Friday, September 04, 2009

The Great Race and Steampunk

When it comes to any creative work, the reference point of the audience changes over time. I thought of that while watching "The Great Race." This 1965 Blake Edwards comedy chronicles a mythical 1903 New York to Paris road race. Tony Curtis (the Great Leslie) and Jack Lemon (Professor Fate) represent good and evil in a way that was meant to mirror the conventions of silent movies of the 1920's -- although Professor Fate seemed to be more a cross between Snidely Whiplash and Wile E. Coyote.

Blake makes his intentions clear, right from the opening credits. He's paying homage to early film comedies of the 1920's.

The movie featured imaginative and retro-looking automobiles, including Professor Fate's formidable Hannibal 8. This vehicle had everything needed for Fate to win the race by cheating. It came with a smoke screen, a heat cone, a retractable cannon (!), and a body that could be raised and lowered (as you can see below).

For 1965 audiences, the quaintness of turn-of-the-century technology and actions was amusing. But when I watched this movie in 2009, I had a different thought. Professor Fate's inventions are straight-up steampunk.

There's an entire sub-genre of science fiction devoted to retro-futurism, extrapolating devices from late nineteenth and very early twentieth century technologies. Which is exactly what Blake Edwards does in "The Great Race." It seems to me this film potentially could attract a whole new audience from steampunk devotees, many of whom the film predates by at least twenty years.

Reference points change over time. Has the time come for "The Great Race" to be popular again -- for slightly different reasons?

- Ralph

BTW - Henry Mancini's ballad "The Sweetheart Tree" alone is worth the price of admission.


  1. Anonymous12:28 PM

    Exactly my thoughts !!!

  2. so people want a new verison of this movie, this is a fantastic history, I await for more information, maybe the next time you have the entire cast for the movie.

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