The Great Race is a 1965 comedy film about a car race around the world. It was directed by Blake Edwards, and starred Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Natalie Wood and a pre-Columbo Peter Falk.The film is (very) loosely based on the 1908 New York to Paris automobile race. The protagonist is The Great Leslie (Curtis), a dashing and wealthy daredevil known for setting speed records and other dangerous stunts. His nemesis, Professor Fate (Lemmon) and his sidekick, Max (Falk) try to outdo him, but always fail hilariously. When Leslie enters a race from New York to Paris to promote a new car, Professor Fate promptly joins the race as well, hoping to finally defeat his hated rival. Photojournalist and suffragette Maggie DuBois (Wood), intent on covering the story, enters the race too. Shortly after the start, Fate's dirty tricks eliminate all contestants except Leslie and Maggie. Later, Maggie's car breaks down and she's forced to ride with Leslie — not long after that, Leslie's mechanic gets "conveniently" sidetracked. Should anyone be surprised that a relationship starts forming between the two of them?The Great Race contains many silent movie-era slapstick and visual gags and parodies. While not a big success in its own time it has since become something of a Cult Classic. It was also a major influence on the cartoon series Wacky Races.Not to be confused with H.P. Lovecraft's Starfish Aliens.
Artistic Title: The opening credits are presented in the form of a turn-of-the-century slideshow.
Asexuality: Possibly Professor Fate. Nowhere does he show any interest in anything other than inventing ridiculous artillery / machinery to outdo Leslie. Examples include how all the men in the bar were going ga-ga over Lily... except him. He seemed to find her extremely annoying, and kept avoiding her - she had to actually pull him over to her in order for her to act like he was trying to put the moves on her (to go in sync with her song). And then there's how he shows no interest in peeking on Maggie bathing in the lake, and even gets frustrated at Max for peeking.
Ash Face: Happens to the Professor and Max a couple of times.
Awesome Moment of Crowning: Played for laughs; when Fate impersonates the prince and is about to be crowned, he abruptly leaves in the middle of the ceremony.
Natalie Wood was actually quite fluent in Russian, and her lines in Russian were accurate.
Bulletproof Fashion Plate: The Great Leslie's clothes never get stained. Lampshaded continually throughout the movie, culminating in a very funny rant by the Professor.
They do at one point - during the massive pie fight. Even then, he makes it mostly through clean. Then Maggie hits him with one completely by accident. And that one pie is the same color as his outfit - quite possibly the only pie in the entire pie fight that didn't have a colorful filling.
Apparently, they had to stop the fight several times during filming so that Tony Curtis could change clothes - he was constantly getting hit by bits of flying pastry.
Car Fu: Max storms the Baron's castle using the Hannibal 8; he rams down the main gates and uses the car's cannon and smoke dispenser to take on the Carpanian infantry.
Which was appropriated by a certain team of scientists down in Deep 13.
That music (more strictly a "theme" than a motif) is associated rather with Professor Fate himself than with the button. If you listen to the track called "A Royal Waltz," you'll hear the same theme transformed into a Viennese style waltz-tune, reflecting how Prince Hapnick is the mitteleuropäisch version of Professor Fate, in a context where there is no button and no Max.
Chekhov's Skill: The film early on sets Leslie up to be a master swordsman. Baron Von Stuppe as well is introduced as being a proficient duelist. A duel is imminent.
Maggie mentions in passing her ability to speak, read and write in Russian, French and Arabic. Much later she, the Professor, and Max end up in Russia and the two men are both comically unable to get anything whatsoever across to the stoic populace until Maggie intervenes.
Chewing the Scenery: Pretty much every scene with the Professor. Best example, though, is probably his rant at the end of the film.
Colour Coded Characters: Leslie wears white and all his gear is white. Professor Fate wears black and his car is black.
Conservation of Competence: Max is completely ineffectual as Professor Fate's sidekick. Though when he isn't by the Professor's side, he actually does display competence: namely, during the rescue mission for Professor Fate (and the others), he actually manages to effectively disguise himself as a fryer friar, go ninja on everyone, and defeat / distract 99% of the guards, thereby aiding the escape immensely.
Cool Airship: Professor Fate has an exceptionally small one - two-person, pedal-powered. It works pretty well, except that the bomb-releasing mechanism is slightly misplaced.
Cool Car: The Hannibal 8 and the Leslie Special. Both were built for the movie.
Cooperation Gambit: After Professor Fate and Maggie DuBois are kidnapped by some bad guys, Fate's minion Max joins forces with the Great Leslie to rescue them. Of course, being a villain Max betrays the heroes during the rescue.
Covered in Gunge: Everybody (except, of course, Leslie) after a large pie fight.
Even Leslie gets this by the end. Not as bad as everyone else, but still...
Dastardly Whiplash: Professor Fate is quite possibly the Trope Codifier. Dick Dastardly is actually based on him. And he resembles Snidely Whiplash, as well, though that is likely a coincidence.
In point of fact, Dick Dastardly was clearly based on Professor Fate, so this is fact the trope's origin.
Dirty Coward: The Sheriff of Boracho. Once the saloon fight starts, he pins his badge on a semi-conscious cowboy and quickly runs out the door.
Driven by Envy: Professor Fate's jealousy towards Leslie is his main motivation. He's driven to drive.
The Edwardian Era: Though no precise date is given, Maggie once tells the Carpanians that they'll have to answer to "Teddy Roosevelt and the United States government", which sets the film between 1901 and 1909.
In the town of Borracho, a fight between The Great Leslie and Texas Jack quickly turns into an all-out Bar Brawl.
The pie fight scene in develops this way; people walk in to the bakery, see what's going on, get hit by a missile intended for someone else and join the scrum—except, of course, for The Great Leslie, who walks through the crossfire unscathed until Maggie gets him in the face at close quarters purely by accident. Obviously, this is Played for Laughs.
Food Fight: Contains the largest pie fight in cinematic history. The scene used 4000 pies and took five days to shoot.
Frankenstein's Monster: Professor Fate's marvelous Hannibal-8 racer is a variant of this trope. It's a car made from the finest parts of other cars, much as the Monster is a patchwork of other people's parts; the scene of its unveiling in the Professor's gothic manor is reminiscent of similar ones in various Frankenstein movies; and Max's appearance with a stolen Rolls Royce magneto in that scene is suitably Igor-like.
Good Colors, Evil Colors: Not evil, per se, but Fate's colour scheme is all blacks and greys, whereas valiant Leslie's is wholly white.
Gorgeous Period Dress: Edith Head, the costume designer for the movie, really went to town on the splendid 1900's outfits (from riding habit to motoring costumes to evening gowns) that Natalie Wood wore.
Grand Romantic Gesture: Leslie loses the race on purpose (stopping right before the finish line) to show Maggie that he cares about her more.
Hand Signals: During Professor Fate's first stunt (being pulled up into the air by an airplane), he and Max both signal each other with hand gestures.
Harmless Villain: Professor Fate is all talk, but for intents and purposes he is relatively harmless; his numerous weapons and plans always do more damage to him to than to anyone else.
Honor Before Reason: At the end of the movie, Fate wins the race, but only because Leslie threw the race to make a point to Maggie. Fate immediately rants at Leslie for this and demands another race so he can win on his own terms.
High Dive Escape: Parodied. After Baron von Stuppe realizes that Leslie has defeated him, he says that he has a boat waiting, adds a We Will Meet Again, and jumps out the window into the lake. Unfortunately for him, his escape boat is small, wooden, and located right under the window, so he smashes through the boat and sinks it.
Hoist by His Own Petard: The Professor's speciality. He gets gassed by his own security system, nearly mauled by his own attack dogs, blown-up repeatedly by his car's own cannon and is sidelined early in the race by his and Max's own mechanical sabotages.
Hyperspace Wardrobe: Maggie must have a truck following her on the race with her entire wardrobe in it.
Informed Ability: Texas Jack is described as the toughest man in the area and everyone is scared of him when he first shows up at the bar, and even the sheriff backs down from his threats, but once the fight starts he's not any better than Leslie, Hezekiah, or his own goons for that matter.
Instant Messenger Pigeon: Maggie uses homing pigeons to deliver her stories to the newspaper sponsoring the race. The pigeons return directly to the newspaper building, not their dovecots, and reach it almost immediately even though they're crossing most of the U.S. to get there.
Intimate Healing: In Alaska, Leslie explains to Maggie that they have to sleep under the same blanket to keep warm.
It's Pronounced Tro-PAY: Leslie doesn't exactly mispronounce the word "automobile", but he over-enunciates it so badly that it counts, ending up sounding like there are four separate words instead of one longer one.
Kiss of Distraction: Leslie pulls one on Maggie early on; after she handcuffs herself to him and declares, essentially, that she's going to keep talking at him until he gets her into the race, he grabs her, kisses her, and uses the distraction to slip out of the cuff and put it on her other wrist.
Laughably Evil: Professor Fate, yet again. The submarine gag and the iceberg scene are good examples.
Laugh with Me: When The Great Leslie and Hezekiah meet Crown Prince Hapnik. The prince makes several jokes, each time gesturing for the crowd to laugh, which they dutifully do. At one point Hezekiah keeps laughing after every one else stops, until The Great Leslie elbows him in the ribs. Watch it here.
Literal Cliffhanger: Early in the film, Professor Fate jumps out a window. When the horrified observers rush over and look down, they see him hanging from a pole below the window.
Lots of Luggage: Maggie DuBois takes along a large amount of luggage when she takes part in the title car race. When her car breaks down and the Great Leslie rescues her, she insists that he take her luggage along.
Of Corsets Sexy: Maggie wears pretty much only her corset (with attached garters and stockings) throughout the final major sequence of the film. She also has her clothes blasted away, revealing her corset, when she pays a visit to Professor Fate's lair early on in the proceedings.
Omniglot: Maggie boasts to Leslie that she can speak, read and write Russian, French and Arabic. He responds that so can he - plus five other languages.
The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Professor Fate to Leslie, naturally. He sabotages all the other cars in the race to keep between between the two of them, and suffers a major breakdown when Leslie deliberately and gracefully forfeits at the end instead of being beaten by the Professor.
The Precarious Ledge: Played for laughs. Henry Goodbody, the editor of the New York Sentinel newspaper, sends his assistant Frisbee out on the ledge of a skyscraper to retrieve a messenger pigeon with information about the progress of the title race. The assistant almost falls but manages to retrieve the pigeon.
Goodbody: Frisbee, next time be more careful. If you're falling, let go of the bird.
Maggie smokes cigars to demonstrate that she's an emancipated woman.
Stay in the Kitchen; Maggie originally wanted to travel with Leslie, but he rebuffed her. So she entered the race herself.
Stealth Pun: Perhaps not so much a pun, but definitely a stealthy joke - it may take you a minute to think about Natalie Wood's line 'If you harm one hair on his head...' (She is talking about Hezekiah)
This troper missed the joke because he assumed she was talking about his mustache...
Stocking Filler: Maggie abundantly displays her black-stockinged legs (said stockings being held up by garters attached to her corset) during the kidnapping and pie-fight sequences.
Storming the Castle: Leslie and Maximilian storm the Baron's castle in order to rescue Maggie and the Professor. See Car Fu above.
Straw Feminist: Maggie has some shades of this. For example, despite her stated goal of "taking women off the pedestal," she is not above pretending to be a Distressed Damsel when it suits her. She also makes a habit of reading misogynist undertones into the comments of other characters where none exist, such as insisting that Leslie's genuine compliments about her driving ability are all secretly suffixed with "for a woman."
Sword Fight: Von Stuppe vs Leslie. Neither wins, surprisingly; Leslie is obviously the better swordsman, but Von Stuppe pulls a Villain Exit Stage Left and jumps out the window.
Tagalong Reporter: Maggie sets out to be one, but when neither Professor Fate nor The Great Leslie will take her with them, she enters her own car in the race. Ends up being a tagalong reporter through most of the race anyway, with one group or the other, when her car breaks down.
Torches and Pitchforks: Subverted when Professor Fate arrives in Siberia. There are crowds of people holding torches lining the streets, all ominously silent. They don't respond when Fate speaks, but when Maggie greets them in Russian they throng the car, enthusiastically cheering.
Villain Exit Stage Left: Baron Von Stuppe pulls one of these on Leslie after the hero proves to be better than him in fencing / swordfighting. He bungles the exit somewhat in a parody of the climactic scene from The Prisoner of Zenda.
Villainous Breakdown: The Professor suffers an incredible breakdown, upon finding out he only won because Leslie chose to lose in order to prove a point