The kindest thing I can think of to say about Blake Edwards’ The Great Race (1965) is that it’s shorter than both Michael Anderson’s Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) and Stanley Kramer’s absolutely endless It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963), both of which it owes a debt to. That doesn’t keep it from being a lumbering behemoth of 160 minutes of overproduced, overbearing overkill. That also doesn’t keep it from being a painfully accurate historical artifact of exactly why the Hollywood movie died out. For starters, the thing is 10 years out of date. It might be from 1965, but it feels like a relic from the Eisenhower era. Of course, some people like that sort of thing, and as a result, the movie has its admirers. I’ve never understood why.
The film has a bad case of cute and quaint—trying to feel superior to an earlier time that it can’t even settle on. In many respects this story of a New York to Paris car race (taking a westerly approach across the U.S., the Bering Strait and Russia) is simply typical of Blake Edwards, a man who always seemed to feel that the broader a film was, the funnier it was—and if it afforded Jack Lemmon a role that allowed him to shout all his dialogue, it was just plain hysterical. The whole movie plays like a really long TV skit, mixing real locations, soundstage sets (all of which look like they were built and painted just yesterday), a lot of obvious rear-screen work, absolutely no pace whatsoever, and a lot of people who think they’re being a lot funnier than they are. No sir, they don’t make ‘em like this anymore—and The Great Race aptly illustrates why.