Tuesday, August 14, 2018

"Dog" Days

This is my entry for the Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old days of Hollywood

H. C. McNeile, who wrote much of his writings under the pen-name of "Sapper",  was the creator of Capt. Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond.  Like many of his antecedents, Bulldog was an amateur sleuth, a man from a wealthy family who, tired of his dilettante status as a member of the elite, delved into crime as a pastime.  Bulldog was always at odds with the police, especially in the person of Col. Nielson, the head of the police department at Scotland Yard.  McNeile wrote several Drummond novels beginning in 1920 until his death in 1937, after which several other writers took up the mantle.

Several attempts at stage and radio tried to bring Bulldog to life, but his best portrayals were done in a series of movies.  John Howard played him the most and, although the Col. Nielsen character was played by different actors over the Howard era,  John Barrymore lent his skills to the character in three films in the period from 1937-38.

While the Bulldog Drummond series of movies are not the action packed mysteries that they could potentially have been, they do not suffer from incompetent acting, at least.  Reginald Denny, who appears as Bulldog's best friend, Algy, is a hoot.  E. E. Clive, an ubiquitous character actor from the era, is pretty good too as Tenny, Drummond's valet and frequent stooge in his adventures.  Not quite sure about Louise Campbell who appears in these three as Phyllis, Drummond's soon-to-be wife.  I have read elsewhere that Heather Angel (who took over the role after this series) was better.  Although she is instrumental in the first entry, Bulldog Drummond Comes Back, she just seems to be additional padding for the other two entries, and I didn't warm up to her. 

 In Bulldog Drummond Comes Back (1937), Drummond is harassed by the wife, Erana Soldanis (Helen Freeman),  of a man whom Drummond was instrumental in seeing sent to the gallows.  She is assisted by the brother of the dead man, played by J. Carroll Naish.  The pair want to exact revenge on Drummond, but like that classic cliche, they're going to kill him slow.

So they kidnap his fiancee Phyllis (Louise Campbell).  Then they give him the runaround with a series of cryptic clues which sends him chasing all over London and the surrounding area for the next clue.  I tell you it's a pretty lame plot, and without the addition of Barrymore, as Nielson.  adopting a couple of disguises so he can surreptitiously follow  Drummond, this entry would have been dreary.  Even J. Carroll Naish, who usually appeals to me even when he is playing a stereotype of a foreigner lacks the zing that he gives in other movies.

The next entry in the series, Bulldog Drummond's Revenge (1937) featured our hero, still not married, but getting ever closer.  He is at his friend Col. Nielson's office when he learns of the plans to transfer a new explosive from it's inventor's lab.  Although Col. Neilson wants to have the professor sent with an armed guard, he rashly insists on flying only with his manservant.

Of course, this is a mistake because the manservant, Nogals (Frank Puglia) has plans to betray the inventor, and steal the explosive.  He manufactures a crash and ditches the plane with the explosive.  Conveniently (or maybe not so conveniently) Drummond and pals come across the explosive, which was parachuted separately, and take it.  But the bad guys know who has it.  So plans are hatched to get it back.  Then Drummond has to retrieve the explosive again for the good of King and country.

This one is, by far, the best of the three that I watched for this blogathon.  Although it suffers slightly for the lack of one particular thread that remains a mystery even at the end (who exactly is the mysterious Japanese man, Sumio Kanda (Miki Morita).  I get the feeling he was supposed to be more instrumental in the plot, but other than a brief encounter between our main bad guy and him on the train, there is no real indication of whom he is.

The final entry that had Barrymore and Howard together was Bulldog Drummond's Peril (1938). Once again, Bulldog is on the verge of following through with his marriage to Phyllis.  He is in Switzerland, at the home of Phyllis' aunt, where wedding gifts are pouring in from everywhere.  One of the gifts turns out to be a synthetic diamond.  One that is so good that, apparently, it could potentially cause the value of real diamonds to drop dramatically if the synthetic diamond became public.

Of course, the fake diamond is stolen, and a Swiss guard who was hired to watch the valuable wedding gifts is killed.  This leads to Drummond going on a chase after the culprit.  Despite the fact that Phyllis, exasperated by her husband-to-be's adventurous nature wants to call off the wedding.  (This a theme running throughout the series.  Phyllis wants her fiancee to settle down and be a stick-in-the-mud, so to speak, but Bulldog keeps getting caught up in adventures.)  

As it turns out, there are two scientists who, independently. are working on an idea to make the synthetic diamond.  The one who sent the present is the one who has better success, but the other may or may not be jealous of his rival.  There is also the guy who stole the diamond to begin with. 

All three of these entries only run about an hour each, which makes them easy to binge watch in one afternoon.  For you Barrymore fans, it may be a little bit of not enough, but when he does show up, his gruff demeanor as Col. Nielson is enough to make it worthwhile.

Drive home safely, folks.  And keep an eye out for Bulldog because he drives pretty erratically...


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Closet Cases

Angelman (Chris) of Angelman's Place and I are doing a blogathon The Gender-Bending the Rules Blogathon in September.  The impetus of the blogathon stems from having just recently reviewed the 1982 film Victor/Victoria, and being inspired to look into the history of how gays and lesbians have been presented in film over the years.  (I was a history major in college, so any history intrigues me, but especially cultural history).

I read (and recently reviewed for this blog) the rather intriguing book The Lavender Screen, which delves into the story of homosexuals in film.  After finishing it, I donated it to my local library and mentioned to the director that I'd be interested in seeing The Celluloid Closet.  Apparently it had once been a part of the library shelves but had since gone missing and had not been replaced.  The director told me he would get it replaced forthwith, and sure enough it only took about a week or so.

First; a personal history:  I was born in 1961, and raised in rural Texas, which means I was privy to some of the racism that inhibited the South, if not in my hometown (which never had a black family living there until after I left town to go to college), at least on TV.  But I was raised to treat all people the same, regardless of race or color.  Which I still retain  the effects of that upbringing today.  But since my parents were fundamentalist Christians (Southern Baptists to be exact), I doubt they would approve of my extending that respect to members of the LGBT community.  But I do.  No one deserves to be second-class citizens in my America.  Which is why I call myself a Libertarian politically.  And it is also why I don't care whether my choices of movies garner approval from my family or my friends.  I watch anything that might have some appeal or at least something that would satisfy my curiosity in cultures that are otherwise alien to me.

The Celluloid Closet (1995):

From the very beginning of film there have been homosexuals.  How they were portrayed depended on the times.  This film includes a lot of clips that, apparently, had been part of the archives of Vito Russo, a man who made part of his living by touring the country delivering lectures on the history of how homosexuals were presented in the movies.  One of the earliest clips is from the files of Thomas Edison who basically invented the motion picture.  It is one of two men dancing.  (Note:  I'm not entirely sure that the two men are supposed to be gay.  Personally, I just think they were brought together to make the film.  Even though the title of the piece is supposed to be "The Gay Brothers"...)

But in it's earliest forms, the movies presented gay men as "sissies".  In silent films, this meant they used exaggerated pantomime to prance around, an admittedly prejudiced example of the homosexual as perceived by the straight audience. Interviews with various celebrities include both playwright Arthur Laurents who compares the sissy to the stereotype of the black characters in old movies who were portrayed as Stepin Fetchit types.  On the other hand, Harvey Fierstein claims he likes the sissy character, mainly because at least gays were on screen, even if they were rude stereotypes.

As we progress through the film, we become attuned to the goals of the Hays Code and its allies who sought to remove objectionable material from the movies.  As a result the homosexual went "underground", so to speak.  There were still gays in the movies, only no one admitted that the character was gay, only subtle and not so subtle hints even gave any indication of it.  Two films which I have previously reviewed, Dracula's Daughter, in which the main character is presented as (possibly) a lesbian as well as her position as a vampire, as well  as The Maltese Falcon, in which Peter Lorre's Joel Cairo is probably gay.  The character, as written in the original Dashiell Hammett novel is definitely a "fairy", but the movie had to make it something of a secret.

As the Code relaxed it's rules, there were many movies that had some gay characters, but because of the still in place restrictions, the characters often had to come to drastic ends (such as suicide or other forms of death).  Only after the Stonewall riot in 1969 did gays start getting more sympathetic treatment.  The film spends a portion of the movie discussing The Boys in the Band, which is noted in the film as the first movie in which none of the gay characters came to an untimely end.

No documentary of gays in film would be complete without addressing the issue of AIDS.  Fortunately this film appeared shortly after the movie Philadelphia, so it includes a discussion of that film as well as the lesser-well-known film Longtime Companion, a movie which addressed how a band of gay friends dealt with the AIDS crisis from it's first discovery to the untimely end of some of the characters over a period of a few years.

The sometimes not so subtle hints an inside jokes that were a part of the movies are covered in the documentary too.  One focus was on Rock Hudson, an actor who was known to be gay in Hollywood but was only "outed" after his death.  In Pillow Talk, Hudson plays a straight man who is acting gay to get inside Doris Day's panties.  It is commented on how Hudson must have felt in the role, himself being a gay man who tried to keep up a straight front on screen.  Another clip, from the movie Red River, features Montgomery Clift and John Ireland discussing pistols.  Montgomery Clift was well known as a gay man in Hollywood so the following quote has some subtle humor to it, even though the character he played was not necessarily gay:
"There are only two things more beautiful than a good gun...a Swiss watch, or a woman from anywhere...you ever had a Swiss watch?"

The film itself, unfortunately, came out after the death of the author, Vito Russo, on whose book it was based.  It would have been nice to have some commentary on it by him, but my copy does have a recording of one of his lectures.  Lily Tomlin narrates the film, and it is filled with interviews with various Hollywood people, including the aforementioned Fierstein and Laurents, but also Armistead Maupin, Tony Curtis, Gore Vidal, Whoopi Goldberg, and Tom Hanks.

As a history lesson, I found the film to be extremely entertaining.  After 20 years or so since the film first came out, the depiction of gays in films has progressed, although not always in a positive manner, at least it has been an improvement from what the studios did in the first 50 to 60 years.


Thursday, August 2, 2018

Is That A Ray Gun in Your Pocket or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

This is my entry in the Rule Brittania Film Blogathon hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts

War of the Worlds and Independence Day posit an invasion by truly evil and intelligent aliens.  The Day the Earth Stood Still and Close Encounters of the Third Kind presented benevolent aliens who come to Earth in peace and harmony.  But in most alien movies, whether they are evil or good, the predominant characteristic of them is they have intelligence.  After all, it takes some pretty smart species to create a vehicle that can travel the interstellar frontier to arrive to this little insignificant planet.

But what if some enterprising species had created a vehicle that Joe Average and his buddies could acquire and go on a jaunt?  Any idiot on Earth can learn to drive a car (and trust me, most of them are driving on the same freeway I am).  So why couldn't some shmo and his friends get one of these spaceships and take it on a joyride?

That seems to be the only explanation why the characters in this movie are in the vicinity of Earth.  Mike Hodges, the director of Flash Gordon, a favorite of your humble blogger, as well as The Terminal Man, Get Carter and Pulp, was behind the helm for this movie which skewers how the public views fame as well as satirizes the then fairly new theme of benevolent aliens.

Morons from Outer Space (1985):

There are aliens and then there are these guys.  A crew of 4 nitwits who somehow got a hold of a spaceship have a breakdown in outer space.  The most intelligent of the crew (which is a stretch, since he only has four marbles compared to the rest of the crew who may have 3 marbles to share among them), Bernard (Mel Smith) tries to get the vehicle in operating power, but has very little success.  So he takes off to the game room (essentially a trailer that the ship is dragging behind it.

Meanwhile, Desmond (Jimmy Nail) thinks he's the be all and end all mechanic and starts futzing with the spaceship.  And somehow gets it going.  Leaving Bernard behind, stranded in the game room/trailer.  Dez, along with his wife, Sandra (Joanne Pearce) and Julian (Paul Bown) take off in a vehicle none of them have any idea how to control.  They end up crash landing on a nearby planet, which just happens to be Earth.

Unable to control they ship, they end up on the M1 in England.  Causing havoc with the normal human traffic.  (Remember the idiots I encounter on the freeway when I drive?  These guys are exactly like them.)  One motorist, after crashing his car comments that the drivers in the spaceship "must have been Belgian".

Of course, after coming to a halt, both British and American soldiers descend upon the ship and the occupants are taken to a place where they can be questioned.  The three are obviously imbrciles, but one gung-ho American officer insists it's all a put on and that they are the advance force of an invasion.  He wants the trio killed forthwith.

Graham (Griff Rhys Jones), a flunky for a TV news station who just happens to be on the scene (while the top news-casting bigwigs are out of the office) rescues the trio.  And soon the trio, rather than being executed for reasons of world security, become celebrities.  The movie segues into a jaunt in which the three are musical stars (even though none of them can sing worth a flip).  They gradually become the egocentric parody of big time rock stars.  And they become internationally famous, with crowds of people straining to touch them wherever they go.

Meanwhile, Bernard (remember Bernard?) has managed to find another way to get to Earth.  But since he didn't crash land in a huge spaceship (instead he just got ejected from a passing spaceship that had picked him up), he becomes just another loser on life's highway.  Unable to get anybody to believe he is an alien (rather he is put in a mental institution at one point, because that's where all people who think they are space aliens are sent), he tries to figure out where he is and where his traveling companions are.

Since he ended up in rural United States, he has several things going against him.  When he finally catches a broadcast showing the popularity of his three fellow aliens in England, he tries his best to get to them.  Fortunately for him, since his position in the current society would not make it easy to get to England, the trio are due to do a one-night stand in New York.  Reunion is imminent.  But maybe, just maybe, his old friends don't want the intrusion of a newcomer.

This movie did not really fare well when released.  According to wikipedia, it made a paltry $17,000 in the US, and only got back a third of it's budget in the UK.  One reviewer in The Observer said it was "so unfunny I felt like crawling under my seat".  I personally don't think it's a great comedy, but it does have some pretty funny moments.

In one scene, the three aliens and Graham are watching a live broadcast of a riot occurring right outside the apartment they are in, and one comments "Look! That man is going to throw something!"  At which point a brick comes through the window and hits Graham in the head. "Looks like some sort of brick or something.."  "That could be dangerous."

OK, so this isn't "Blazing Saddles", but it is rather funny. In a dry British sort of way.

Well folks, time to fire up the old Plymouth and head home.  I hope the idiots I encounter on the freeway are only from this planet.  Drive home safely, folks.


Friday, July 27, 2018

Dark Shadows in Berlin

 This is my entry in the "non-English" Language Blogathon hosted by Thoughts All Sorts

One of the classics of pre-war, pre-Hitler German cinema, according to historical references the movie almost didn't get made.  When Fritz Lang, the director, announced his plans to film a movie called Mörder unter uns, the head of his studio, Staaken, denied him the space to use to film it.  Still prior to Hitler's rise to power, but the Nazi party had its adherents even then, one of whom was the studio head.  He and the Nazi Party both suspected it was going to be a veiled condemnation of the Nazis, and as such Lang was denied the use of the studio.  Only after Lang assured them that it was not going to a political movie was he allowed to film it at Staaken.

Lang's first film to incorporate sound, also almost didn't get made as is because Lang had a reluctance to film the movie with sound.  But certain parts of it prove that once he got into the use of sound, he had an ability to use it to maximum effect.

M (1931):

The movie opens with a scene of children playing and chanting a rather dark rhyme about some secretive shadowy stalker.  One of the mothers listening tells the children to stop chanting that dark rhyme but kids being kids they start it back up anyway.  The woman in question is waiting for her daughter to return home from school.  There have been several incidents of children disappearing and she is concerned, but not too worried.  At least until lunch time has come and gone and no daughter shows.

This is because, by now, her daughter has become another victim to this scourge of the city.  Although no one knows he is anything other than just an average citizen, Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre) roams the streets following little children.  He spies his prey and poses as a friendly stranger, buying balloons and candy for his victim, later killing them. 

He has sent letters to the police and newspaper, taunting them, something like Jack the Ripper, and the police, under intense pressure from the public, increase their focus on finding this scoundrel.  They put pressure on the criminal world, and disrupt regular criminal activities in ther zeal to discover the identity of the murderer.

As a result, the criminal world puts their own network to work in trying to find out who he is.  They use beggars and street people to keep a watch out for suspicious activity.  One of the street people, a blind man who sells ballonns, remembers a man who whistled Edvard Grieg's "In the hall of the Mountain King".  (And after watching this movie you may become a little apprehensive every time you hear the tune outside of the movie).

Eventually the criminals are the ones who capture Beckert and bring him to an abandoned warehouse where he is forced to stand trial before what is essentially the entire criminal contingent of the  city.  Talk about a jury of your own peers!  Beckert has the benefit of a man who is supposed to be his defense attorney.  During the trial he breaks down with an impassioned plea, stating basically that he is compelled by his own mind to do these terrible things (basically trying  to use an insanity defense), but the jury is unrelenting, and pronounces him guilty, giving him a death sentence.

Then his defense attorney takes over, berating the criminal society and telling them they have no right to declare judgement on the man.  What happens next is very interesting. 

The movie was Lorre's first starring role, but the after effect was he was typecast as a criminal and undesirable in many of his subsequent roles.  But it did show his incredible acting ability.

Well folks, time to go home. Drive safely. 


Friday, July 20, 2018

Superhero Thoughts

Chris Cummins who runs Movie FanFare had this on his blog site.  I thought it was worth a shot.

• What was the first superhero movie you ever saw in a theater? What were your thoughts?

It depends on what qualifies as a superhero.  I saw the original 1978 Superman, but if you can count Luke Skywalker as a "superhero" I saw Star Wars before that.

• What is your favorite comic book movie and why?

I have a great love for the outcast characters, so X-Men movies are my favorites.

• A lot of critics talk about “superhero fatigue” these days, do you personally think that there are too many films inspired by comic books? If so, why?

Therre can never be enough superhero movies.  'Nuff said.

• In your opinion, what is the worst superhero or comic book movie you have seen? What makes it so terrible?

Avengers Infinity Wars, but only because it left the story unresolved at the end.   That could change when the next one comes out.   Outside of that, I find the Eric Bana/Ang Lee "Hulk" to be very boring.  And "Steel".  Shaq can't act.

• Name some of your favorite underrated comic book films,

 Flash Gordon (1980) and Howard the Duck.  I like them both despite what the reviewers said.

• How many superhero/comic book films do you have in your personal collection? Which ones?

A buttload.  Every Marvel Cinematic Universe one, because I love Marvel Comics, most of the DC ones, and several others.

• Why do you think that these types of movies have struck such a chord with the viewing public?

Everybody loves it when the good guys win.

• What comic properties would you like to see on the big screen?


• How do you feel about reboots of superhero films?

There's nothing wrong with reboots, if the actors give a new interpretation that works.  The newest Spiderman movies are pretty good.  And Edward Norton's reboot of Hulk was loads better than the Eric bana one.

• Who is your favorite cinematic Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man?

Superman: Christopher Reeve
Batman: Michael Keaton
Spiderman: Tobey MacGuire

A Claus for Joy

This is my entry in the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Blogathon hosted by Love Letters to Old Hollywood and In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood

"Can't sing.  Can't act.  Slightly balding.  Can dance a little."

Variations of that description have been passed down over the years from Fred Astaire's first screen test.  It is a legend, but one source I encountered says it is probably true.  No one knows who the person was who noted that description.  Probably someone who was out of a job not long afterwards, as Astaire became a popular and prolific star of the cinema.  I personally can't vouch for his singing ability, since I am not the best judge of singing, but he definitely could dance.  As far as acting, one only has to watch The Towering InfernoOn the Beach or Ghost Story to realize that it is a bad evaluation.  He was even nominated for an Oscar for his role in The Towering Inferno (but lost to Robert DeNiro in The Godfather Part II)

The Man in the Santa Claus Suit (1979): 

The scene is New York City.  It's Christmas Eve.  We look in on the lives of three men who have their daily lives in turmoil due to one circumstance or another.  The opening credits feature a theme song, sung by Astaire (who says he can't sing?)

Gil Travis (Bert Convy) is a political dynamo who has everything going for him in his career.  But he is neglecting his family in pursuit of his career.  While on a Christmas eve trip, the limo driver (Astaire) gives him a piece of advice from his own childhood.  Dress up like Santa Claus and show up at the house.  Gil's son is sure to be impressed, as the limo driver was when his father did the same thing years ago.  Gil takes the driver's advice and goes to a costume rental shop, run by an eccentric old man (Astaire).

Sam Summerville (John Byner) is a homeless guy who is on the run from some shady characters because he found and has kept a gun that was used in a robbery. He wants to leave the city and head west, but he has no money.  A friend, Eddie (Ray Vitte), suggests he could get some money by posing as Santa Claus.  Sam goes to the same shop being run by Astaire, and then proceed to try to rob a rich house.

Bob Willis (Gary Burghoff) is a shy math teacher who is desperately in love with his neighbor, Polly (Tara Buckman).  He is shy but he plans on trying to propose to her.  A jeweler (Astaire) suggests that he dress up like a pirate or something to overcome his shyness when he proposes, and they come to the conclusion that the best costume for the time of year would be as Santa Claus.  So he ends up at the same costume shop.

Astaire has several other roles during the course of the movie (9 in all), but no one is even aware that the characters all look alike.  (Of course they don't.)

The best scenes in the movie are with Byner as Sam who has attempted to rob a family of their money.  The family consists of two former vaudeville performers, Dickie and Dora (Harold Gould and Nanette Fabray), who are spending Christmas with their grandchildren (Patrick Peterson and Debbie Lytton). The grandchildren are the most self-obsessed obnoxious kids ever portrayed in film.  One wonders why they aren't with the parents.  But the parents went to Bermuda on vacation.  Why didn't they take the kids?  That probably explains why the kids are the way they are; their parents aren't very mature either...  The grandparents take a liking to Sam and try to help him out.  But the kids are intent on trying to get Sam arrested.

The movie ends like any TV movie of this type ends, of course, with everybody happy and their lives turned around for the good.  But there is one surprise left for the end.  Guess who Fred Astaire really is.  Come on, guess... (If I have to tell you, you haven't watched enough of these kinds of movies...)


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Prank Falls and Pitfalls

This is my entry in the Natalie Wood Blogathon hosted by Musings of a Classic Film Addict

Saturday morning cartoons when I was a kid included Hanna Barbera's Wacky Races, a fun one which involved a cross-country car race, and a spinoff called The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, and another spinoff called dastardly and Muttley. I used to love all of them.  There were several significant characters in the original Wacky Races, one of which was the aforementioned Penelope, but also a gentlemanly hero named Peter Perfect, and especially memorably, a black-caped top-hatted mustachioed villain name Dick Dastardy and his incompetent helper a mutt called Muttley.

This being Hanna-Barbera cartoon about a car race, there were of course additional racers, most of which were caricatures of kid-appealing favorites, like the Slag Brothers (A Flintstones-like caveman duo),  a pair of hillbillies, and a haunted house on wheels driven by a Frankenstein and a Dracula/mad scientist set of characters.

But the ones I remembered most was the goody Peter, the evil Dastardly and his dog, and Penelope.  But I haven't seen them since I was a kid.  So a few weeks ago I bought a box-set of Warner Brothers comedies and one of them was The Great Race,  a Blake Edwards movie.  I had never seen it before but I gamely put it in my player and after about 15 minutes came to the conclusion that Edwards had made a live-action movie of the cartoon series.  Which would have been OK, but I thought Edwards was more original than that.

It turns out I was mistaken.  This movie was the original real-deal.  Wacky Races was based in turn on the original Edwards movie.  Amazingly enough, although I recall watching the cartoons quite often, there were only 17 each of the Wacky Races and its subsequent spinoffs.  Needless to say it must have had a profound effect on my memory.

The Great Race (1965):

In the early part of the 20th century there are two competing daredevils.  One is The Great Leslie (Tony Curtis), a charismatic knight in white, who performs stunts like escaping from a straight jacket while tied to a balloon.

On his opposite side is a jealous fellow daredevil, Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon, who not only performs his own stunts, but does everything he can to try to sabotage Leslie's stunts.  Usually backfiring to Fate's dismay and ultimate harm.  (These things end up looking like Wiley E. Coyote's attempts to use intricate devices to capture the Roadrunner.  Fate must have been one of Acme's founders, since his devices usually end up with the same results.)

Leslie proposes to a car company a plan to promote their company.  Cars are a fairly newfangled invention, and the company could use the publicity.  What Leslie proposes is a race from New York to Paris.  (This movie was partially based on a real event  that happened in 1908.)  Fate, upon hearing about the event, becomes determined to enter the race himself, and hopefully finally beat The Great Leslie at his own game.  To accomplish this, he devices his own special car, a monstrosity that has to be seen to be believed.

Maggie DuBois (Natalie Wood), a suffragette striving to be a female reporter in a world that still considers women to be inferior to men, makes a proposal to the editor of a newspaper, Mr. Goodbody (Arthur O'Connell), to enter the race herself, as a way to report on the race and thus get a job and a success in the fight for the rights of women.  Goodbody reluctantly gives her permission.

On the day of the race, Fate and his right hand man, Max (Peter Falk) sabotage the cars in the race.  The result is that only Fate, Leslie and Maggie are left in the race.  And Maggie, who has chosen a Stanley Steamer, not the best choice for a cross-country road race, breaks down in the middle of the first leg of the race (due to the unreliability of the car, not due to Fate's sabotage...)

Maggie uses her wiles to tag along with Leslie, at least until the first stop in the trip.  But at every point along the journey she manages to find a way to continue on, using blackmail and her sexual appeal to convince Leslie to keep her on.

In Boracho, a western town along the way, there is a female cabaret singer, Lily Olay (Dorothy Provine), who flirts with Leslie, infuriating her boyfriend, Texas Jack (Larry Storch), who then instigates a bar brawl to end all bar brawls.  Fate uses the distraction to sabotage the gasoline Leslie needs to continue, but of course, since Leslie is the hero and Fate is the hapless villain, Leslie manages to find a way to stay in the race.

The two cars end up in Alaska where an iceberg makes them allies for a brief period, but once they reach the Russian coast the race is back on.

The racers end up in the fictional country of Ruritania (oops, I mean Carpania) where the prince, Rudolph (oops, I mean Frederick) turns out to be the spitting image of Professor Fate.  Which leads to a long parody of The Prisoner of Zenda (so, OK, those weren't really innocent mistakes).

Ultimately, after a pie fight to end all pie fights, the race continues.  Who wins?  I'm not telling.

This movie is pretty funny for the first half, but I personally think it breaks down during the parody of Zenda.  But it really shines with Lemmon as the  Dick Dastardly/Snidely Whiplash-like character, and although I think Wood overacts quite often, she is a treat to watch in this.  The only real downside, in my opinion, are the scenes back home where, while the race is in progress, Goodbody's wife (played by Vivian Vance, Ethel Mertz on I Love Lucy) leads a charge for women's rights, to the dismay of her husband.

Well, folks, that's it from the back seat of this old Plymouth. I'm off to race a pair of turtles to the house.  Personally I would bet on the turtles...