Paramount Pictures (1969), Legend Films/Paramount (June 3 2008), single disc, 125 mins plus supplement, 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 2.0, Rated G, Retail: $14.95
They’re off! If Those Daring Young Men In Their Jaunty Jalopies rolls off the tongue with the musical rhythm of Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines then you’d be right to assume a connection: this John O’Groats to Monte Carlo car rally is writer-director Ken Annakin’s long forgotten follow-up to that high flying comedy classic. So join the dashing Schofield (Tony Curtis) and an international star cast as they race against the dastardly Sir Cuthbert Ware-Armitage (the inimitable Terry-Thomas, reprising his role from the earlier film) to win the coveted cup – it’s Monte Carlo or bust!
In the 1960s, television provided a new threat: color. Whereas in the late 1950s Hollywood tried any and all means to drag audiences away from their living room boxes and into the theaters, only widescreen made much of an impact, bigger picture being the obvious difference to watching programs at home. Television generated its own stars, of course, but when color started creeping in, the way the movies combated it was to present epic stories the likes of which television budgets and technology just couldn’t compete with. While epic dramas had always drawn huge crowds, one of the most popular genres around this time was the glossy comedy caper, mostly chase films with an absolutely packed cast of all stars all racing each other on the road, usually with some high stakes reward at the end of the journey.
With Cleopatra signalling the demise of the expensive costume drama (for a time at least), audiences found the exact opposite temperament starting off in the 1963 all-star vehicle It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, which sought to include roles for every living comedy screen star (save for the one hold out, Buster Keaton) including, “in alphabetical order, Jimmy Durante”. Two years later, this sub-genre was in full flow, with Blake Edwards’ The Great Race reuniting the Some Like It Hot co-stars of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, and Ken Annakin’s fondly remembered Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines, or How I Flew From London To Paris In 25 Hours And 11 Minutes, which made the switch from cars to vintage airplanes, again packing in an all-star cast backed up with the kind of strong international flavor that usually found roles for German comedian Gert Frobe.
Frobe, sincerely threatening as Auric Goldfinger in the 1964 James Bond film, was already a well known comedian in his native Germany and after essaying the archetypal 007 villain he later made something of a career for himself going back to comedy, where his pompous accent was perfect for playing befuddled buffoons, most notably to great affect in these kinds of films, including Magnificent Men and the Jules Verne adaptation Rocket To The Moon (1967), both again opposite professional cad Terry-Thomas, and, most brilliantly, as Baron Bomburst in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). In the same year as Chitty, all the elements came to their logical conclusion with the animated success of Hanna-Barbera’s Wacky Races, very much a reply to the kind of live-action chase and car comedies that were proving so popular (Dick Dastardly owes much to Terry-Thomas). It wasn’t long before another feature film was called for and, two years after The Great Race, Curtis found himself back in the driver’s seat, joining forces with the director of that film’s competitor, Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines, Ken Annakin.
Though it’s never stated on screen, this new race picks up some few years after the flying events of Magnificent Men and, with automobiles now most commonplace, there’s no need for the kind of avionic history re-cap that opened the earlier film. Here we’re straight in on a comically exciting sequence set in colonial India with a hapless delivery boy making sure the message gets through to the remotely stationed Major Dawlish (Peter Cook) and his underling Barrington (a brilliant Dudley Moore) announcing that the Monte Carlo rally – the showcase Dawlish has been waiting for to present his apparently superior motoring inventions to the world – is on!
After the customary animated title sequence – again, as with Magnificent Men, designed by the great St Trinians illustrator Ronald Searle, later a huge influence on Gerald Scarfe’s work – we’re informed that Sir Percy Ware-Armitage has crashed his flying machine, leaving his entire estate to his son Cuthbert (Terry-Thomas, now in point of fact playing the son but to all intents and purposes the same rotter that became his trademark in the earlier film). Well, he’s been left all but half of Armitage Motors, now co-owned by brash American Chester Schofield (Tony Curtis), who won his share in a poker game. With his equally sneaky man servant (Eric Sykes again) in tow, Ware-Armitage bets the factory on a winner takes all entry into the Monte, an entry he plans to win by fair means or foul!
Meanwhile, in Germany, convict Willi Schickel (Frobe) makes an escape from jail only to be cajoled by nefarious forces into entering the race disguised as Argentina’s premier speed driver as a cover for a smuggling operation that aims to bring hot jewels into La Belle France hidden in the car’s spare wheels. Add to this a pair of Italian brothers out to bring honor to their country, a trio of girls, or “women drivers” as they keep getting dismissed as, driving for liberation, and various other co-drivers and kooks, and with all the main players in the game set up and running, it’s down to co-writer (with British comedy legend Jack Davies) and director Annakin to unleash any and all situations on the luckless groups!
Annakin had kick-started his career with the Splash-like mermaid comedy Miranda with Glynis Johns in 1948, which had caught the eye of Walt Disney, who assigned him to his British-set live-action pictures starring Richard Todd, The Story Of Robin Hood And His Merrie Men and The Sword And The Rose, as well as the epic Swiss Family Robinson with John Mills; all films, according to Annakin’s autobiography So You Wanna Be A Director?, that taught him the basis of special effects matte work, timing and how to handle the kind of large scale moviemaking that would take him on to The Longest Day, Magnificent Men and Battle Of The Bulge. This is all evident in Jaunty Jalopies: with his Disney background, Annakin has an eye for the absurd and the opening twenty minutes are pure comedy cinema, recalling the silent days and the kind of staging that was the Disney animation hallmark. In many ways these kinds of films pre-dated the later rash of live-action versions of animated films: the likes of Magnificent Men, The Great Race and Jaunty Jalopies are hyper real, larger than life, broad comedy epics, populated with outlandish characters in over the top situations that would otherwise only work in animated picture making.
This ethos is carried over into Ron Goodwin’s bombastic musical score, full of intentional Mickey Mouseing, heroic stabs, wobbly brass for Frobe’s perpetual misfit and slinky strings for the boo-hiss villains. The main title theme, as inimitably sung by a crusty Jimmy Durante and the chorus’ lyrics of which gave the film its alternative Monte Carlo Or Bust! title, is as jaunty as those composed for Magnificent Men, which shares its syncopation, or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – indeed, the wordplay and catchiness easily remind us of a typical Sherman brothers ditty. The exuberant and play it all for laughs cast joins in admirably, and when they say “international comedy”, they mean it – this is big laugher on a large scale, with Annakin’s eye for quality and Paramount’s lavish budget making sure all the stops are pulled out, including some still decent effects work: save for one slightly suspect miniature, the sodium matte back projection holds up pretty well too.
Of the cast, nominal starring Curtis plays his usual hyperactive wiseguy charmer, and clearly is having fun with things after a serious turn as The Boston Strangler. Thomas is the kind of British scoundrel that would define the very meaning of the slick, only villain type that one would call a dirty bounder, most recently referenced by the Bowler Hat Guy in Meet The Robinsons and brought to animation by Thomas himself, as the slithery Sir Hiss in Disney’s animated Robin Hood. As the silly, upper class twits, Cook and Moore are delightful, continually trying out Dawlish’s never-ending parade of elaborate but ultimately worthless inventions (only the most basic of which, wouldn’t you know it, actually works and comes in useful), until they’re literally blown out of the race! Frobe, getting more and more fixated with winning the race rather than completing his diamond smuggling orders, is fantastically amusing here, and whenever he’s on screen he finds himself little bits of business to engage in which are often fitfully funny.
Perhaps least interesting of the racers are the Italian brothers, who find themselves at war with the dotty French demoiselles, and a romantic scene or two between Curtis and Susan Hampshire, the prissy miss he recruits as a co-driver along the way, slow things down a bit. But when we’re on the road there’s lots of fun to be had: Annakin and his team of stunt drivers keep the set pieces coming, and the film doesn’t let up until the participants arrive at the half way point in the French Alps, a stopover at a multi-room lodge, that brings all the main characters together and allows for much mistaken identity, room swapping and farcical frolics. Add to this an exciting mountainside road rescue, and a minor plot twist or two that keep things bubbling along, especially the ending, where the cup is passed around several times as a non-cheating winner is finally located!
I found the final race spurt to be reminiscent of The Love Bug, and perhaps it’s because this film came a year later, and after the onslaught of such comparable films, that audiences didn’t make Jaunty Jalopies a hit, probably feeling they had seen its like before (which they had, in It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, The Great Race, Magnificent Men, The Love Bug and even Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a similar car caper that also failed on its first run). That’s unfortunate, and led to the demise of these kinds of films, since Jaunty Jalopies is as good as its predecessor in different ways: again an ensemble piece, and again employing the same kind of formula, plotting and period setting (the 1920s, when a big race like this would have captured the world’s imagination), expertly recreated in design and this film’s tone, where Jalopies scores is in its directness and fondness for silly fun where Flying Machines perhaps aimed to pack in too many characters and back stories.
Sadly, these kinds of films are no longer made; we now demand too many subtleties in our characters rather than the stereotypes that are simply perfect for this sort of thing, and our politically correct times mean that the skirt chasing – all in good, clean fun you understand – wouldn’t be permitted today. But that’s exactly what makes the likes of Those Daring Young Men In Their Jaunty Jalopies such 1960s, frothy fun, and that they don’t make ’em like this any more only adds to the slight fantasy entertainment value. The reflection of their lineage to today’s films can be felt in an obvious homage such as Rat Race and, though clearly different in period and tone, recent family fare as the Pirates Of The Caribbeans in some of the freewheeling nature, as well as Speed Racer and the demented likes of Death Race 2000 and its current remake, but they’re missing a brand of innocent charm that even these brash, bold and broad outings contain. Not to be overlooked anymore, Those Daring Young Men In Their Jaunty Jalopies is recommended all-round family fun: it’s a winner!
Those Daring Young Men In Their Jaunty Jalopies has been anxiously awaited on DVD for quite a while now, remaining for so long one of those classic films that one must wait for to turn up at some odd hour on TV, so it’s certainly a much welcomed pick-up from the guys at Legend Films, who have been into providing decent editions of some long out of print or definitive versions of public domain titles for a good few years now. True, their main selling point is often a Colorized version of a black and white movie, but credit to them for providing both old and new on the disc, usually with the original monochrome image benefiting from the restoration work carried out for basis of the color versions.
Recently the company has moved from being just a service company (and, it has to be said that their proprietary coloring is pretty impressive even if the originals should always remain the default viewing option) to venturing out into distribution, with several in-house catalog titles. Now, a deal with Paramount (a company well known for their distinct lack of interest in mining their own archive) to bring some of the more obscure curios to market has seen some 40 or so titles making their much welcome disc debuts.
20th Century Fox packed their recent single disc, low-priced edition of Annakin’s Magnificent Men (well, well, well worth seeking out) with a veritable special edition’s worth of content to compliment the stunning transfer, and I was intrigued to see if anything had been assembled here. To be fair, one wouldn’t really be expecting anything on a licensed budget release like this one, so without anything marked up on the packaging it’s a real pleasure to find a very quirky theatrical trailer included!
A montage of moments from the movie, this version of the trailer is most notable for omitting the sales pitch narration, offering an instrumental version of Durante’s main title song. Presented in letterboxed 4:3, the three minute preview is expectedly authentically aged looking, but is immense fun nonetheless. Adding to the fun is a highly amusing menu: static but with wildly berserk music selections that truly evoke the classic style comedy chase caper perfectly!
Although licensed and distributed by Legend, you’d be hard pushed apart from their logo to differentiate these catalog titles from standard Paramount product, such is the consistency in layout and design. Promoting its primary line up of star faces, some production photography peppers the sleeve, with Curtis, Hampshire, Cook and Moore up front, and Gert Frobe popping up on the back with a repeated Hampshire unfortunately nudging out a prime spot for Thomas to have been included. Understandably given the budget intentions of the release, there’s no insert but, while in a perfect world Jaunty Jalopies would be treated to the same kind of respect as its predecessor, not all films are destined to flaunt all the trimmings and again it’s sometimes more important that these titles actually make it to disc at all.
In terms of the transfer, I caught a print of the international Monte Carlo Or Bust! on television recently, which looked pretty darned nice, and this DVD is comparable for different reasons. Although it may have been arguably slightly cleaner, the TV print exhibited some color saturation whereas the picture here is much more accurate to the original coloring: retaining the vibrancy, flesh tones especially look more natural as opposed to the redder faces on the Monte Carlo television version. There are some instances of print debris, especially around areas of special effects compositing, which was a trade off of multiple film passes of this vintage, but apart from a slight level of compression (the downside of packing a two hour movie onto a single layered DVD-5) the transfer is surprisingly robust for something that’s been kept in the studio vaults for so long.
Images are obviously something Legend Films know a bit about, and from what I’ve seen all of their titles exhibit the best of what can be achieved from their original elements, so I was surprised that this was flagged up as an interlaced transfer and not a progressive one, by my DVD software. It certainly wouldn’t have been apparent otherwise, however, and I’m still dubious as to whether I’m getting the right readings, because it certainly looks progressive – and extremely solidly so – on my other players. A slight color boost might be preferable for some, but otherwise the anamorphically enhanced image – presenting the film in its original screen ratio of 2:35 and not 1.78 as stated on the sleeve – is mostly clean, contrasty and very sharp.
Similar things can be said about sound: as a big-budget star vehicle intended to showcase what was so great about leaving the box at home and venturing out to a movie house, you’d expect Those Daring Young Men In Their Jaunty Jalopies to sport a rousing, vigorous sound mix, and Legend’s track here does little to disappoint. Though not an all-enveloping 5.1 remix, and possibly not as widely stereophonic sounding as the Monte Carlo Or Bust! TV edition I heard recently, there’s still a lot going on in the track, not least the surprisingly bombastic LFE, which will blow some powerful bass out of your woofer. There’s a slight hint of background noise in quieter moments, but indeed, Annakin and composer Goodwin like their musical stabs and sound effects, and they’re all given a jolly, non-distorting boost here.
Cinematic Classic or Faded Print?
While some may find the actually pin-sharp farce, slapstick and length of the film tedious for a comedy by today’s standards, Those Daring Young Men In Their Jaunty Jalopies is certainly one of the better entries in the long line of such cinematic outings. Harking back to the stunt-filled comedies of the silent era, Magnificent Men and Jaunty Jalopies brought back large-scale capers to the screen just at a time when serious drama was in danger of taking over the cinemas. Annakin is an overlooked director (it’s no coincidence that he counted a certain George Lucas as a friend), and though unfairly remembered as the lesser of his two themed epic chases, it’s about time Jalopies is reappraised at least as an equal. It comes well recommended, particularly to Disney live-action fans who may rightly feel a lot of Walt’s kind of touches within, and providing a genuinely funny family treat along the way. Certainly enthusiasts of the earlier film, or of The Great Race, should be in their element, and Legend’s presentation should please those that have been waiting patiently for Those Daring Young Men In Their Jaunty Jalopies, or Monte Carlo Or Bust! to arrive on DVD.
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October 1 2008