I just recently enjoyed DC comics’ Wacky Raceland a humorous apocalyptic revision to Hanna-Barbara’s sixties cartoon The Wacky Races. This got me waxing nostalgically about Hanna-Barbara’s best villains, Dick Dastardly! Dick is a wonderful parody of every mustache twirling villain from silent films. The kind you find yourself liking far more than the cardboard heroes he would inevitably fail to defeat. This got me thinking about all of the movies that inspired the Wacky Racers as well as Dastardly’s second starring role: Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines.
I started my viewing with Blake Edwards, The Great Race. Loosely based on an actual 1908 auto race from New York to Paris. The Great Race embraces a silent film sensibility featuring Tony Curtis as the dashing hero all in white, The Great Leslie, and his rival, the villainous Professor Fate, played by Jack Lemmon dressed all in black top hat and everything. From there we follow our two rivals as they go from one one spot to another on the map as they jockey their way to be first to the finish line.
While this film was fun I had mixed feelings about it. Due to sabotage all the other racers are eliminated in the first mile so it never has the ensemble quality that I expected. The other problem I had was it was extremely episodic with a lot of the stops they make in the map are stories unto themselves distracting from the film. So nice as western musical number and giant pie fight were, they all seemed like big lipped alligator moments to me.
Fortunately the good parts of the movie trump these completely and that is Jack Lemmon chewing the scenery as he ineptly cheats his way across the globe
For the longest time all I knew about Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines , or How I flew from London in Paris in 25 hours 11 Minutes was the song. I was actually surprised that it was a movie too and I wasted a little bit of time wondering whether one was based on the other.
What we get is story of the early days of aviation with an international ensemble cast competing in an airplane race across the Channel in an endeavor to promote (British) Aviation.
This film was fun. For all practical purposes the the plot itself is optional. What we are here for is the wonderful over top stereotypes ham it up, my favorite is Gert Fröbe of Goldfinger fame hamming it up as a straight laced Prussian officer who’s learned to fly from following the Prussian Army’s Big Book of Instructions (step one sit down) Even funnier is when their on going rivalry culminates in a duel with blunderbusses in hot air balloons )apparently something like this actually happened.