The Great Race

The Great Race (1965)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Peter Falk, Natalie Wood
Extras: Featurette, Trailer, Filmography, Awards

Blake Edwards’ "The Great Race" will always have a special place in my heart. I loved the movie since the first time I saw it when I was a child and its quirky characters, the locales and of course the zany comedy all appeal to me like few movies do. Having this film available on DVD is a great moment for me, but it was crowned by the fact that Warner Home Video made sure the quality is two notches above my expectations.

The Great Leslie (Tony Curtis) is succeeding in anything he does. He is an inventor and showman and manages to always catch the limelight. On the other end of the spectrum is Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon) with his assistant Max (Peter Falk), who constantly fails in his attempts to capture the spotlight with his flawed inventions.

One day, the Great Leslie has the idea to initiate a race around the world, from New York to Paris, in order to promote a new car he helped design. Immediately Professor Fate takes up the challenge and enters the race along with many other competitors. But he doesn’t plan to play fair by any means. He just wants to beat the Great Leslie for once… at any cost. What follows is a riotous and charming comedy tour around the world that takes the viewer from New York to the Mid-West and the Arctic, all the way to strange European kingdoms and finally, Paris.

Much of the movie’s flair comes from the beautifully lighthearted atmosphere it creates. Jovial at times, funny and silly at others, the movie is full with great moments. Whether it is the homage to the great Laurel and Hardy – which is perfectly played out by Lemmon and Falk throughout the film – or the innocence of the romantic encounter between Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood, everything is harmonious and nicely crafted together. In the second half of the film we are then confronted with an entirely new subplot that could almost have been a movie of its own, and yet, it seamlessly integrates with the rest of the film.

Warner Home Video is bringing us "The Great Race" in a marvelous new transfer that absolutely beautiful to behold. Presented in its original <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio, the transfer is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TV sets and is virtually free of defects or blemishes. It has been entirely cleaned up and every scratch or dust mark has been removed to create an immaculately clean presentation. The transfer is also free of grain or discoloration, and the result is the best presentation of "The Great Race" I have ever seen. The transfer is rich with detail and the colors are vibrant and lively without ever appearing over-saturated. Especially the kitchen cake-fight scene towards the end of the movie is absolutely staggering in its richness and vividness as the hues literally seem to leap off the screen. Skin tones are also absolutely natural-looking while the lush costumes are nicely reproduced. The image also has beautiful depth. Blacks are deep and solid, creating shadows that are finely delineated and contain good details without ever breaking up. The contrast of the presentation is also meticulous, running the entire gamut without blooming or overexposure anywhere in the film. Especially the constellation of Professor Fate’s omni-black costumes and gadgets is perfectly countered by the Great Leslie’s all-white appearance on the screen.
To my delight, there are no hints of edge-enhancement evident in the transfer, making it beautifully sharp but never artificially so. The compression of the material has also been very well and no compression artifacts are evident in the presentation. In a word, Warner Home Video has definitely given this film the attention it deserves.

The DVD fares just as well on the audio side. The original mono track has been remastered and is presented in full <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> on this release. While the use of surrounds may be very limited, it is mostly the dynamic range and frequency response that have been improved. To hear the difference, just switch to the monaural French track for a moment that is also supplied on the disc. The new audio track is rich and clear. The dynamics of the track have been improved noticeably and the entire film benefits from it. Not only are the quiet passages nicely filled with subtle details and sound elements, but also the crescendi and more explosive moments have very good headroom to work with. The frequency response has also been dramatically improved and the track has rich basses taking away the harsh sounding edge of the original track. Dialogues are well-integrated, and although still a bit harsh at time, integrate very well with the rest of the mix. It is mostly the lack of noise or hiss, and the lack of distortion and sibilance that make this remastered track such a delight.

One caveat has to be applied though regarding the audio presentation of the movie. During the opening credits of the film sound elements have been mixed up during the creation of the <$5.1,5.1 mix>. As a result the sound effects accompanying the title cards are not properly synched up. The audio is correct for the rest of the film however.

"The Great Race" contains a featurette entitled "Behind The Scenes With Blake Edwards’ The Great Race." It is a look at the production during the shoot of the film in 1965 and is fascinating in its vintage quality and the rare glimpses it offers. The DVD is rounded out with trailers, filmographies and a list of awards.

I usually don’t say this, but there is one thing, "The Great Race" is truly missing – a <$commentary,commentary track>. I would have given anything to hear Tony Curtis and maybe Peter Falk talk about the movie. I am sure there must be so many anecdotes about the production, so many insights into the workings of Hollywood at the time, the work of Blake Edwards and many other aspects that could have been elaborated upon here. Sadly, with each passing year, we are losing more and more members of the cast and crew of great, classic films such as this one without having their recounts on record. We always say, "they don’t make movies like this one any more," and it is true, and sadly we see a whole art form dying and disappearing without proper documentation. Having said that, this would really be my only quibble with this release.

Warner Home Video has been going all the way restoring "The Great Race." This DVD could not look or sound any more beautiful, making it even more obvious, just how well produced and directed these classic films were. Unlike today’s striving for super-realistic images, the movies of the 50s and 60s tried to create romanticized worlds that are nonetheless believable – if not more so than many of today’s superficial counterparts – for their charm. If you’re a fan of Blake Edwards’ films or classic comedies in general, "The Great Race" is a DVD you must own, there can be no question.