The Great Race

The Great Race

Screenshot courtesy of the author

New York to Paris

Remember the 1968 Saturday Morning cartoon Wacky Races? Well you can thank the 1965 feature film The Great Race for inspiring this fun cartoon! This movie is based on a real-life event that took place in 1908 when six contestants attempted to race from New York to Paris. Out of the six, only three completed the course – the winner was an American team driving a 1907 Thomas Flyer.

With so many amazing names it’s no wonder that the movie adaptation was a hit! The chemistry between all of these wonderful characters leaves nothing to be desired. (It’s a surprise to learn that Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood could not stand each other off screen.) Given a $3 million budget that ballooned to $12 million, I’m sure it was a relief that the film made over $25 million at the box office. This proved that Blake Edwards (who was both the director and a co-developer of the original story) knew what he was doing! So, is The Great Race really that great? Is this crazy adventure worth your time?

Plot Overview

The film begins with a fun score and an introduction in the old projection screen style. After these wonderful credits we are introduced to The Great Leslie (Tony Curtis) and Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon), who seem to be competing for prestige and attention with daredevil stunts.

The Great Race

Screenshot courtesy of the author

It is seen very early on that The Great Leslie is the hero and Professor Fate is most definitely the villain, always trying to foil Leslie’s plans. It all takes place at the turn of the 20th Century, when the fight for women’s rights are at its peak and women are ready to take on the working world. Enter Maggie DuBois (Natalie Wood) – a free spirited woman with a dream of becoming a photojournalist for New York City’s most prominent newspaper.

Leslie, determined to come up with the ultimate stunt, brings the idea of a long automobile race to the Webber Motor Car Company – the route is to take the racers from New York to Paris! Webber builds a new car, “The Leslie Special,” made specifically for him and the journey to Paris. Fate, now on a mission to foil Leslie’s plan to win the race, builds his own vehicle called “The Hannibal Twin 8” with his sidekick Max (Peter Falk). Max adds hidden gadgets to sabotage the other drivers.

Now to the start of the race! Seven cars are entered, including Maggie DuBois, who is now being paid by the paper to cover the race; Leslie who has no doubt of winning especially with the help of his righthand man Hezekiah (Keenan Wynn); and Fate who will do anything to win.

Through hilarious shenanigans, brawls, sword fights, and romance these colorful characters endure tragedy and achievements! Who will win this incredible race? Will they survive all the different terrains? Will Fate beat the Great Leslie or will the hero win the race and the girl?

The Great Race

Screenshot courtesy of the author

The Good

I have one word for you: comedy! This film is full of hilarious one liners and slapstick craziness. Each actor truly brings their character to life and you feel completely transported into this wonderful race. The sets and scenery are incredible, enhancing the fun story line, score and beautiful costumes.

The Bad

At a run time of 160 minutes and a lot of dialog, this film could be a bit long for a child to sit through. In addition, there are a few concerns to be addressed for young viewers: there is some violence, but this is mostly slap stick and seen in a comedic light; drinking and being drunk is seen many times and is a large part of the film, always seen in a comedic light and during a bar brawl scene; lastly Maggie DuBois dons revealing clothes at times, but nothing too over the top.


Is this race worth your time? Absolutely! This film left me wishing they had made a sequel with a race going back from Paris to New York! It is full of fun, laughs, surprises and twists. Grab a blanket, some popcorn and get ready to settle into your New Year with this colorful adventure!

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