I was recently watching a rerun of the great Blake Edwards comedy classic, “The Great Race”, starring Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood or Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis, depending on your outlook. This is a film that I have loved from the first viewing, despite poor reviews from critics.
This film is a great comedy, especially so for film buffs as it takes the mickey out of so many classic scenes. What I have only recently come to realise is that the film is the only cinematic production that defines the USA that I love. You might wonder why I think that, I’ll tell you why.
The film encapsulates the schizophrenia that underlies America. Shocked? No, let me explain. The hero is The Great Leslie (Tony Curtis), a clean cut (always spotlessly white) American hero who dares to challenge nature and overcome at every attempt. The anti – hero is Professor Fate (Jack Lemon), always dressed in black, secretive and produces outrageous devices which invariably land him in the Sh*t, literally.
These two characters represent the two faces of America. Leslie is the American hero who we (I ) have grown up with, good, clean and always successful. Fate is an out and out bad guy. Who is the real America? I have always rooted for Leslie. He is the good guy.
Fate is the bad guy who doesn’t play by the rules and produces strange devices, unlike Leslie who uses solid American vehicles. But, and for me this is a big but, it’s not really as simple as that. I realised that America does not always play by the rules. It is not always open and honest. In fact America is most proud of its ‘black ops’, undercover agents who don’t officially exist. Not everything in America is whiter than snow. The Space Shuttle was white alright but its really advanced craft was the SR71 Blackbird. It was black and it was secret.
Like Professor Fate’s devices the Blackbird was flawed. It leaked fuel when on the ground but operationally it was a great success. Fate produced flying machines, bomb sights, rocket propelled craft, homing torpedoes and a car the US Army would have gladly gone to war in. He was an innovator where Leslie chose a balloon and a factory built car.
Fate was the man the CIA would have turned to when they needed something. They wouldn’t let Leslie near Langley. I think professor Fate was the real American hero. He was an innovator. He never gave up when things went wrong. Every time he was blown up or got a pie in the face he came back for more. Leslie never got dirty.
Actually, In the end, it was Fate who won the race. He’s my man.