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The Great Race (1965) - Plot Summary Poster

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Summaries

  • In the early 20th century, two rivals, the heroic Leslie and the despicable Professor Fate, engage in an epic automobile race from New York to Paris.

  • Professional daredevil and white-suited hero, The Great Leslie, convinces turn-of-the-century auto makers that a race from New York to Paris (westward across America, the Bering Straight and Russia) will help to promote automobile sales. Leslie's arch-rival, the mustached and black-attired Professor Fate vows to beat Leslie to the finish line in a car of Fate's own invention.

  • In the early twentieth century, the Great Leslie - daredevil and all 'round Renaissance man always clad in white - has several world records to his name in daring feats of courage, always with the faithful Hezekiah by his side. Leslie's arch enemy is the dastardly Professor Fate - always clad in black - who is always trying either to outdo Leslie or thwart Leslie's attempts of daring, without success. Leslie suggests to the Webber Motor Car Company that they show their engineering expertise by building the supreme motor car for a New York to Paris race, that car which they ultimately name the Leslie Special after their inspiration. Not to be outdone, Fate, with his equally dastardly sidekick Max, also enters the race with what he considers his motor car masterpiece, the Hannibal Twin-8. Nothing is too dastardly an act in Fate's goal of winning. One of the other entries is the beautiful Maggie Dubois, a reporter covering the race for the New York Sentinel newspaper. An emancipated woman, Maggie initially tried to convince both Leslie and Fate to use her as their driving partner, both who refused, considering her among the weaker sex. Maggie however convinced the newspaper both to hire her and to sponsor their own car with her as the driver based on the internal struggle within the newspaper's ownership, which is similar to Maggie's own struggles. Maggie expects to win: in her logic, she is covering the entire race (which she does with the use of some primitive but effective technology), meaning she needs to be first at the finish line. Despite being emancipated, Maggie is not averse to using her feminine wiles to her advantage. Through the race, they come across a few adventures and obstacles. But being a long race with much interaction between the racers, their mindsets and priorities may change based on their time together.

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  • A spectacular land race from New York to Paris in the early 20th century is planned, the two main competitors being the handsome, dashing hero in white, The Great Leslie, and the dastardly, black-suited Professor Fate. While Fate's sidekick, Max, attempts to sabotage Leslie and the other racers, Leslie finds an unlikely ally in Maggie DuBois, a suffragette and journalist-turned-racer whose car breaks down halfway through the event.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are reunited again, this time with Blake Edwards at the wheel of this epic farce. In an homage to the great silent stars--Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton--"The Great Race" is classic slapstick and grand adventure combined.

    The film takes us back to the early days of automobiles, a time when there were hundreds of designers rolling out hand-crafted masterpieces fondly called 'motor cars.' The plot involves an around-the-world motor car race with Tony Curtis, representing good, always impeccably dressed in white and well-mannered. He is the gentleman adventurer and motor car enthusiast who has entered the race with a sporty white roadster. He opens doors and stops to help a lady, even if it happens to be in the middle of a race. Jack Lemmon plays the villain and Curtis' fiercest opponent, dressed of course all in black with a bumbling sidekick a la Lex Luthor in Superman. He drives what only a sinister scientist like Dr. Frankenstein could envision, a machine that is only an automobile in the loosest sense of the word. It is a child's fantasy of what should come standard with an internal combustion engine. There are more gadgets and contraptions that have nothing to do with motoring of course, but everything to do with killing the competition... literally. Curtis has Keenan Wynn as aide, assitant and butler rolled into one highly competent navigator. He is both caricature and anachronism as the misogynistic and chauvanistic eighteenth-century English man servant whose fidelity to position and service is constantly at war with his distrust of women. Right on cue Natalie Woods appears, as the sizzling suffragette supreme, perfectly adorned in full Victorian splendor and parasol to boot. Ms Woods is as stunning as ever and she does her damndest to befuddle Mr. Wynn. She plays the first female reporter for the establisment newspaper. In addition to Mr. Wynn, Ms. Woods bedevils the paper's editor by ignoring his every directive to stay out of the newspaper business and especially his office. His authority though is tenuous at best and constantly undermined by the incessant nagging from his bullying front lineman of a wife who is sympathetic to the women's movement embodied by Ms. Woods. He is well on his way to a nervous breakdown and emasculated to the point that he can no longer summon the resolve to deny Ms. Woods the choice assignment of covering the race. But, as only a true champion of women's rights could cover it, she does so undercover as a contestant, entering a motor car paid for, naturally, by the newspaper.

    "The Great Race" is a romp as only a director and an experienced cast esembled here could pull off. It is a film that both celebrates and reinvents the art of story-telling on a big screen. Certainly it is the kind of classic film-making that has been forgotten in an era of big stars, short attention spans and revenue-maximizing studios who want the run time limited to double-digits so they can squeeze in another showing at the local cinelplex. Introduce this one to your kids, though. There is more than enough action and plenty of pratfalls to keep even the most hyperactive riveted to the screen.

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