Features the largest pie fight ever staged, with a running gag that The Great Leslie remains clean while everyone else is covered in pie. Tony Curtis was required to change clothes several times when he was accidentally splattered with debris from a pie that had hit someone else. The pies used during the pie throwing scene were real, containing fruit, custard, whipped cream and other ingredients. Following this scene the crew devoured more than 300 leftover pies.
This film was the inspiration for the Saturday morning cartoon show Wacky Races (1968). Natalie Wood (playing Maggie DuBois) became Penelope Pitstop (even wearing the same pink racing outfit). Dick Dastardly was based on Jack Lemmon's character Professor Fate and Dastardly's sidekick Muttley was loosely based on Peter Falk's character Max Meen.
The ice floe sequence was shot on what is now known as Warner Bros. Sound Stage 16, the biggest and tallest sound stage on the Warner Bros. studio lot. Originally, in the early days of the studio, it was known as Stage 7. If you look closely at the water that surrounds the actors and the automobiles on the slab of ice, you can see a multitude of reflections from the lights on the stage's catwalks. Stage 16 was originally a standard-sized sound stage, but when the studio needed room to film tall-masted ships in its earlier years, the entire stage was jacked up while steel and concrete pilasters were built underneath the structure for added support, doubling the stage's height after the new foundation was poured. Its floor is retractable to reveal a deep flotation tank as well as windowed camera cabins for underwater filming. In "The Great Race," a portion of the gradually "melting ice floe" was attached to cables that kept the slab of "ice" in position and the portion which gradually gave way underneath Professor Fate was pulled down by an underwater diver in the tank.
A moose head appears to hang on the wall of Professor Fate's (Jack Lemmon's) oddly decorated dining room. However, when the Professor and Max run out the front door you can see that the rest of the moose stands in the foyer, with just his head poking through a hole in the wall. Ernie Kovacs originally did this gag on one of his TV shows. The fact that Lemmon was a great friend of Kovacs suggests that this wasn't a coincidence. In addition, the gag goes back at least as far as the Warner Bros.' cartoon Kitty Kornered (1946), in which a cat clinging to a moose head is being pulled by Porky Pig, which results in the entire moose being pulled through the wall.
When Prof. Fate, Max and Maggie DuBois drive into the Russian town, Maggie repeats to the professor what she had already argued in her first interview with The Great Leslie, that she speaks French, Russian and Arabic. She then speaks a full sentence to the townspeople in Russian. Natalie Wood, who plays Maggie DuBois, was of Russian descent (her real name is Natasha Gurdin) and spoke fluent Russian.
Both the "Hannibal 8" and the "Leslie Special" are on display in the Hollywood Gallery at The Peterson Automotive Museum, Los Angeles, California. The other "Leslie Special" is on display at the Tupelo Automobile Museum in Tupelo, MS. The Hannibal 8 driven by Professor Fate was powered by a Corvair six-cylinder engine and three-speed transmission. Six Hannibal 8 cars were built for the movie at a reported cost of $150,000 each, three of which used the lazy tongs lifting mechanism, so fragile that it broke constantly. The "Leslie Special" was designed and built by the studio using parts from several cars.
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.
Though not specifically stated, this movie takes place between 1901-1909. This was the period Theodore Roosevelt held presidency which in turn is hinted at by Maggie Dubois during her capture in the Potsdorf dungeons.
Natalie Wood reportedly did not like making this film, and would seize upon any excuse to miss a day's filming. Her main complaint was the fact that she felt she was being sexually harassed by both Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.
Both the Leslie Special and the Hannibal 8 are now owned by the Stahls Automotive Foundation and are on display in its museum in Chesterfield, Michigan. Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, Jack Lemmon and Peter Falk have autographed the cars.
Professor Fate's Rocket Car, torpedo, and one of the Hannibal 8's produced for this movie, are located at the Volo Auto Museum in Volo, Illinois. As of January 2010, these three items were for sale for $350,000. As of September, 2013, the Hannibal 8 and the torpedo are on display at the Petersen Auto Museum in Los Angles, California.
As the budget for this film ballooned from $3 million to $12 million, Jack L. Warner, the head of Warner Bros., said Blake Edwards was spending money like water. Edwards, in turn, accused Warner of being "tight". Warner then served Edwards with legal papers to remove him from the picture. Edwards made several concessions to the studio, however, and continued with the project.
The name of the Western town where Dorothy Provine sings is "Boracho". "Borracho", pronounced the same way, means "drunkard" in Spanish. Since the reason the race stops in the town is to fuel the cars, or to give the cars a "drink", an additional significance of the name occurs.
Hal Smith played the mayor of the western town in which Leslie stops to refuel. The town is called "Boracho", which in Spanish means "drunkard". Smith had played Otis, the town drunk, on The Andy Griffith Show (1960).
The film's world premiere was a black-tie affair held at the Pantages Theater on Thursday evening, July 1, 1965. Tickets for the premiere ranged from $25. to $100. with all but $3.50 of each ticket benefiting the Crippled Children's Guild of Orthopaedic Hospital.
Towards the end of the movie, when everyone's encamped and cleaning-up from the pie fight, Heziakiah (Keenan Wynn) starts noodling around on his left-handed guitar. When he puts it down, Maggie (Natalie Wood) picks it up and starts playing it right-handed and singing "The Sweetheart Tree". The string order would have been wrong and completely reversed for her to play it.
During filming Life magazine covered the pie fight scene. If you listen very closely, at the beginning of the fight, before the music kicks in, you can hear the click of the still camera's shutter and the camera's motor advancing the film.