Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Gumball Rally

Last September when TCM had its monthly Spotlight focus on slapstick comedy, I recorded the movie The Gumball Rally which was part of the spotlight. I was going to watch it some months back to do a full-length post on it, but was surprised to find it wasn't available on DVD. That's changed, as the Warner Archive, released it to Blu-Ray about a month ago.

The movie starts off with Bannon (Michael Sarrazin) in a business meeting in New York City. He's bored to tears by it, so he opens a prop miniature safe that happens to be filled with gumballs, and this gives him an idea. He calls someone up and mentions the word "gumball", and other people get sent a telegram with the word "gumball". Apparently this means something to all of them.

Several groups of people come, with their cars, to New York, where they of course know that the word "gumball" meant that another edition of the Gumball Rally is about to be on. For those new to it, the Gumball Rally is a secret cross-country car race from New York to Long Beach, CA and the parking lot of the Queen Mary which is docked there. There are no real rules, other than try to stay safe. Certainly, obeying the speed limit -- and these were the early days of the 55 MPH speed limit -- is not part of the rules. Bannon will be driving his Cobra along with his friend, college professor Graves (Nicholas Pryor); his main opponent is Steve Smith (Tim McIntire) driving a Ferrari. Steve hires Franco (Raúl Julia) to be his co-driver. Also in the race are a stunt driver in his Camaro (Gary Busey is the co-pilot); two women in a Porsche; two jolly old men in a Mercedes; a police cruiser; a van with 200 gallons of gas so they don't have to stop; a man transporting a Rolls Royce across the country; and a mad motorcyclist.

Of course, the Gumball Rally is highly pushing against the boundaries of the law. Even if there were no speed limits per se, there is an understandable law about reckless driving, since you don't want to be a danger to other people on the roads. And New York City cop Roscoe (Norman Burton) is determined to stop the Gumball Rally from going ahead at all, much less having the participants actually reach Long Beach. Bannon and his friends know this, and they're using the then-new (and now obsolete) technology of CB radio to find out what the cops are doing and keep one step ahead of the cops.

Meanwhile, the participants run into all sorts of situations along the way that are supposed to be comedic; some of these situations succeed more than others in the comedy department. Who will win the race? To be honest, it doesn't really matter, since the whole point of the race is about the freedom of driving and about staying one step ahead of the police. Just finishing is just as important as winning.

The Gumball Rally is a movie that it took me a while to warm up to. There are enough racers that nobody really gets enough screen time, and since the cast isn't identified in the opening credits and the characters' names are mostly not emphasized, it's sometimes hard to keep track of who is who and where they are on their cross-country trip. But once the movie gets going, it entertains quite nicely. It's not trying to be any work of great art, just a piece of entertainment you can sit back and watch with a bunch of friends and a bowl of popcorn. In that regard, it succeeds quite well. Indeed, it spawned several imitators, most notably The Cannonball Run.

It would be nice if The Gumball Rally were on a less-expensive DVD, for those who don't have to have an ultra-HD print. But it's nice to see an entertaining movie like this available at all.

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