Oscar Movies: Great Race

Blake Edwards, changing gears and genres after The Pink Panther, directs this adventure, which boasts epic running time and some funny moments.

There’s good chemistry between Tony Curtis and his nemesis Jack Lemmon in this period race tale (it’s set in 1908).

Tony Curtis stars as the noble Great Leslie III, a hero whose purity is demonstrated by his white wardrobe. Leslie’s great conniving rival, played by Jack Lemmon, is Professor Fate, a scowling, mustachioed, top-hatted, black-garbed villain.

Jealous of Leslie’s track record with airships and sea craft, Professor Fate schemes to win a 22,000-mile auto race from New York City to Paris at all costs and by any means. But each of his plans to remove Leslie from the running backfires.

Suffragette Maggie Dubois (Natalie Wood) also hopes to win the contest and thus strike a blow for feminism.

The race takes the contestants all over the globe, to the Wild West, the wastes of Alaska, and the mythical European kingdom of Carpania, which becomes the setting for a Prisoner of Zenda spoof involving Professor Fate and his look-alike Carpanian king.

When Leslie and Fate approach the finish line at the Eiffel Tower, Leslie decides to lose in order to prove his love for Maggie.  But Professor Fate cannot accept winning under these dubious circumstances, and he demands that they race back to New York.

The colorful supporting cast includes Peter Falk as Fate’s long-suffering flunkey Max, Keenan Wynn as Leslie’s faithful general factotum, Dorothy Provine as a brassy saloon singer, Larry Storch as ill-tempered bandit Texas Jack, and Ross Martin as Baron Von Stuppe.

A hit song by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, The Sweetheart Tree, helped marketing the movie.

Edwards dedicated his film to the comedians Laurel and Hardy, though “The Great Race” lacks the slapstick humor and physical comedy associated with the famous pair.


Oscar Nominations: 5

Sound Effects: Tregoweth Brown

Cinematography (color): Russell Harlan

Sound: George G. Groves

Song: The Sweetheart Tree, music by Henry Mancini, lyrics by Johnny Mercer

Film Editing: Ralph E. Winters


Oscar Awards: 1

Sound Effects


Oscar Context:

Freddie Young won the Cinematography Oscar for Doctor Zhivago

The Sound of Music won the Sound Oscar and Editing (William Reynolds)

The Best Song Oscar went to Johnny Mandel and Paul Francis Webster, The Shadow of Your Smile, from the movie The Sandpiper.



Running time: 153 Minutes.

Directed By: Blake Edwards

Written By: Blake Edwards and Arthur A. Ross


Jack Lemmon as Prof. Fate

Tony Curtis as the Great Leslie III

Natalie Wood as Maggie DuBois