Warner Archive Blu-ray: The Freedom of the Open Road in The Gumball Rally (1976)


A mid-seventies car race comedy is a tad out of the time range I typically cover at A Classic Movie Blog, but I was curious to see the post-code progression of films like The Great Race (1965) and It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). I also desperately needed a purely escapist flick, which I got. Now available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive, this loosely-arranged comedy provides eye-candy for classic car lovers and the freedom of the open road.

Led by bored businessman Michael Sarrazin, a group of speed freaks takes off on their annual cross country race, zooming from New York City to Los Angeles. The seven teams of driver and navigator are distinguished by make: Camaro, Ferrari, Porsche, Mercedes, Cobra, Rolls Royce and Dodge, with a hapless motorcycle rider (based on Charlie Chaplin's silent person) thrown in the mix for physical comedy. With trickery, CB radios and radar detectors, they elude the police, making pit stops along the way where crews wait to change tires and make adjustments. It is as if the entire country is a race track.

At its best The Gumball Rally is alive with the thrill of speed, roaring engines and the freedom of discarding the law simply to have the wind whip through your hair. While sex plays a role, the biggest turn on is the cars, which are reason enough for automobile fanatics to watch. These are the bodies that get the most attention and while there are no truly stand-out sequences, the action is engaging in a sort of laidback, free form way.

With an enormous cast and most of the action on the road, this is not a film for character development. It has the odd feel of being only cast with supporting players, with no true stand-out performances, though Raul Julia is charismatic despite a terrible Italian accent, Gary Busey plays his Chiclet teeth and horsy laugh to great goofy effect and it is fun to see cult favorite Joanne Nail (Switchblade Sisters [1975]) as a navigator who has an interesting chemistry with her driver, and soap star Susan Flannery (Days of Our Lives, The Bold and the Beautiful). Overall though, there are so many characters in the mix that it is easy to get lost.

While of course you don't approach this genre looking for strong character development, a charismatic lead or an intriguing relationship could have elevated this to a sort of classic status. Think Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit (1975) and the genuinely touching connection he made with Sally Field in that flick. Of course, that kind of magic is rare, and taken for what it is, The Gumball Rally is a good time and a great escape from responsibility.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

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