izzard and Cary Elwes starred.

7-The Painted Veil

7. “The Painted Veil” (2006) – John Curran directed this excellent adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s 1925 novel about a British doctor trapped in a loveless marriage with an unfaithful who goes to a small Chinese village to fight a cholera outbreak. Naomi Watts, Edward Norton, Toby Jones, Diana Rigg and Liev Schreiber starred.

8-Changeling

8. “Changeling” (2008) – Clint Eastwood directed this excellent account of a real-life missing persons case and police corruption in 1928 Los Angeles. Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Michael Kelly, Jeffrey Donovan and Colm Feore starred.

9-Chicago

9. “Chicago” (2002) – Rob Marshall directed this excellent adaptation of the 1975 stage musical about celebrity, scandal, and corruption in Jazz Age Chicago. Renee Zellweger, Oscar winner Catherine Zeta-Jones, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, and Richard Gere starred.

10-Millers Crossing

10. “Miller’s Crossing” (1990) – The Coen Brothers co-wrote and co-directed this intriguing crime drama about an adviser to a Prohibition-era crime boss who tries to keep the peace between warring mobs, but gets caught in divided loyalties. Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, Albert Finney and John Tuturro starred.

“SOME LIKE IT HOT” (1959) Review

“SOME LIKE IT” (1959) Review

It has been called one of the greatest film comedies of all time . . . and possibly the greatest. Billy Wilder’s 1959 comedy, “SOME LIKE IT HOT” has been the topic of many books and documentaries on both Hollywood and the director’s career. I have seen the movie more times than I can remember. And for the first time, I have decided to publicize my feelings on it. 

Directed by Billy Wilder and co-written by him and I.A.L. Diamond, “SOME LIKE IT HOT” is a remake of a 1935 French film called “FANFARE D’AMOUR”, which was based upon a story by Robert Thoeren and Michael Logan. “FANFARE D’AMOUR” was first remade in 1951 by director Kurt Hoffmann as “FANFAREN DER LIEBE”. However, the French and German versions did not feature gangsters as an integral part of their plots. “SOME LIKE IT HOT” told the story of a pair of struggling jazz musicians who end up witnessing the Saint Valentine Day Massacre – at least a fictionalized account of it. When the Chicago gangsters, led by “Spats” Columbo see them, the two flee Chicago for their lives by taking a job as members of an all-girl band heading for Florida . . . disguised as women. The musicians, Joe and Jerry, become enamored of a “Sugar” Kane Kowalczyk, the band’s vocalist and ukulele player. And both struggle for her affection, while maintaining their disguises. In order to win Sugar’s affection, Joe assume a second disguise as a millionaire named “Junior”, the heir to Shell Oil. As for Joe, he has attracted the attention of a real millionaire named Osgood Fielding III. But when “Spats” Columbo and his men make an unexpected appearance at a gangster’s convention at their hotel, all hell breaks loose.

Does “SOME LIKE IT HOT” deserve its reputation as one of the greatest film comedies of all time? I believe it does. In fact, it happens to be my personal favorite comedy of all time. Fifty-three years have passed since it was first released and it is just as fresh and hilarious as ever. More importantly, “SOME LIKE IT HOT” features some twisted humor that does not seem dated at all. Mind you, there have been other movies and television series (think “BOSOM BUDDIES” of the early 1980s) with a gender bender theme. But not one of them have been as funny as “SOME LIKE IT HOT”. Not even 1982’s “VICTOR/VICTORIA” – which is a close second for me – is not as funny. Both movies featured the insidious possibilities of cross-dressing. But whereas the 1982 movie is a bit more obvious and a little preachy in its attempt to convince moviegoers to accept what is presented on the screen, “SOME LIKE IT HOT” is a lot more subtle and funny, thanks to Wilder and Diamond’s script. In fact, the movie’s last line said a lot more about the consequences of cross dressing than any other movie ever had. I only have one complaint about Wilder and Diamond’s script. From the moment “Spats” Columbo and his men arrived in Florida, I found the movie’s plot and pacing somewhat rushed. Only Marilyn Monroe’s poignant rendition of “I’m Through With Love”, Pat O’Brien, Nehemiah Persoff and the last scene saved the movie’s final fifteen to twenty minutes.

Production-wise, “SOME LIKE IT HOT” seemed pretty top-notch. Production manager Allen K. Wood did his best to re-create the late 1920s for the film. I certainly had nothing to complain about Edward G. Boyle’s sets and Ted Haworth’s art direction, both earning Academy Award nominations. Although a part of me find the idea of “SOME LIKE IT HOT”shot in color somewhat appealing (see the photograph above), I must admit that Charles Lang’s black-and-white photography (also an Oscar nominee) looked very attractive – especially his photography of San Diego’s famous Hotel Del Coronado standing in as the Florida hotel where Sweet Sue’s band performed. Legendary Hollywood veteran Orry-Kelly won the film’s only Academy Award for his costume designs. I must admit that I found them very impressive and captured the late 1920s beautifully. I only wish that the women’s shoes worn with the costumes had been just as accurate. Looking at Marilyn Monroe’s famous walk along the train station platform, I could easily tell that her shoes were circa 1958-59. And I could say the same for the hairstyles worn by the female cast members.

Speaking of the cast,they were superb . . . every last member. The supporting cast provided brief, but memorable moments from the likes of Billy Gray as a young hotel bellhop lusting after Joe (as Josephine), Nehemiah Persoff as the colorful crime boss Little Bonaparte, Beverly Willis as band member and lover of raunchy jokes Dolores, Dave Barry as the band’s “dignified” manager Beinstock and a delicious Pat O’Brien as the sardonic police detective Mulligan. The movie also featured a funny performance from Joan Shawnlee as the band’s tough talking leader, Sweet Sue. And George Raft was effectively menacing as bootlegger/gangster “Spats” Columbo. I have only seen Joe E. Brown in perhaps two roles . . . and one of them was Osgood Fielding III, the sweet and hilarious millionaire whose heart is captured by Jerry aka “Daphne”. I have a deep suspicion that Osgood may have been one of Brown’s best movie roles ever. And he also had the good luck to utter one of the funniest and memorable last lines in Hollywood history.

But the movie truly belonged to Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. Monroe won a Golden Globe award for her performance as the love-sick chartreuse, “Sugar” Kane Kowalczyk. She may or may not have been difficult during the movie’s production, but she more than earned that Golden Globe award. She was funny, poignant, sweet . . . and slightly mercenary – especially in her character’s pursuit of the fictional Shell Oil heir, “Junior”. It is heartening to see that so many have finally learned to appreciate Tony Curtis’ talents as an actor. While co-stars Monroe earned a Golden Globe and Jack Lemmon earned an Oscar nomination, Curtis ended up with the “short end of the lollipop”. Pity, because he was just as funny as the seductive trombone player Joe. But I found his portrayal of the fictional “Junior” even funnier and he managed to utter the second funniest line in the movie. Bull fiddler Jerry aka “Daphne” led to a second Academy Award nomination for Jack Lemmon . . . and he deserved it. One, he formed a great comedy team with Curtis (with whom he would reunite six years later in “THE GREAT RACE”). Two, watching him assume the airs of woman had me rolling on the floor. But what really cracked me up were his acceptance of the possibility of becoming Osgood’s next bride, while basking in the throes of their night together at a Cuban restaurant. It was a superb comedic moment for Lemmon and I would not be surprised if it was the very one that led to his nomination.

What else can I say about “SOME LIKE IT HOT”? Okay, it is not perfect. I was able to spot a few flaws in the costumes and one in the plot. But it is the closest to a perfect film comedy I have seen so far. And remember . . . this movie had been made fifty-three years ago. William Wyler’s remake, “BEN-HUR” ended up sweeping the Oscars for that year. Pity. I have never been a fan of that movie. And if it had been up to me, I would have given the top awards to “SOME LIKE IT HOT”.

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“THE GREAT RACE” (1965) Review

“THE GREAT RACE” (1965) Review

During the 1950s and the 1960s, the Hollywood film industry had released many films that were later dubbed as”blockbusters”. These films were made to compete with the growing popularity of television during the post-World War II era. Most of the blockbusters released during the 1950s turned out to be period dramas and musicals. The period dramas and musicals continued way into the 1960s. However, they were joined by all-star comedies with long running times. One of these comedies turned out to be 1965’s “THE GREAT RACE”

Directed by Blake Edwards, “THE GREAT RACE” told the story of a long distance road race from New York City to Paris in 1908, between two daredevil rivals. One of these rivals happened to be Leslie Gallant III (aka “The Great Leslie”), a handsome, brave and dashing daredevil who represented the epitome of the well-bred American gentleman of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Leslie also possessed a slightly condescending manner that matched his superficial perfection to a “T”. The Great Leslie’s daredevil rival was a swarthy, mustache-twirling villain named Professor Fate. But whereas Leslie’s successful stunts gave him respectability from American public, businessmen and the media, Fate has been nearly regulated to the status of a buffoon, due to his constant failures. The latter resulted in Fate’s eternal grudge against his more handsome and successful rival. When the white-suited hero proposed a long road race from New York City to Paris in order to promote a new car (the Leslie Special) designed by him and built by the Weber Motor Company, Fate decided to thwart Leslie’s plans of victory by building his own super car for the race (the Hannibal Eight). Meanwhile, a female photojournalist and suffragette named Maggie Dubois managed to convince the editor of the The New York Sentinelto hire her to cover the race.

I might as well be blunt. I tend to have mixed views about Hollywood blockbusters. I either love them, in spite of themselves. Or I dislike them. While viewing some of these blockbusters from the 1950s and 60s, they struck as bloated as some of today’s blockbusters. And “THE GREAT RACE” certainly seemed like the blockbuster of the bloated variety. With a running time of two hours and forty minutes, it seemed to long for a mere comedy. Really. The movie also shared a similar flaw with another 1965 blockbuster, “THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES”. In other words, it is a long comedic movie about a race in which only a small percentage of the film featured the actual event. First of all, Edwards and his co-writer, Arthur A. Ross, spent at least 40 to 45 minutes of the film setting up his characters and the preparation for the race. Forty-five minutes. And although the next two hours centered on the actual race, moviegoers only saw the participants race during the first leg of the race that featured the results of a series of sabotage committed by Fate’s assistant, Maximilian, against Leslie and Fate’s other competitors. Most of the movie centered around the main characters’ adventures in the small Western town of Boracho, in the wintry chills of Alaska, Imperial Russia and a fictionalized European country called Carpania and its capital of Potsdorf (during which the movie became a spoof of Anthony Hope’s classic, “The Prisoner of Zenda”). Moviegoers were able to see the race one last time, when the Leslie Special and the Hannibal Eight raced along the outskirts and within the city of Paris – the final destination. For a movie called “THE GREAT RACE”, very little racing was actually seen.

Another problem that “THE GREAT RACE” shared with “THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES”was the abundance of slapstick humor in the story. It came dangerously close to being too MUCH for my tastes. I did not mind the Boracho saloon fight (an obvious spoof of fight scenes in Hollywood Westerns). Nor did I mind Maximilian’s sabotage of Fate’s other competitors at the beginning of the race. But Fate’s attempts to sabotage Leslie’s daredevil stunts in the movie’s first fifteen or twenty minutes and the pie fight inside the Potsdorf royal kitchen irritated me to no end. I believe that both scenes may have unnecessarily dragged the film.

Yet, bloated or not, I cannot deny that “THE GREAT RACE” is a very, very entertaining film. Edwards and Ross did a top notch job in creating a story set during the pre-World War I era in the United States and Europe. During this period, Western society was in its last gasp of clinging to the nineteenth century – a world filled with constricting fashion for women, elegant manners, European royalty with some political power, and binding society’s rules. And yet . . . Edwards and Ross’s story made it clear this world was also disappearing, due to the presence of motorized vehicles on the roads, the suffragette movement, the popularity of daredevils like Leslie and Fate, the threat of political loss for European royalty and the diminished presence of Native Americans in the West. What made “THE GREAT RACE” so amazing was that Edwards revealed these social changes in a cinematic style straight from silent era films like “THE PERILS OF PAULINE”, with slapstick comedy added for good measure.

Speaking of the movie’s comedy, I realize that I had complained a good deal about some of it. However, Edwards and Ross’ script did provide plenty of comedic moments that I absolutely enjoyed. One such moment featured the Great Leslie’s meeting with the board members of the Weber Motor Company. The meeting itself merely served as the springboard for the race. But a surprise visitor gave the scene a comedic touch that I found particularly funny. Other funny moments included:

*Maggie Dubois’ reaction to singer Lily O’Lay’s flirtation with Leslie

*The entire Boracho sequence

*Miss Dubois’ brief, yet successful attempt to replace Hezekial Sturdy as Leslie’s co-driver

*Fate’s explanation of the attraction between Leslie and Miss Dubois

*The entire Alaska sequence

*Fate, Miss Dubois and Max’s arrival in a Russian town

*General Kuhster’s attempt to instruct Fate on how to impersonate Crown Prince Hapnick’s laugh

*Leslie and Miss Dubois’ quarrel during the last leg of the race

*Fate’s rant against Leslie’s perfection after the two competitors reached the Eiffel Tower and the finish line

“THE GREAT RACE” also included an entertaining score written by Henry Mancini. The composer also co-wrote two songs with Johnny Mercer – a charming tune called “The Singing Tree” (that also served as the movie’s main tune) and a rousing song called “He Shouldn’t A Hadn’t A Oughtn’t A Swang on Me”. Donfeld aka Don Feld designed some colorful costumes, reminiscent of the fashions of the 20th century’s first decade. However, I must admit that I found some of Natalie Wood’s costumes a bit over-the-top – namely two of the Western outfits she wore in the Boracho sequence. The movie also featured a swordfight between Leslie and a Carpanian aristocrat named Baron Von Stuppe (Ross Martin) during the Potsdorf sequence. And I consider that particular swordfight to be one of the best in Hollywood history. I am aware that Curtis had some theatrical sword fighting experience in some of the swashbucklers from the 1950s. But Ross Martin’s skills with a sword took me by surprise. Perhaps he had learned it, while training for the theater.

As far as I am concerned, the best asset of “THE GREAT RACE” was its cast. Edwards managed to collect a top-notch cast filled with extremely talented performers. Aside from the stars, the movie was filled with some great talent. Arthur O’Connell and Vivian Vance were hilarious as Maggie Dubois’ long-suffering editor and his pushy suffragette wife, Henry and Hester Goodbody. Marvin Kaplan portrayed Frisbee’ Mr. Goodbody’s slightly befuddled assistant. The Boracho sequence featured a hilarious performance by Larry Storch as the town’s ruthless local outlaw, Texas Jack. And Dorothy Provine gave one of the movie’s best performances as Boracho’s local saloon chanteuse, Lily O’Lay. Not only did she give a rousing rendition of “He Shouldn’t A Hadn’t A Oughtn’t A Swang on Me”, she also injected her character with plenty of wacky humor and charm. The Carpania sequence provided George Macready to give a solid performance as Prince Hapnick’s solid, but traitorous aide, General Kuhster. And Ross Martin was deliciously suave and villainous as Baron Rolfe von Stuppe, General Kuhster’s ally in the coup d’état against the Crown Prince.

Peter Falk garnered a great deal of notice as Maximilian, Professor Fate’s loyal, yet slippery henchman. And he deserved all of the good notice he had received, thanks to his subtle and sly performance. More importantly, Falk managed to create a first-rate comedic team with the likes of Jack Lemmon. Keenan Wynn’s role as Hezekiah Sturdy, Leslie’s assistant. Wynn basically gave a solid performance as Leslie’s right-hand man. But Edwards gave him two scenes in which he absolutely shone without saying a word. One featured a moment in which his character tried to work up the courage to ask a beautiful Carpanian aristocrat to dance at the royal ball. Another featured his silent, yet long-suffering reactions to Leslie and Miss Dubois’ final battle-of-the-sexes quarrel during the race’s last leg into Paris.

Tony Curtis had worked with his two co-stars in previous movies. He had co-starred with Natalie Wood in 1964’s “SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL” And he worked with Jack Lemmon in Billy Wilder’s 1959 comedy classic, “SOME LIKE IT HOT”. In “THE GREAT RACE”, he re-created screen chemistry with both of them for the second time. In this movie, Curtis portrayed the handsome, clean-cut and well accomplished daredevil, Leslie Gallant III aka the Great Leslie. Superficially, his character seemed rather dull and bland in compare to Lemmon and Wood’s more theatrical roles. Superficially. But after watching Curtis portray the embodiment of early 20th century male perfection, one could finally understand why Professor Fate disliked him so much. Curtis’ Leslie struck me as INSUFFERABLY perfect. Anyone who spends even a day in his company could easily develop an inferiority complex. And Curtis did such a superb job in portraying Leslie’s rather annoying perfection with an excellent mixture of slight pomposity and tongue-in-cheek. Some of the best moments featured a long speech by Leslie, followed by a cinematic twinkle in his eyes or on his teeth that led other characters to do a double take. Curtis’s Great Leslie gave a perfect example of why straight arrow types are secretly despised.

The one character that managed to create cracks in Leslie’s perfectionism turned out to be the suffragette/journalist, Maggie Dubois – portrayed with great enthusiasm and perfection by Natalie Wood. The curious thing about Miss Dubois was that she was portrayed with a mixture of both Leslie and Fate’s personalities. Like Leslie, Miss Dubois was an accomplished and highly intelligent woman who also happened to be a multi-linguist and excellent fencer. On the other hand, she shared Fate’s cunning and talent for lies and manipulation. She also possessed a moral ambiguity that led her into conning Hezekiah to relax his guard, so that she could handcuff him onto an eastbound train. Unlike other women, Miss Dubois never allowed herself to swoon at Leslie’s feet . . . even if she wanted to. Instead, I found it a pleasure to watcher her tear down Leslie’s self-esteem, until he found himself declaring his love for her.

One cannot discuss “THE GREAT RACE” without mentioning Jack Lemmon’s superb performance. His Professor Fate has to be one of the best roles in the actor’s career. More importantly, I believe that Fate is one of the most entertaining villains in Hollywood history. This was a character that seemed to revel in his villainy with a bombastic manner, a five o’clock shadow on his chin and deep impatience and contempt toward anyone who was not . . . well, him. Yet, he was shrewd enough to surmise that Maggie Dubois’ dedication toward women’s sufferage would prove to be the Great Leslie’s Achilles’ heel. And his rant against his handsome rival near the film’s conclusion was a delicious study in Fate’s own insecurities about Leslie. If portraying the moustache-twirling villain was not enough, Lemmon also portrayed the affable, yet drunken Crown Prince Hapnick of Carpania with a slight effeminate twist during the film’s parody of “The Prisoner of Zenda”. Hapnick’s regal, yet slightly drunken entrance turned out to be one of the film’s highlights for me. I always thought it was a shame that Fate and Hapnick never really got the chance to interact with each other. Considering Lemmon’s comedic talent, such a scene would have been a hoot.

As I had stated earlier, “THE GREAT RACE” has plenty of obvious flaws. It is an overblown film about a long distance road race, in which little of the actual race was shown. And there were times when the slapstick comedy threatened to become just a bit too much. Especially during the famous pie fight sequence. But Blake Edwards, with co-writer Arthur Ross, created a fun and colorful film that re-created the world of old-fashioned road races and daredevil stunts during the turn of the last century. It also featured colorful costumes and settings, great humor, one of the best screen swordfights ever and a superb cast led by Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood. I highly recommend it.