The Great Race is a 1965 epic comedy film about a car race around the world, directed by Blake Edwards and starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Natalie Wood, Peter Falk and Keenan Wynn. Edith Head designed Wood's wardrobe, and Henry Mancini composed the music score.
The film is (very) loosely based on the Real Life 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 evil nemesis Professor Fate (Lemmon) and Fate's sidekick Max (Falk) try to outdo him, but always fail hilariously.
When Leslie enters a westward 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 himself, Leslie and Maggie. Later on, Maggie's car breaks down and she is forced to ride with Leslie... and not too long after that, Leslie's mechanic Hezekiah Sturdy (Wynn) gets "conveniently" sidetracked. Should anyone be surprised that a relationship starts forming between the two of them?
The Great Race contains many homages to 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.
Push the button, Max!
- And Another Thing...: Maggie attempts this but never gets to finish it as Hezekiah drags her from the tent. She does manage to get in a nice air-kick though.
- Artistic Title: The opening credits are presented in the form of a turn-of-the-century slideshow, complete with exaggerated caricatures (with an audience on the soundtrack alternatively A. boo-ing the villain, B. cheering the hero, and C. wolf-whistling for the heroine), as well as humorous simulated projector jams and slides burning from the hot lamp. It can be seen here.
- Ash Face: Happens to the Professor and Max a couple of times, as well as mud face, chicken feathers, and eventually pie face for everyone. They are daredevils, after all.
- Attack! Attack... Retreat! Retreat!: During the duel between Leslie and the Baron, Max blasts open the main gate and escapes the castle while the soldiers give chase on foot. We then see Max has turned the tables on them with the car's ice melter and smoke screen, chasing them back into the court yard and blinding them with smoke.
- 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.
- Bar Brawl: One of the greatest.Texas Jack: Come on now, everybody stand back and give a man some FIGHTIN' ROOM!
- Battle Butler: Max and Hezekiah both act as domestic servants to their employers, in addition to their duties as bodyguards and assistants in their daredevil acts.
- Battle Strip: When the pie fight begins, Maggie ditches the jacket she was wearing, leaving her in only her corset and stockings.
- Beard of Evil: Baron Von Stuppe rocks a villainous goatee, Professor Fate has an evil moustache (that temporarily becomes a Hitler-stache when the ends of it are frozen in ice and then broken off), and both secondary antagonists General Kuhster and Texas Jack have prominent moustaches as well.
- Bears Are Bad News: A polar bear decides to hang out in the Hannibal Twin 8 in Alaska, scaring the crap out of Professor Fate and Max.
- Bedsheet Ladder: When Maggie is imprisoned, she makes one out of her clothes. Though her escape attempt was unsuccessful, it certainly wasn't pointless. From the look on his face, the Baron would certainly agree.(Baron Von Stuppe has just seen Fate off and turns around just as a yellow rope drops in front on his face. He looks up just in time to hear a ripping sound, followed by him holding out his arms and catching Maggie in nothing but her underwear, corset and stalkings.)Baron Von Stuppe: Good evening.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Maggie and Leslie. To the point where he throws the race just to make a point to her.
- "Be Quiet!" Nudge: Done by Leslie to Hezekiah during the Laugh with Me! moment mentioned below.
- Big Budget Beef-Up: While crafted as a loving tribute to the often-dirt cheap medium of silent film, the sheer scale, ambition, and length of Edwards' story made the film, at the time, the most expensive comedy in history (roughly $90 million when adjusted for inflation).note
- Big Damn Heroes: Of all people, Max, Fate's dimwitted henchman, gets to be one in the climax of the film, even though he's ostensibly a villain.
- The Big Race: The film is about a long distance auto race in 1908. Really long distance. New York to Paris, traveling west.
- Bilingual Bonus
- Borracho means "drunkard" in Spanish.
- Natalie Wood was actually quite fluent in Russian, and her lines in Russian were accurate.
- It is extremely unlikely to be a coincidence that Baron Von Stuppe's name is pronounced identically to the Yiddish word "shtup." After all, his prowess with the blade is surpassed only by his reputation with the ladies!
- Bulletproof Fashion Plate: The Great Leslie's clothes almost never get stained (except during the pie fight). Lampshaded continually throughout the movie, culminating in a very funny rant by the Professor.
- Captain Obvious: Maggie's method of sending messages back to the New York Sentinel.Max: That was a pigeon!
- Thank you, Max.
- Car Fu: Max storms the Baron's castle using the Leslie Special and then immediately switches to the Hannibal Twin 8. He uses the car's cannon, smoke dispenser and ice melter to take on the Carpanian infantry.
- Chekhov's Gun: The cannon mounted in Fate's Hannibal Twin 8 is shown (twice) to bring down the entire garage when fired indoors. It gets fired multiple times during the movie. It was used to destroy Borracho's supply of gasoline, to signal people on shore when they're on the ice floe, twice during the rescue attempt at the Baron's castle, and as all the characters leave Potsdorf, but right at the end the cannon's special skill turns up as it is fired and the Eiffel Tower collapses as a result.
- 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 Professor Fate. 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. (Even his car's tires are white — not whitewalls, but made entirely of white rubber!) Professor Fate wears black and his car is black.
- Combat Compliment: Leslie and the Baron compliment each other during their duel.
- 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 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 Twin 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 after the rescue.
- Covered in Gunge: Everybody (including Leslie, eventually) gets covered in cream during the large pie fight in the third act.
- Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Professor Fate can design and construct a rocket vehicle, a human-powered dirigible, a torpedo that can track loud noises, a sophisticated security system, and a car capable of matching a professionally-designed one in a race around the world with additional offensive and defensive equipment. In 1908. If he'd stop trying to outdo Leslie, he'd be rich.
- 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.
- Disproportionate Retribution
- Fate arrives at the city of Boracho and is presented with the key to the city and be their guest of honor. Fate just wants to refuel and continue the race. After a bit of arguing, the Mayor of Boracho gives Fate an ultimatum: either he accepts the key to the city and attends their party as their guest of honor or he can be a guest of honor "at a necktie party".Max: Necktie?! Well what kind of cheap present is that?
- It's subverted with Leslie and his friends when they arrive in town and given the same ultimatum. In their case, with Leslie being a Nice Guy, he was more than happy to accept.
- Fate arrives at the city of Boracho and is presented with the key to the city and be their guest of honor. Fate just wants to refuel and continue the race. After a bit of arguing, the Mayor of Boracho gives Fate an ultimatum: either he accepts the key to the city and attends their party as their guest of honor or he can be a guest of honor "at a necktie party".
- Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: Leslie smokes a white one (naturally).
- 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. The race the film was loosely based on took place in 1908.
- Epic Race
- Escalating Brawl
- 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.
- Evil Chancellor: General Kuhster and Baron von Stuppe plot against Prince Hapnik to have him removed from power in Potsdorf so they can take over.
- Evil Laugh: Professor Fate has a particularly memorable one. Played with in the scene where General Kuhster gives Fate an impromptu lesson on laughing like Prince Hapnik. It doesn't appear to have any effect.
- The Exile: Kuhster is banished from Carpania for his role in the attempted coup — during the pie fight, no less.Hapnik: You! You're the cause of it all! It was your idea!
Kuhster: No, Your Highness! It was Baron von Stuppe!
Hapnik: I don't care! I don't care! You're banished! (Kuhster stands at attention and salutes as Hapnik throws flour in his face) I'm getting! A new! Tucker-inner! Banished! Banished! Banished!
- Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: During the beginning of the race, Max keeps listing off car numbers and then explaining to Fate how that particular car has been sabotaged, right before we see that car fall apart exactly as described. This leads up to...Max: Car #5—the engine falls out!
Fate: Car #5! Ha ha ha ha!...Hey, Max...we're #5.
- Fake King: In a subplot, parodying The Prisoner of Zenda, Prince Hapnik, crown prince of a fictional kingdom is replaced by Fate, who looks exactly like him except with a shorter mustache.
- Faux Affably Evil: The Baron, who maintains his polite demeanor even when he's about to torture Hezekiah with a hot fire poker or trying to kill Leslie in a sword fight.
- Flynning: The sword duel. Lampshaded when the Baron suggests they switch to sabers and they trade their fencing foils for fencing sabers; still foil-like, with thicker cross-sections elaborate, saber-like hilts.
- Follow the Bouncing Ball: The singalong when Maggie sings "The Sweetheart Tree".
- 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 Twin 8 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 (very loud) 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.
- Have a Gay Old Time: The trailer calls the film the gayest comedy in the world.
- Heel–Face Turn: Max does one very briefly when working with Leslie to free the others. It turns out to be an Enemy Mine when Max quickly resumes his villainous tendencies once the Professor is free.
- Henpecked Husband: Maggie's editor, Mr Goodbody. His wife is also the leader of the Suffragette movement that leads a protest march and later stages a sit-in at the New York Sentinel. Her antics eventually drives him into a mental breakdown that leaves her temporarily as editor.
- Heroes Prefer Swords: Early in the film, we are shown that The Great Leslie is an expert fencer. This comes in handy later in the film.
- High-Class Gloves: Maggie wears them several times.
- High-Dive Escape: Parodied twice.
- After Fate is exposed at a board meeting, he dives out a window and hangs onto a convenient flag pole while making a Bad Ass Boast about how he'll build the greatest automobile in the world and win. Max is waiting for him below with a car equipped with a trampoline to catch him. It would've worked if only Max had stayed put for another thirty seconds or so. Instead, Fate bounces up several feet, Max drives away and he falls right down an open manhole.
- 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.
- Hilarity Ensues: Professor Fate's attempts to outdo or sabotage Leslie.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: The Professor's specialty. He gets bonked on the head by the hot air balloon he shot down, dropped into a barn by his under-powered airplane, blown up by his own torpedo, launched into the air by his over-powered rocket sled, falls down a open manhole in a failed High-Dive Escape, nearly mauled by his own attack dogs, gassed by his own security system, blown-up repeatedly by his car's own cannon and is sidelined early in the race by his and Max's own mechanical sabotages.
- 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.
- Hyperspace Wardrobe: Maggie must have a truck following her on the race with her entire wardrobe in it.
- Identical Stranger: Fate and the Prince (both played by Jack Lemmon). Lampshaded when Leslie and Hezekiah meet the Prince.Hezekiah: Your Highness, do you have any relatives in the United States?
Hapnik: Me? Relatives in States? (confused look)
Leslie: It's of no consequence. It's just that you bear an uncanny resemblance to someone we both know.
Hapnik: Someone who looks like me?
(Hapnik starts laughing and everyone else joins in. A moment later, he stops everyone laughing)
Hapnik: Poor fellow!
(Hapnik starts laughing again and everybody else joins in again.)
- Ignore the Fanservice: Professor Fate is too busy trying to win the race to care about such frippery. 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). He also shows no interest in peeking on Maggie bathing in the lake, and even gets frustrated at Max for peeking.
- The Igor: Max is one, albeit one that is a lot easier on the eyes than most. His sneaky hunched over walk makes do for his lack of a true hunchback.
- Incoming Ham: "I AM PROFESSOR FATE!"
- Met with dead silence by the (Russian-speaking) villagers.
- It comes even early. In the very first scene: "A PARACHUTE!?!"
- Informed Ability: Texas Jack is described as the toughest man in the area. 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 even 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.
- Intermission: (2 minutes long, with music)
- Intimate Healing: In Alaska, Leslie explains to Maggie that they have to sleep under the same blanket to keep warm. And then they're joined by Professor Fate and Max.
- Iron Butt Monkey: Professor Fate and Max.
- It's Been Done: When Leslie proposes a race to demonstrate the superiority of the American automobile, he's immediately told that such races have already been done. He then reveals that his idea of a race is much longer than anything before. As in twenty thousand miles longer.Board Chairman: Buffalo to Albany? It's been done.Board member: Chicago to Cleveland, that's been done.(Leslie removes a model automobile from its base and places it on the conference table)Leslie: New York...(rolls the model down the length of the conference table into the Chairman's hands)Leslie: To Paris.
- Jerkass Has a Point: General Khuster is committing treason by trying to use Professor Fate to impersonate the Prince and then abdicate in Khuster's favour... but on the other hand, Prince Hapnik is a Cuckoocloudlander at best, idiot at worst, who drinks far too much either way. He's going to be a really bad ruler.
- Kiss-Kiss-Slap: Maggie slaps Leslie, after he kisses her.
- 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.
- Large Ham: Jack Lemmon as Professor Fate. His laugh takes this up to eleven - and it's awesome.
- 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. The Prince finds that quite funny and has everyone start laughing with him again.
- Leitmotif: Each of the three main characters has one. Leslie's is upbeat and patriotic, Fate's is plodding and comic, and Maggie's is romantic (being an instrumental version of "The Sweetheart Tree").
- 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.
- Meaningful Name
- Borracho. Which is Spanish for drunk.Lily: If by now, you haven't masteredThe gentle art of getting plastered,You're just a Low-Down, you ain't masteredThe motto of our town!
- Baron Von Stuppe, who's said to be very popular with the ladies.
- Max Meen, Fate's henchman
- Hezekiah Sturdy, Leslie's trusty mechanic
- The leader of Carpania's military is General Kuhster
- Borracho. Which is Spanish for drunk.
- Minion with an F in Evil: Max isn't actually malicious, and he proves rather helpful to Leslie when they team up for a Big Damn Heroes.
- Mistaken for Fake Hair: Played for Laughs. The Great Leslie is in a meeting with the board of directors of an automobile company to convince them to hold the title race. His nemesis Professor Fate is in disguise (wearing a fake beard) amongst them. When Fate speaks out against Leslie's plan, Leslie tries to rip off his beard and expose his fraud. When Leslie's attempt fails, Fate pulls on his own beard to demonstrate that it's real and accidentally pulls it off.
- Mister Big: Texas Jack, despite having a fearsome reputation and being the scourge of Boracho, is a tiny man. In fact, both the main characters and Jack's minions are bigger than he is.
- Mobile Shrubbery: We get our first glimpse on Professor Fate and Max when he is following Leslie's latest deed inside a shrubbery.
- Monumental Damage: Professor Fate and Max accidentally blow up the Eiffel Tower at the end.
- Mr. Fanservice: Leslie going shirtless for the rescue and duel scenes.
- Ms. Fanservice: Maggie, who spends a significant amount of time in the third act just wearing a corset and stockings.
- Negative Continuity: Leslie's clothes constantly get stained - but never remain stained, always appearing clean in their next shot.
- No Indoor Voice: Professor Fate, once again. He does a disproportionate amount of shouting, and aims it at everyone.
- Odd Couple: See Opposites Attract below.
- 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.
- Ominous Pipe Organ: Professor Fate has one in his mansion, complete with the requisite rendition of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor. Played with in that it's a player pipe organ — all he does is pump the pedals.
- 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.
- Operation: Jealousy: Maggie gets fed up with Leslie's flirting with other women... so she decides to play this out. With Professor Fate of all people. Hilarity Ensues.
- Opposites Attract: The Great Leslie - charming male chauvinist. Maggie DuBois - militant women's libber.
- Our Nudity Is Different: Maggie daringly exposes her stockings to the shocked newspaper editor, Mr. Goodbody.
- Outdoor Bath Peeping: Max takes a peek at Maggie when she's bathing in a lake (though she's not naked). The Professor goes to throw a bucket of water on him only for Max to accidentally throw his bucket of water on him.
- Out-of-Genre Experience: The movie is mostly straight-up Slapstick, but the sword duel between Leslie and Baron Rolfe von Stuppe suddenly shifts the picture to a pretty dramatic swashbuckler sequence that harkens back to the Errol Flynn days, what with the tense music and real bloody cuts each duelist inflicts on the other. Then it goes back to slapstick when the Baron botches his Villain: Exit, Stage Left.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: Professor Fate tends to don these. Most notably an instance where all he does is add a fake beard and a ridiculously over-the-top Scottish accent.
- Parasol of Prettiness: Maggie has one.
- Pie in the Face: See Food Fight, above. Every major player gets at least one pie in the face — Max gets 8 in the first round.
- Plucky Girl: Maggie, of course
- 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 feel yourself falling, let go of the bird!
- Pretty in Mink
- Protest By Obstruction: Maggie Dubois chains herself to a men's bathroom door in the New York Sentinel newspaper building to protest the paper's policy of not hiring women. She tries to force the editor to hire her as the first female reporter for the paper.
- Put Their Heads Together: While The Great Leslie is infiltrating a castle, he knocks out two guards by slamming their heads together.
- Railing Kill: No people are killed, but so many people are punched, kicked, thrown and kissed (it makes sense in context) over the rails in the Borracho saloon fight that the fight takes out the railing, the balcony and the stairwell (as well as the bar and most of the tables and chairs).
- Railroad Tracks of Doom: Played for Laughs when Fate and max decide to use train tracks as a shortcut. A train quickly comes along and objects.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Fate and Leslie, as demonstrated whenever they're anywhere near each other. Such as on the iceberg.Fate: You're wasting your time!
Fate: We're melting!
Max: We're gonna sink!
Fate: Then you're wasting your time!
- Rewatch Bonus: Lily Olay's song He Shouldn'ta, oughtn'ta, hadnt'a swang on me, which is all about her knocking down men who tried to abuse her, actually gets much less comedic and much more tragic when it turns out Lily is an relationship with an abusive outlaw whom she is helpless against.
- Road Runner vs. Coyote: Leslie and Professor Fate.
- Running Gag
- "Push the button, Max," which inevitably leads to "MAAAAAAAAAAAXXXXX!!!"
- Almost every time The Great Leslie is in a crowd of some kind, a random woman (though never Maggie!) will literally throw herself at him and kiss him. Even in the middle of a bar brawl!
- Ruritania: Prince Hapnik's country of Carpania.
- The Savage Indian: Subverted. The Professor and Max are chased into Boracho by what they assume are savage Indians. It turns out they were just the Mayor's welcoming group dressed up.
- Say My Name: Professor Fate always screams Max's name whenever something goes wrong. It's pretty funny, actually.
- Shout-Out: The dedication at the beginning of the film: "for Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy".
- Show Some Leg: Maggie convinces her editor to give her the assignment of covering the race with showing him her legs in silk stockings.
- Slap-Slap-Kiss: The Great Leslie and Maggie DuBois.
- Smoking Is Cool
- Leslie smokes a white pipe.
- 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 the very bald Hezekiah.)
- Steampunk: Both an Ur-Example and Trope Codifier.
- 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.
- Stock Sound Effects: Many familiar sound effects from the Looney Tunes cartoons are used throughout the movie, to good effect. Sound designer and editor Treg Brown (who also worked on most of the Looney Tunes cartoons from 1936 to 1965 and created many of said effects) even won an Academy Award for Sound Effects for this film! Worthy of note is the torpedo making the same sound effect used for the Tasmanian Devil spinning.
- 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 Damsel in Distress 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."
- Strolling Through the Chaos: Leslie during the pie fight, though he eventually gets one in the face.
- Suave Sabre: Near the end, The Great Leslie confronts Baron von Stuppe, who is trying to make a getaway. Leslie is at first armed with a fencing foil, and the Baron picks up one to engage him with, but after a minute of back and forth (clearly making the Baron sweat), the Baron suggests they switch to the saber, "a man's weapon" according to the Baron. (However, these "sabers" look more like epees.) Leslie is still shown as better than the Baron, who flees.
- The Suffragette: Maggie Dubois is a suffragette who wants to become the first female reporter for the New York Sentinel newspaper in order to promote women's rights, including the right to vote. She joins the race in order to get a great story and prove herself.
- Sweetie Graffiti: Appears in "The Sweetheart Tree".
- 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.
- Tae Kwon Door: Leslie slams a door on one of the Baron's mooks — and doesn't seem to realize it until he opens the door and said mook collapses.
- 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.
- Tap on the Head: At least 11 people altogether.
- Maggie Dubois to The Great Leslie with a champagne bottle (accidentally).
- Max to Hezekiah with a window bar (also accidentally - he thought Hezekiah was a guard).
- Max KO's 3 castle guards (and possibly a monk) with the window bar.
- The Great Leslie takes out six castle guards:
- Two with a skull-to-skull smash.
- One by swinging him headfirst into a wall.
- Two with punches to the face.
- One by slamming a door in his face.
- Tempting FateProf. Fate: Do you realize the odds against a storm in this part of the ocean at this time of year?Max: No, what?Prof. Fate: 100-to-1.
- Those Magnificent Flying Machines: Professor Fate uses a small pedal-powered airship to try and drop a bomb onto Leslie, with predictable results.
- 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.
- Twinkle Smile: Leslie.
- Undying Loyalty: Hezekiah and Max, to Leslie and the Professor respectively.
- Unlimited Wardrobe: Maggie wears a different costume in every scene.
- Vehicular Sabotage: The villain's sidekick sabotages all the cars before the race... including their own. They realize it about a second before their engine falls out of the car.Max: Car #5 — the engine falls out!
Fate: Car #5! (laughs loudly) Hey, Max...we're #5.
- A following car then swerves to miss the dropped engine, and crashes. Max observes that he had sabotaged that one too, so that it's wheels would come off. Sure enough, all four wheels then simultaneously pop off the wrecked car.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: There actually was a NY to Paris Automobile Race in 1908, and some of the more nonsensical aspects of the movie (crossing the Bering Strait on an ice floes, for instance) were actually considered for the actual race before common sense prevailed. Three cars finished and all still survive today in museums.
- 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
- The Von Trope Family: Baron von Stuppe.
- Wacky Racing: The inspiration for Wacky Races.
- Weaponized Car: The Hannibal Twin 8 (Fate's car) has a built-in cannon, among other things.
- We Will Meet Again: Von Stuppe: "He who fights and runs away will live to fight another day" before escaping.
- World Tour: New York City to Paris, via the American Midwest, the Bering Strait, and eastern and central Europe.