Wednesday, June 27, 2012
The following is a list of minor notes and observations that came to me, during my recent viewing of "Episode I: The Phantom Menace". I hope that you enjoy them:
Notes and Observations on "STAR WARS": Episode I – The Phantom Menace"
*Both the Trade Federation and Darth Sidious seemed surprised that Supreme Chancellor Valorum had dispatched Jedi Knights to act as mediators between the Trade Federation and Naboo. Apparently, this discovery had led Sidious to order a premature invasion of Naboo.
*Why were the Trade Federation fearful of the Jedi, acting as ambassadors?
*Why would Boss Nass and the Gungans want Jar-Jar Binks banished for simply being clumsy? Why did his clumsiness bother him so much? Was this an indication of the Gungans’ lack of tolerance toward imperfection? Could one say the same about those STAR WARS fans who dislike Jar-Jar with a vengeance?
*”You overdid it.” – Was that Obi-Wan Kenobi admonishing his master, Qui-Gon Jinn, for making Jar-Jar too relaxed?
*Isn’t it ironic that it was Obi-Wan who led Qui-Gon, Padme and himself to Anakin, by suggesting that the Queen’s ship seek repairs on Tatooine?
*After two attempts, Qui-Gon discovered that the Jedi Mind Trick did not work on Watto and other Toydarians. Perhaps this is why he had failed to free both Skywalkers from slavery.
*Many have complained that Lucas should have shown the Nabooans suffering under the Trade Federation’s invasion. Perhaps. Perhaps not. But after Sio Biddle had sent that message to the Queen about the suffering on the planet, both Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan expressed suspicion that the message might be a trick to lure the Queen back into the Trade Federation’s clutches. Of course, they were wrong.
*Darth Maul managed to track down the Queen’s whereabouts, via Sio Biddle’s transmission to Tatooine.
*Anakin told Qui-Gon and Padme that he had been working on a scanner to locate the transmitter in his head. As many know, the transmitter will blow up any slave attempting an escape. I wonder what would have happened if Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had made an attempt to get Shmi away from Tatooine.
*Apparently, the idea to enter Anakin into the Boonta Eve Podrace was his own idea . . . supported very reluctantly by Shmi.
*”What if this plan fails, Master? We could be stuck here for a very long time.” – Obi-Wan’s remark seemed to foreshadow his own fate on Tatooine.
*Qui-Gon’s plan to free Anakin seemed to have been instigated by Shmi’s request that he find a way help Anakin leave Tatooine and slavery.
*If Watto believed that Sebula would win the race, why did he agree to support Qui-Gon’s backing of Anakin? I believe that Watto felt he would get his hands on Queen Amidala’s ship if Anakin had lost. And if the latter had won then he and Qui-Gon would split the victor’s fee. But Watto’s greed and lack of faith in Anakin allowed him to be manipulated by Qui-Gon into betting against his young slave.
*I LOVE the podrace sequence. I love every detail about it. Along with the Battle of Naboo, it is the highlight of the movie.
*Interesting. Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Panaka and Anakin had all bowed before Valorum and Palpatine. Yet, both the present and future chancellors did not bow before Queen Amidala, upon the latter’s arrival on Coruscant.
*Amidala seemed certain of Valorum’s support in the Naboo/Trade Federation matter. Yet, Palpatine immediately set out to undermine Valorum in Amidala’s eyes . . . and suggest that a new chancellor be elected.
*Yoda seemed particularly aggressive when questioning Qui-Gon’s belief that Anakin might be the Chosen One to fulfill the prophecy.
*Why does Palpatine want Padme to accept the Trade Federation’s control of Naboo? What plans did he have for this situation, once he became chancellor?
*Many have accused The Phantom Menace of lacking in emotion. Yet, there seemed to be a heavy undercurrent of emotion in the movie. In the scene which featured the Jedi Council’s initial rejection of Anakin, Yoda, Mace Windu, Ki-Adi Mundi and other Council members seemed smug and arrogant over their decision. Anakin looked angry at the Council, and Qui-Gon . . . disappointed. But most surprisingly, Obi-Wan looked both surprised and angry at Qui-Gon’s support of Anakin. I suspect that he felt a little rejected.
*Why did Palpatine warn Darth Maul to allow Padme, the Naboo and Gungan forces, and the Jedi to make the first move?
*I never realized that Anakin had saved Padme, Panaka and the Nabooans in the hangar, by shooting at the droidekas.
*So . . . R2-D2 wanted Anakin to return to Naboo, once they had joined Ric Olie and the other Nabooan pilots in their battle against the Federation ships.
*Anakin had ended up inside the Federation ship, because his fighter had been hit. And he had accidentally destroyed the shield generator.
*Before striking down Qui-Gon, Darth Maul seemed frustrated by his inability to kill the Jedi Master.
*If the Jedi Council had finally approved of Anakin’s entry into the Order, why didn’t Yoda use a less strident manner to convince Obi-Wan to allow someone else – someone more mature – to train Anakin? Who knows? Perhaps he may have been more convincing.
*The moment the camera focused upon Palpatine’s face during Qui-Gon’s funeral, you can hear the cheers of triumph that would lead to the victory celebration.
*Both Anakin and Obi-Wan seemed uneasy in each other’s company during the celebration. In fact, Anakin seemed unusually sober . . . until he exchanged a smile with Padme. I suspect that Obi-Wan had noticed that exchange, judging by his expression.
Monday, June 25, 2012
Below is a gallery featuring photos from Martin Scorsese's biopic about aviator/movie producer Howard Hughes. Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, Alec Baldwin, John C. Reilly, Danny Huston and Alan Alda starred:
"THE AVIATOR" (2004) Photo Gallery
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
LARS HOMESTEAD, TATOOINE
Obi-Wan guided the Nabooan skiff to a moisture farm, outside Mos Eisley. After he landed the craft, two figures emerged from the dome-shaped adobe structure. Obi-Wan left the cockpit and disembarked from the ship.
"Good evening sir," a stocky young man in desert robes greeted. "My name is Owen Lars. This is my wife, Beru." He nodded at the diminutive, yet slightly pretty young woman that stood by the farmer's side. "May I help you?"
Obi-Wan bowed formally. "Yes. My name is Obi-Wan Kenobi, and I . . ."
Mrs. Lars gasped slightly. Her husband frowned. "Obi-Wan Kenobi?" the latter repeated. "Of the Jedi Order? Anakin's friend?"
The former Jedi Master nearly winced at the last description. "Uh, yes. You've heard of me?"
Mr. Lars hesitated before he replied, "My late stepmother, Shmi Skywalker Lars, used to mention both you and her son, Anakin Skywalker. Apparently, he had mentioned your name in the only letter he ever written to her." His expression indicated slight disapproval of Anakin's lack of communication.
Vaguely, Obi-Wan recalled giving the nine year-old Anakin, permission to write one last letter to his mother. Just before the young boy had began formal Jedi training. "I see," the older man murmured. "Yes, well the reason I am here is I am looking for Anakin."
"He's missing?" Owen Lars' frown disappeared.
A curious Beru Lars asked, "What happened to him? Has it to do with the Empire's edict against the Jedi?"
"You've learned that we now have a new Empire?" Obi-Wan asked.
Lars shrugged his shoulders. "The news had spread pretty fast throughout the planet. We've just learned about the death of Anakin's friend, Senator Amidala."
Obi-Wan merely responded with feigned sadness. "Yes, it was quite a blow. I have known the senator since she was Queen of Naboo."
A long silent pause followed. The Jedi Master found himself growing slightly uncomfortable. The Lars struck him as decent people. Yet, their reticence made it difficult for him to feel at ease. He found it easier to interact with more extroverted personalities like Qui-Gon. And Anakin.
"You said something about Anakin being missing?" Lars finally asked, breaking the silence. "What happened?"
Obi-Wan told the moisture farmers about the events that had recently unfolded. But he left out Anakin's role in the Jedi Order's destruction. And the duel on Mustafar. "All of the surviving Jedi have been on the run, since. I have been trying to locate Anakin. To find out if whether he is dead or alive."
"He's not here," Lars declared. "In fact, Beru and I haven't laid eyes on him in three years. Not since my stepmother's death."
In other words, Obi-Wan silently surmised, Anakin may have returned to Coruscant . . . and Palpatine. He felt slightly disappointed that Anakin's last act on Mustafar may have failed to turn him away from the Dark Side.
"What about Mos Espa?" Mrs. Beru suggested.
Lars glanced at her. "You mean Watto?"
"Who?" Obi-Wan asked. The name sounded familiar. "Wasn't he Anakin's former owner?"
The woman, Beru, added, "And Shmi's."
"Watto is dead," Lars revealed in a matter-of-factly tone. "Remember? He was killed by one of the Hutts after failing to pay back a loan." He turned to Obi-Wan. "If Anakin had went to Mos Espa, he must now know that Watto is dead. Besides, I doubt he would have an easy time finding employment. Most people either own slaves or droids. He would be better off going somewhere else."
Obi-Wan's brief flare of hope quickly died. "Yes, of course. That would make sense." He heaved a melancholy sigh.
Mrs. Lars said, "I don't mean to pry, but do you have anywhere to go? I mean . . ." She paused at her husband.
Lars added, "We're just wondering if you plan to keep looking for Anakin." His eyes glanced downward, as he sighed. "I don't mean to sound blunt, but it looks as if he might be dead. And if he isn't, I don't think that your chances of finding him are all that great. Perhaps you should just . . ."
"Give up?" Obi-Wan finished. Privately, he already had. The Jedi Master had tried using the Force to sense Anakin's presence within the galaxy. He tried and failed. Either Anakin was truly dead (which he doubted), had disappeared or returned to Coruscant. Obi-Wan feared the latter. It seemed useless to continue his search for Anakin. Perhaps he should do as he had hinted to Master Yoda - find a permanent home here on Tatooine. "Perhaps you're right," he said to the Lars.
Lars asked, "Are you considering a room in Mos Eisley? I'm sure there are plenty of . . ."
"I don't think so," Obi-Wan said with a shake of his head. "Not isolated enough. I don't think it would be wise of me to live in a settled area. Sooner or later, an Imperial presence will be stationed in the cities."
Again, Lars and his wife exchanged glances. "There's a small hut not far from here," the moisture farmer commented. "In the middle of the Wasteland. You can dismantle your starship. Sell the parts. Create a nice, comfortable living for yourself. Of course, you would have to be wary of the Tusken Raiders."
The moisture farmer's suggestion made good sense to Obi-Wan. Any further roaming on his part might lead to capture or death. And if Padme and her children ever found themselves on the run, chances of them seeking refuge here on Tatooine seemed pretty certain. "Yes," the Jedi Master said. "I believe it would be wise for me to take up your suggestion. Could you direct me . . .?"
Lars' wife interrupted. "You should look for it, tomorrow. Tonight, you can share dinner with us and spend the night at our homestead. Right, Owen?"
"You would be more than welcomed," Lars added.
Obi-Wan felt a twinge of guilt for his earlier view of the couple. Reticent or not, they also seemed to be very hospitable and selfless people. What a shame that Anakin never became more acquainted with them. The Jedi Master gratefully accepted the couple's offer and followed them inside the homestead.
ALDERA PALACE, ALDERAAN
The Tantive IV entered Alderaan space and descended toward the planet's capital city - Aldera and the royal palace located at the city's outskirts. The Corellian-made star cruiser slowly landed on the palace's main platform, where a handful of palace aides had gathered.
Inside her cabin, Padme made last adjustments to her outfit. She wore a simple, elegant black gown made from brocade, with a silk black belt wrapped around her waist. A delicately woven black lace veil covered her face - indicating her status as a recent widow. Both Luke and Leia lay in separate baskets. Bail's aide, Sheltay Retrac, had already made arrangements for the removal of Padme's trunks from the cabin.
Padme glanced through the cabin's window. After the cruiser had landed, she saw Bail and his traveling entourage greet the palace aides. A few minutes passed before the entire party strode toward one of the palace's entrances. The cabin's bell chimed. Padme ushered in the cruiser's captain. "Milady," Captain Raymus Antilles greeted with a bow. "It is time to leave."
The Alderaanian picked up Luke. Padme lifted Leia's basket. She and her droids followed the captain out of the cabin. The small party entered the palace and weaved their way through a series of wide corridors. They eventually came upon a pair of wide, double doors. "Senator, this will be your quarters until a more permanent arrangement can be found." Captain Antilles opened the double doors and led the others inside.
"Oh my!" C3-P0 declared in hushed tones. R2-D2 beeped excitedly. Padme understood the droids' reactions. Some would have called her penthouse at the Senate Apartment Complex in 500 Republica as opulent. But her former apartment seemed modest in compare to her new apartments, here on Alderaan. The rooms reminded Padme of her years as Naboo's queen, at the Theed Royal Palace.
Captain Antilles added, "Arrangements are being made to find a nursemaid for the children. Now, if you will excuse me, Milady." He bowed and left the room.
Padme heaved a sigh and said to Threepio, "We might as well begin unpacking." It took the former senator and the droids nearly a half hour to unpack all of her belongings. As luck would have it, Bail or one of his aides even managed to find a pair of cribs for the twins.
Just as Padme and the droids finished their task, Sheltay Retrac appeared with another woman in tow. "Good day, Senator," Sheltay greeted. "I would like to introduce you to Magda. His Highness has asked her to act as your children's nursemaid." She added, "With your permission, of course."
"Permission granted," Padme said with a reassuring smile to the nursemaid. "The children are in the east room." Magda bowed and strode out of the main room.
At that moment, the doors opened and Bail and a third woman entered the main apartment. Padme immediately recognized her colleague's wife - the regal, dark-haired ruler of Alderaan, Queen Breha Antilles-Organa. "Your Majesty," Padme greeted the older woman with a curtsey.
Alderaan's queen greeted the former senator with a warm smile. "Senator Amidala, we are so glad to have you here on Alderaan. Bail has informed me of your recent difficulties. I am so sorry."
"I've been through trying times before," Padme replied, wondering what her former colleague had told his wife. "And survived. I shall survive this."
Queen Breha nodded. "Of course. Where are the children?"
"In the new nursery. The room to the right." Padme hesitated. "By the way, I want to thank you both for giving the children and me refuge here on Alderaan. And for finding a new nursemaid for the twins."
The Alderaanian queen merely nodded. "Magda had originally been hired to act as nursemaid for my . . . our . . ." A heavy sadness shadowed her elegant face.
A slightly stiff Bail added, "The queen and I have experienced difficulty in con . . . in conceiving a child, over the past several years. Recently, Breha had . . . suffered a miscarriage."
The Organas' troubles made Padme forget her own. "Oh. I'm so sorry," she murmured.
"It no longer matters," Queen Breha said, assuming a brave smile. "At least this old place will finally enjoy the presence of children." Her face brightened with hope. "May I see them?"
Smiling, Padme replied, "Of course. I'll have . . ."
"Don't worry," the queen said. "I'll simply find my way to the nursery. Excuse me." She left the main apartment.
Bail turned to his aide. "Do you mind, Sheltay? I would like to speak with the senator alone." The other woman bowed and followed the queen out of the room. Once alone, Bail asked Padme, "How are you feeling?"
With a shrug, she replied, "Fine. I think. Considering the horrors of the past few days. When will the Senate reconvene?"
"Next week," Bail replied. "Rumor has it that our new emperor plans to discuss the fate of the Separatist worlds."
"Somehow, I do not foresee a pleasant future for them."
Bail replied, "I do not foresee one for the entire galaxy. Mon Mothma believes that our old Loyalist Committee should publicly speak out, if the Emperor begins to abuse his new powers."
The news immediately alarmed Padme. "No, Bail. I don't believe that is a good idea. Now is not the time. Right now, you all need to be good little Senators. Mind your manners and keep your heads down. However, there is no reason why you and the others should make plans to oppose the Emperor sometime in the future."
Nodding, the Alderaanian prince said, "You're right. The last thing we need to do right now is attract Palpatine's attention. Especially since he is preoccupied with hunting down Jedi Knights and probably his former apprentice."
"Former appren . . .?" The words took Padme by surprise. "Surely you don't speak of Count Dooku? He's dead."
"No, I speak of Anakin, of course." Bail hesitated. "Your husband. You do know that he's missing, don't you?"
Shock overwhelmed Padme, as she stared at her former colleague. "That's impossible! Anakin is dead! Obi-Wan was forced to kill him on Mustafar. When I asked, he could not even say anything."
It became Bail's turn to look astonished. "You mean to say that Master Yoda and Master Kenobi never told you what happened on Mustafar? During Kenobi's fight with your husband, Anakin had decided to walk away than finish the duel. He even left his lightsaber to Master Kenobi."
Anger welled inside Padme. "They lied to me!" she hissed in a low voice. "They lied!"
"Padme . . . please," Bail pleaded. "Perhaps they had a reason . . ."
"They had a reason, all right!" Padme retorted. "They wanted to make sure that I would not roam the galaxy, searching for Anakin!"
Bail added soothingly, "Can you blame them? I'm sure that Master Yoda and Master Kenobi wanted to make sure that you and the children will remain safe from the Emperor."
Her anger rising, Padme shot back, "And that's not all! They also wanted to make certain that Luke and Leia will grow up to ensure the continuation of their precious Jedi Order in the future! No wonder Master Yoda wanted the twins separated from me."
Anxiety flared in Bail's dark eyes. "Padme, you're not going to . . .?"
"Search for Anakin?" Padme shook her head. "No. Despite what Master Yoda and Master Kenobi may think, I have enough sense to realize that would be dangerous. At least right now. But they had lied to me, Bail. And for that it might be a while before I can forgive them. If ever."
MOS ESPA, TATOOINE
A despondent Anakin sat inside the tavern's taproom, nursing a glass of Corellian Spiced Ale. Two days had passed since his starfighter had been stolen and he learned of Padme's death. And nothing had been right since.
Padme was dead. He still found it hard to believe. When he last saw her on Mustafar, she had been alive and well . . . despite her unconscious state. His attack upon her must have caused more damage than he realized. The idea sent Anakin into another wave of anger - only directed at himself.
The disappearance of the Jedi starfighter had made matters worse for him. Upon learning of the disappearance, Anakin realized that the Jawas must have come across his ship and stripped it down to parts to be sold. Without his starfighter, he found himself stranded on Tatooine. In fact, he lacked the means to find transportation to the Lars moisture farm, outside Mos Eisley.
Now on his fourth day, Anakin's self-anger had transformed into despair. Padme was dead. His life was over as a Jedi Knight. He no longer desired to return to Sidious and Coruscant. And he lacked the funds to leave Tatooine, let alone find transportation to the Lars' homestead. He also realized that he only had enough Wupiupi for one last meal. He certainly could not spend another night at the tavern. His situation left him with two options - starvation or offer himself as an indentured servant to one of the city's merchants. Despite his despondency, Anakin felt no desire to commit suicide. A small part of him simply refused to give up, just because his circumstances have become nearly hopeless. He only hoped that Bashir Gupa or any other merchant would accept his offer as an indentured servant. How ironic that he seemed to have come a full circle in his life. Thirteen years ago, he had left Tatooine, newly freed from servitude. And now, he has returned, only to be enslaved once more.
Anakin finished the last of his ale, when a robed man marched into the tavern's bar. "Where is he?" he growled at the bartender. "Where's Barcus? He was supposed to be at the Aurelis Hangar, nearly a half hour ago!"
The bartender shrugged his shoulders. "Barcus? You mean that drunken Caridian? Huh! You can find him at the local medical facility. He got into a fight with another spacer. I hate to say it, but your friend drinks a lot better than he fights."
Anakin stood up and strode toward the bar. "How much do I owe you?" he asked the bartender.
"Five Wupiupi," the bartender replied.
While Anakin dug into his pockets, the human stranger continued, "Exactly how bad is he? I mean . . . will he be able to fly out of here?"
A contemptuous snort escaped the bartender's mouth. "Mister, your friend has a broken arm and two broken ribs. He ain't gonna be flying out of here for a long time." Anakin handed him five coins.
"Where am I going to find another pilot?" the stranger cried in despair. Then his dark eyes fell upon Anakin. "Excuse me sir, but are you a pilot, by any chance?"
Anakin sighed. "Actually, I am. Only I have no ship. Sorry."
The man's eyes brightened with hope. "No, this is . . . Listen, would you like to take on a job? I have . . . a . . . shipment that need to be flown to the Zonju system. No ship is required. I already have one - a Corellian freighter called the Javian Hawk. I simply need a pilot."
After a brief hesitation, Anakin asked, "How much are you willing to pay?"
The man replied, "Five hundred Imperial credits. And I'll have a few more jobs for you, once we reach our destination. My name is Maxmus Tebiki."
Five hundred Imperial credits. Anakin did not need to be convinced any further. "You have yourself a pilot, Mr. Tebiki. I . . . uh, I'll need some money in advance for a change of clothes and a weapon."
Tebiki hesitated. "Can you be ready within two hours?"
Nodding, Tebiki continued, "Good. Meet me at the Aurelis Hangar within two hours. And here are the 20 Wupiupi that you asked for." He handed the money to Anakin. "May I ask who you are, by the way?"
Memories of a certain pilot that he had first met here on Tatooine, flashed in Anakin's mind. "Olie. Ric Olie." He would have to change his name, once his employment with Tebiki ended.
Anakin's new employer shook his hand. "It's a pleasure, Mr. Olie. Truly. And I'll see you within two hours." Tebiki marched out of the taproom.
Feeling elated for the first time in . . . well, in quite a while, Anakin flashed his old cocky grin at the bartender. "Excuse me." Then he marched out of the tavern and into a whole new life ahead.
NOTE: This is the first of five stories set between "ROTS" and "ANH". The next story - now being written - will be "The Corellian Connection".
Sunday, June 17, 2012
"THE GREAT RACE" (1965) Review
During the 1950s and the 1960s, the Hollywood film industry had released many films that were later dubbed as”blockbusters”. These films were made to compete with the growing popularity of television during the post-World War II era. Most of the blockbusters released during the 1950s turned out to be period dramas and musicals. The period dramas and musicals continued way into the 1960s. However, they were joined by all-star comedies with long running times. One of these comedies turned out to be 1965’s "THE GREAT RACE".
Directed by Blake Edwards, "THE GREAT RACE" told the story of a long distance road race from New York City to Paris in 1908, between two daredevil rivals. One of these rivals happened to be Leslie Gallant III (aka "The Great Leslie"), a handsome, brave and dashing daredevil who represented the epitome of the well-bred American gentleman of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Leslie also possessed a slightly condescending manner that matched his superficial perfection to a "T". The Great Leslie’s daredevil rival was a swarthy, mustache-twirling villain named Professor Fate. But whereas Leslie’s successful stunts gave him respectability from American public, businessmen and the media, Fate has been nearly regulated to the status of a buffoon, due to his constant failures. The latter resulted in Fate’s eternal grudge against his more handsome and successful rival. When the white-suited hero proposed a long road race from New York City to Paris in order to promote a new car (the Leslie Special) designed by him and built by the Weber Motor Company, Fate decided to thwart Leslie’s plans of victory by building his own super car for the race (the Hannibal Eight). Meanwhile, a female photojournalist and suffragette named Maggie Dubois managed to convince the editor of the The New York Sentinel to hire her to cover the race.
I might as well be blunt. I tend to have mixed views about Hollywood blockbusters. I either love them, in spite of themselves. Or I dislike them. While viewing some of these blockbusters from the 1950s and 60s, they struck as bloated as some of today’s blockbusters. And "THE GREAT RACE" certainly seemed like the blockbuster of the bloated variety. With a running time of two hours and forty minutes, it seemed to long for a mere comedy. Really. The movie also shared a similar flaw with another 1965 blockbuster, "THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES". In other words, it is a long comedic movie about a race in which only a small percentage of the film featured the actual event. First of all, Edwards and his co-writer, Arthur A. Ross, spent at least 40 to 45 minutes of the film setting up his characters and the preparation for the race. Forty-five minutes. And although the next two hours centered on the actual race, moviegoers only saw the participants race during the first leg of the race that featured the results of a series of sabotage committed by Fate’s assistant, Maximilian, against Leslie and Fate’s other competitors. Most of the movie centered around the main characters’ adventures in the small Western town of Boracho, in the wintry chills of Alaska, Imperial Russia and a fictionalized European country called Carpania and its capital of Potsdorf (during which the movie became a spoof of Anthony Hope’s classic, "The Prisoner of Zenda"). Moviegoers were able to see the race one last time, when the Leslie Special and the Hannibal Eight raced along the outskirts and within the city of Paris - the final destination. For a movie called "THE GREAT RACE", very little racing was actually seen.
Another problem that "THE GREAT RACE" shared with "THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES" was the abundance of slapstick humor in the story. It came dangerously close to being too MUCH for my tastes. I did not mind the Boracho saloon fight (an obvious spoof of fight scenes in Hollywood Westerns). Nor did I mind Maximilian’s sabotage of Fate’s other competitors at the beginning of the race. But Fate’s attempts to sabotage Leslie’s daredevil stunts in the movie’s first fifteen or twenty minutes and the pie fight inside the Potsdorf royal kitchen irritated me to no end. I believe that both scenes may have unnecessarily dragged the film.
Yet, bloated or not, I cannot deny that "THE GREAT RACE" is a very, very entertaining film. Edwards and Ross did a top notch job in creating a story set during the pre-World War I era in the United States and Europe. During this period, Western society was in its last gasp of clinging to the nineteenth century – a world filled with constricting fashion for women, elegant manners, European royalty with some political power, and binding society’s rules. And yet . . . Edwards and Ross’s story made it clear this world was also disappearing, due to the presence of motorized vehicles on the roads, the suffragette movement, the popularity of daredevils like Leslie and Fate, the threat of political loss for European royalty and the diminished presence of Native Americans in the West. What made "THE GREAT RACE" so amazing was that Edwards revealed these social changes in a cinematic style straight from silent era films like "THE PERILS OF PAULINE", with slapstick comedy added for good measure.
Speaking of the movie’s comedy, I realize that I had complained a good deal about some of it. However, Edwards and Ross’ script did provide plenty of comedic moments that I absolutely enjoyed. One such moment featured the Great Leslie’s meeting with the board members of the Weber Motor Company. The meeting itself merely served as the springboard for the race. But a surprise visitor gave the scene a comedic touch that I found particularly funny. Other funny moments included:
*Maggie Dubois’ reaction to singer Lily O’Lay’s flirtation with Leslie
*The entire Boracho sequence
*Miss Dubois’ brief, yet successful attempt to replace Hezekial Sturdy as Leslie’s co-driver
*Fate’s explanation of the attraction between Leslie and Miss Dubois
*The entire Alaska sequence
*Fate, Miss Dubois and Max’s arrival in a Russian town
*General Kuhster’s attempt to instruct Fate on how to impersonate Crown Prince Hapnick’s laugh
*Leslie and Miss Dubois’ quarrel during the last leg of the race
*Fate’s rant against Leslie’s perfection after the two competitors reached the Eiffel Tower and the finish line
"THE GREAT RACE" also included an entertaining score written by Henry Mancini. The composer also co-wrote two songs with Johnny Mercer – a charming tune called "The Singing Tree" (that also served as the movie’s main tune) and a rousing song called "He Shouldn't A Hadn't A Oughtn't A Swang on Me". Donfeld aka Don Feld designed some colorful costumes, reminiscent of the fashions of the 20th century’s first decade. However, I must admit that I found some of Natalie Wood’s costumes a bit over-the-top – namely two of the Western outfits she wore in the Boracho sequence. The movie also featured a swordfight between Leslie and a Carpanian aristocrat named Baron Von Stuppe (Ross Martin) during the Potsdorf sequence. And I consider that particular swordfight to be one of the best in Hollywood history. I am aware that Curtis had some theatrical sword fighting experience in some of the swashbucklers from the 1950s. But Ross Martin’s skills with a sword took me by surprise. Perhaps he had learned it, while training for the theater.
As far as I am concerned, the best asset of "THE GREAT RACE" was its cast. Edwards managed to collect a top-notch cast filled with extremely talented performers. Aside from the stars, the movie was filled with some great talent. Arthur O’Connell and Vivian Vance were hilarious as Maggie Dubois’ long-suffering editor and his pushy suffragette wife, Henry and Hester Goodbody. Marvin Kaplan portrayed Frisbee’ Mr. Goodbody’s slightly befuddled assistant. The Boracho sequence featured a hilarious performance by Larry Storch as the town’s ruthless local outlaw, Texas Jack. And Dorothy Provine gave one of the movie’s best performances as Boracho’s local saloon chanteuse, Lily O’Lay. Not only did she give a rousing rendition of "He Shouldn't A Hadn't A Oughtn't A Swang on Me", she also injected her character with plenty of wacky humor and charm. The Carpania sequence provided George Macready to give a solid performance as Prince Hapnick’s solid, but traitorous aide, General Kuhster. And Ross Martin was deliciously suave and villainous as Baron Rolfe von Stuppe, General Kuhster’s ally in the coup d’état against the Crown Prince.
Peter Falk garnered a great deal of notice as Maximilian, Professor Fate’s loyal, yet slippery henchman. And he deserved all of the good notice he had received, thanks to his subtle and sly performance. More importantly, Falk managed to create a first-rate comedic team with the likes of Jack Lemmon. Keenan Wynn’s role as Hezekiah Sturdy, Leslie’s assistant. Wynn basically gave a solid performance as Leslie’s right-hand man. But Edwards gave him two scenes in which he absolutely shone without saying a word. One featured a moment in which his character tried to work up the courage to ask a beautiful Carpanian aristocrat to dance at the royal ball. Another featured his silent, yet long-suffering reactions to Leslie and Miss Dubois’ final battle-of-the-sexes quarrel during the race’s last leg into Paris.
Tony Curtis had worked with his two co-stars in previous movies. He had co-starred with Natalie Wood in 1964’s "SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL" And he worked with Jack Lemmon in Billy Wilder’s 1959 comedy classic, "SOME LIKE IT HOT". In "THE GREAT RACE", he re-created screen chemistry with both of them for the second time. In this movie, Curtis portrayed the handsome, clean-cut and well accomplished daredevil, Leslie Gallant III aka the Great Leslie. Superficially, his character seemed rather dull and bland in compare to Lemmon and Wood’s more theatrical roles. Superficially. But after watching Curtis portray the embodiment of early 20th century male perfection, one could finally understand why Professor Fate disliked him so much. Curtis’ Leslie struck me as INSUFFERABLY perfect. Anyone who spends even a day in his company could easily develop an inferiority complex. And Curtis did such a superb job in portraying Leslie’s rather annoying perfection with an excellent mixture of slight pomposity and tongue-in-cheek. Some of the best moments featured a long speech by Leslie, followed by a cinematic twinkle in his eyes or on his teeth that led other characters to do a double take. Curtis’s Great Leslie gave a perfect example of why straight arrow types are secretly despised.
The one character that managed to create cracks in Leslie’s perfectionism turned out to be the suffragette/journalist, Maggie Dubois – portrayed with great enthusiasm and perfection by Natalie Wood. The curious thing about Miss Dubois was that she was portrayed with a mixture of both Leslie and Fate’s personalities. Like Leslie, Miss Dubois was an accomplished and highly intelligent woman who also happened to be a multi-linguist and excellent fencer. On the other hand, she shared Fate’s cunning and talent for lies and manipulation. She also possessed a moral ambiguity that led her into conning Hezekiah to relax his guard, so that she could handcuff him onto an eastbound train. Unlike other women, Miss Dubois never allowed herself to swoon at Leslie’s feet . . . even if she wanted to. Instead, I found it a pleasure to watcher her tear down Leslie’s self-esteem, until he found himself declaring his love for her.
One cannot discuss "THE GREAT RACE" without mentioning Jack Lemmon’s superb performance. His Professor Fate has to be one of the best roles in the actor’s career. More importantly, I believe that Fate is one of the mostentertaining villains in Hollywood history. This was a character that seemed to revel in his villainy with a bombastic manner, a five o’clock shadow on his chin and deep impatience and contempt toward anyone who was not . . . well, him. Yet, he was shrewd enough to surmise that Maggie Dubois’ dedication toward women’s sufferage would prove to be the Great Leslie’s Achilles’ heel. And his rant against his handsome rival near the film’s conclusion was a delicious study in Fate’s own insecurities about Leslie. If portraying the moustache-twirling villain was not enough, Lemmon also portrayed the affable, yet drunken Crown Prince Hapnick of Carpania with a slight effeminate twist during the film’s parody of "The Prisoner of Zenda". Hapnick’s regal, yet slightly drunken entrance turned out to be one of the film’s highlights for me. I always thought it was a shame that Fate and Hapnick never really got the chance to interact with each other. Considering Lemmon’s comedic talent, such a scene would have been a hoot.
As I had stated earlier, "THE GREAT RACE" has plenty of obvious flaws. It is an overblown film about a long distance road race, in which little of the actual race was shown. And there were times when the slapstick comedy threatened to become just a bit too much. Especially during the famous pie fight sequence. But Blake Edwards, with co-writer Arthur Ross, created a fun and colorful film that re-created the world of old-fashioned road races and daredevil stunts during the turn of the last century. It also featured colorful costumes and settings, great humor, one of the best screen swordfights ever and a superb cast led by Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood. I highly recommend it.