The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Monday, June 2, 2014

Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies

When I think of the big roadshow epics of the late 1950s and into the 1960s, I typically think of historical epics, big period pieces with casts of thousands. There were the comedies out there too though, like the classic 1963 road epic It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, 1965's The Great Race and on a slightly smaller scale, 1965's Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. By 1969, the big road epic comedy had played out its course....almost. A quasi-sequel to 'Machine,' here's 1969's Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies.

It's the 1920s and the Monte Carlo Rally, a race across Europe ending in Monte Carlo, is fast approaching. Racers from all over the world are heading to several different starting points around Europe hoping to win the prestigious race. Among them? Sir Cuthbert Ware-Armitage (Terry-Thomas), an Englishman with a mean, devious streak up his back, looking to save his father's car company. His opposition and co-owner courtesy of a shrewd poker move? Fun-loving, kooky American, Chester Schofield (Tony Curtis), who has some big ideas about what to do with the far-more traditional English cars. The two men agree to race for it all, whoever beats the other in the Rally takes complete control of the company. But with racers from all over the world coming to compete, this will be one crazy race.

Dubbed Monte Carlo or Bust! for international audiences, 'Jalopies' is a sequel to 1965's air adventure, director Ken Annakin returning while also writing the screenplay with Jack Davies. It features an animated credit sequence, a title song sung by Jimmy Durante, and goes for that same stylish effect that previous road comedy epics went for. At 122 minutes, it's relatively short compared to its predecessors, Annakin forced to cut anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes depending on the market (and the source). What's left? A movie that's unfortunately a little lackluster in just about all accounts. It's not as funny as it wants to be, not as stylish and entertaining as it should have been. It's not bad, but it's not good either.

While it isn't my most original critique, all I can say here is that 'Jalopies' simply tries too hard for its laughs. The sped-up physical comedy sequences -- cars, drivers and spectators moving at ridiculously fast speeds -- are goofy for their own sake. Funny here and there, tedious when used time after time. The same for the BIG sequences, like two drivers navigating an iced-over lake full of hockey players. How many times can we see a car sliding/drifting and people jumping out of the way before you just want to turn it off? Well, I don't know the answer there because I lost track, and for the sake of the review, I finished the movie out, hoping at some point it would get better. It didn't really, a big disappoint because I enjoyed the other three previously mentioned road epics so much. They can't all be winners I guess. 

The cast is good and bad, some undone by uninteresting characters, others by the over-reliance on the physical humor, and some by a script that gives them little to do. A star of The Great Race, I liked Curtis as American racer Schofield (favoring 'Zowee!' as one of his go-to phrases) who commits to the goofiness but never really overdoes it. He's given a driving partner of sorts, Susan Hampshire's Betty, who may or may not be trying to slow him down. As his English counterpart, Thomas is good as Cuthbert (Thomas played Cuthbert's father in 'Machines'), the definition of an Englishman, this one so desperately trying to stop Schofield -- and all the other racers for that matter. Also returning is Eric Sykes as Perkins, Cuthbert's much-maligned and blackmailed assistant. This rivalry is the only one that was really appealing to me, the rest falling short here and there.

One of the other positives is Peter Cook (Major Dawlish) and Dudley Moore (Lt. Barrington), two British army officers driving together, Dawlish unleashing all his new-fangled inventions with every opportunity. Their very British demeanor provides some good laughs. Who else to look out for? Another star from 'Machines' but in a different part, Gert Frobe plays a convict look-a-like recruited to race as a famous racer (with Peer Schmidt as his partner)...and smuggle some diamonds for an underused Jack Hawkins (playing a sinister Count). There's also two Italian police officers (Lando Buzzanca and Walter Chiari), one looking for glory, one looking not to get married to an ugly woman, and a female racing team that includes Mireille Darc, Marie Dubois and Nicoletta Machiavelli who I don't believe are ever identified by name. They look pretty. That's their requirement for being there. Also, Bourvil plays the champagne-guzzling race organizer.

When 'Jalopies' gets down to it, there are some entertaining racing sequences. We see 1920s-era cars -- not exactly sleek racing cars -- bombing across Europe (with some great on-location shooting across the continent), especially the finale as the remaining racers gun it into Monte Carlo. There's just too little of it, and far too much use of miniatures and green screen work for a whole lot of sequences. In the end, a disappointment. If you want to be funny, just tap the brakes some and let it happen.

Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969): **/****

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