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. The Blake Edwards style of slapstick and song originated with this movie. A dedication to Laurel and Hardy appears at the beginning of the film. Edwards' tribute to Stan and Ollie can be seen most clearly in the interaction between Professor Fate and his cohort Max, as well as in the operatic Pottsdorf pie fight. Written by
Jeanne Baker <email@example.com>
In the film's press kit, Natalie Wood divulges that she took fencing lessons, sidesaddle lessons and practiced smoking cigars, but her biggest challenge was driving the Stanley Steamer. The steering was difficult ("like turning a tractor, I suspect", she says) and going into reverse was nearly impossible. See more »
When Leslie swims to the castle and climbs the wall, the rope he carries with him is much thinner than the one he actually uses to climb the wall. See more »
The closing credits are three simulated 'magic lantern' slides. The first one reads "Our Cast of Characters", and the following two list the main cast. However, Jack Lemmon is only credited as Professor Fate and not for his second role as Crown Prince Hapnik. See more »
Now I've read most of the comments on this film and while I might agree with some of the more specific comments regarding the looser and less plausible plot in the last third of the film and that Natalie Wood might have been more of a contribution and less of a distraction, these are moot points. The film is funny, enjoyable and a great tribute to the heyday of silent villains and heroes in a way that doesn't overdo it. Curtis' flashing smile, Wynn's turn-of-the-century mechanic character, the harried and frazzled O'Connell as Goodbody, and especially Falk's on-again, off-again sycophant/lackey/nobody's fool Max are memorable and fun. But as much as I like the main movie, my fave bits are the early scenes in which Professor Fate, always in black and macabre emblems, tries to outdo the stunts of the gleaming white, perfect and popular Great Lesile Gallant III. The stunts are fun, witty and totally unbelieveable. The plane pickup, the rocket train, the garishly painted torpedo with a mawkishly wonderful gramaphone speaker on top are priceless Victorian images of a time that we all imagine existed but never really did. Lemmon is a gem as Fate, right from the great use of his eyes under thick brows and black hat, to the spooky house in his own Munster's décor to the crème de la crème, the Hannibal Twin 8 race car. That car is a masterpiece of mechanical and artistic design. I wonder where it is now. Even the sound it generates in the film, that sinister and harmonious hum are perfect for Fate's élan.
What I've never understood is why I never heard more of Lemmon's comments on this film. It had to be fun to make and work with Curtis, but the role of Fate is so underrated. You never see it mentioned in Biography or any anthologies of Lemmon's work. I still roll in peals of laughter at his dizzy 'Let's see the Great Leslie try THAT one on for size...' as he passes out in the mud. Or when Max breaks off the moustache in the freezing storm, and all you see is Fate's astonished look of shock followed by a sideways glare that could cut glass. The last part of the film, the entire Prince Hapnik and Potsdorf sequences are less than helpful, and they really aren't needed, despite a record pie fight, but it does serve to give Lemmon another role, diametrically different from Fate. Again he uses his eyes and his voice to great effect. `Baron Rolf von SHTUPP!!'(Any relation to Lilly von Shtupp in Blazing Saddles?) With perfect timing. I mean it. Try it some time and you'll never match that unique panache which Lemmon displayed. All in all, a wonderful and fun film. No deep message, just good turn-of-the-century atmosphere, great gags and lively dialogue. Enjoy, and don't take it too seriously. After all, it's not PEARL HARBOR, is it? **** our of **** for me.
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