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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Great Race has some slapstick violence, and one character drinks too much. The reporter played by Natalie Wood is something of a caricature of feminism, more committed to shocking people than to any thoughtful concept of equality. But she has an unquenchable spirit, and she's courageous and resilient.
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What's the story?
In THE GREAT RACE, always dressed in impeccable white, the Great Leslie (Tony Curtis) is a good guy so good that his eyes and teeth literally twinkle. The bad guy is Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon). They both enter an automobile race from New York to Paris. So does beautiful reporter Maggie DuBois (Natalie Wood), to prove she can get the story -- dressed in an endless series of exquisite ensembles. The race takes them across America, through the Wild West, to a rapidly melting ice floe in the Pacific, and into a European setting that is a cross between a Victor Herbert operetta and The Prisoner of Zenda, where a spoiled prince happens to look exactly like Professor Fate and it takes all of the stars to foil an evil baron who wants to use Fate to take over the throne.
Is it any good?
It's a perfect family movie, just plain fun from beginning to end; it may also provide an opportunity for a discussion of competition and sportsmanship. Dedicated to Laurel and Hardy, The Great Race is both a spoof and a loving tribute to the silent classics, with good guys, bad guys, romance, adventure, slapstick, music, wonderful antique cars, and the biggest pie fight in history.
At the end, Leslie deliberately loses as a gesture of devotion to Maggie. Professor Fate shows some sense of honor -- apparently it is all right for him to cheat to win, but not all right to win by having Leslie refuse to compete. "You cheated -- I refuse to accept!" Modern adults may wince a bit at Dubois' notion of how to attain equal opportunity -- she ultimately succeeds by showing her leg to the editor, who becomes too dazed to argue further. But like Mary Poppins, it provides a chance to remind children that at that time, women did not even have the right to vote.
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