Thursday, 2 September 2010

Blake Edwards' THE GREAT RACE - a big, bold and brassy live action cartoon

One of Warner Bros studios big budget shows of the sixties, THE GREAT RACE (1965) was a particularly loud though undeniably fun film with alot going for it.  Star Jack Lemmon, whom I'm very fond of, (especially in THE ODD COUPLE) was really allowed to cut loose hare and personify a hosh-posh of elements from every cartoon villain you've ever seen.

Tony Curtis was his usual dull and utterly forgettable self, with Peter Falk and Natalie Wood shining here.  Blake Edwards knows his stuff when it comes to slapstick comedy and in fact made a couple of the funniest films ever, THE PARTY and RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER  - both with Peter Sellers.

Henry Mancini contributed a sensational comic score that works perfectly, with the wonderful centrepiece musical number by Dorothy Provine being one of those numbers you just can't get out of your mind for days afterwards - in fact I'm playing it right now as I type this ("He shouldn't a had, ought-to-have had a swang on me").

An aspect I liked about THE GREAT RACE was that it won the Oscar for best sound effects editing - by one of the greats of sound effect creation, the legendary Treg Brown.  Now if anyone out there is anything like me, a fan of Chuck Jones Looney Tunes cartoons of the fifties, you'd know that Brown was Warners' chief sound cutter to all of those hundreds of six minute marvels - sound effects that were unlike ANY other animation studio in their sheer lunacy and incongruent hilarity.  Chuck Jones himself credited Brown as one of the great unsung heroes of the Warner Bros cartoon division for 30 years.

Anyway, on with the special photographic effects from THE GREAT RACE.  They are great!  The picture is loaded with matte shots painted by Cliff Silsby, Howard Fisher and Albert Maxwell Simpson, blue screen shots by Linwood Dunn and miniatures photographed by James B.Gordon - not to mention some amazing full scale mechanical effects by Lee Zavitz. The show looks and sounds great, even today.

So, on with the show...........

Special Photographic Effects - Linwood G.Dunn - Film Effects of Hollywood
Special Effects Cinematographer - James B.Gordon
Optical Cinematographer - Don Weed
Matte Painters - Cliff Silsby, Albert Maxwell Simpson, Leon Harris and Howard Fisher.
 Mechanical Special Effects - Lee Zavitz
Sound Effects Editor - Tregoweth Brown

A great title sequence done as a series of old lantern slides, complete with several projectionist jarring gags.
One of the 25 matte shots (I've never been able to spot that many).
The race begins - NYC painted cityscape. One of the key matte painters on this show, and many more for Linwood Dunn was Albert Maxwell Simpson - an artist who's career harked way back to the silent era and who had among thousands of films painted on THE PRISONER OF ZENDA, GONE WITH THE WIND and other Selznick pictures as well as the original KING KONG and many, many more mostly for RKO over the decades.  Simpson had a long association with Linwood Dunn right from the KONG days and they continued a working relationship up until the late sixties.
Another angle with matte painted NYC buildings added to Warners backlot street.
Painted western lanscape with simulated explosion and fire element on horizon.
A large miniature of Lemmon and Falk's evil lair - with typically cartoonish outcome.
The ole' west - probably a backlot set with painted in Arizona scenery.
Alaska - partial soundstage set with substantial matte painted snowy landscape.
Small set with actors matted into ocean plate.
A dazzling Cliff Silsby matte painted newpaper office - with flawless attention to detail and superb compositing.  Silsby was one of Hollywoods old hands at matte art, having worked over the decades for Twentieth Century Fox and Warners.

A beautiful soft blended matte shot as the adventurers reach land at last.  I suspect that possibly former Paramount matte artist Jan Domela may also have been involved with the show as he did do several contract matte jobs for Linwood Dunn around that year.  He did paint on HAWAII at Film Effects of Hollywood the following year.
A very rare original matte painting that still exists from the scene shown below.  The painting is 5 feet wide and is on thin hardboard.  The artist would either be Al Simpson or Cliff Silsby.      *Picture courtesy of Jim Aupperle.

A detailed photograph from the above original matte painting.

One of the mattes that was up for auction many years ago, and was credited to Leon Harris as matte painter.  The 1990 Disney movie DICK TRACY had Harris on the matte team along with six other artists, primarily as draghtsman for laying out the many complex architectural requirements on glass for the other artists to work from.
Another flawless painted matte, and like the others seen in this film very cleanly composited.
Paris!!!  A Linwood Dunn miniature Eiffel Tower perfectly lit and lined up into actual location plate.
The spectacular finale - the Eiffel Tower comes crashing down.  The story behind this wonderful sequence is fascinating.  In an interview effects supervisor Dunn was faced with the prospect of investing considerable sums in contstructing a large sixteen foot miniature, yet came across the notion of employing nothing mre than an over the counter seven dollar plastic model Eiffel Tower, from which an amazingly convincing scene of destruction was achieved which to all concerned was perfectly acceptable.(from an interview with Dunn in the book Special Effects in the Movies by David Everitt)

1 comment:

  1. Indentified - location of matte shots
    Great Race - Universal Studios backlot
    Denver Street "The ole' west "
    Singapore/Jaws Lake two images