In a month where the internal combustion engine seems to feature heavily thanks to the release of Disney/Pixar’s ‘Cars 2’, the theme continues with the American Region A locked release of that fun filled frolic from 1981, ‘The Cannonball Run’. I remember showing this movie in Alloa Town Hall around the time of its release and enjoying the over the top antics of a group of contestants in a coast to coast car race across the U. S. of A.
The movie boasted a first class line up of then current stars including Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Farrah Fawcett, Roger Moore, Jackie Chan, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr and the great Jack Elam. It was one of those flicks that didn’t demand much of the audience. All it asked was that they sat back, parked their brain in neutral and watched the good humoured escapades unspool before them. For the car nuts, the vehicles involved included a Lamborghini, a Ferrari, an Aston Martin DB5, an 80’s Subaru and a Paramedic wagon. Each and every one was out to outwit the Law by hook or by crook and win the race.
Burt Reynolds, whose career by then was pretty much on the slide, plays good ole boy J.J.Mclure in much the same vein as he’d played the Smokey character in the ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ series. He teams up with Dom DeLuise, who plays Victor Prinzim – a man with an alter ego. In moments of great stress he transforms into Captain Chaos – a rather rotund superhero – much to his buddy’s embarrassment and discomfort. To solve a financial issue they take part in the race with their eyes firmly fixed on the prize money and decide that the only way to cut through the traffic is to liberate a Paramedic’s Ambulance. Naturally, for the sake of authenticity they need a patient in the back and to this end they effectively kidnap a beautiful young tree hugger played by the lovely Farrah Fawcett – who was then still flavour of the month thanks to her earlier role in the ‘Charlie’s Angels’ TV series. But what’s a patient without a Doctor? The services of failed proctologist, Dr Nicholas Van Helsing (the dishevelled and wonderfully over acting Jack Elam), are paid for at short notice and he’s on board.
Driving the Lamborghini are two lycra clad lovelies, Adrienne Barbeau and Tara Buckman, who use their charms and a fair amount of cleavage to avoid getting speeding tickets from hapless male traffic cops. Jamie Farr (Corporal Klinger from the ‘MASH’ TV show) plays a racing mad son of an Arab Sheik, whose bodyguards offer up a prayer before getting in his souped up white Bentley. There’s a wonderful scene where two desert Arabs complain about the number of camels the madman has hit in the last week.
The funniest running gag in the whole movie just has to be Roger Moore sending up his Bond image by playing a character called Seymour Goldfarb Jr who thinks he’s Roger Moore. Every time Jolly Roger walks into shot, the Spy music kicks in and he’s accompanied in his gadget laden Aston Martin DB5 by a string of beautiful young women, whom he regales with his escapades as a TV and movie star. 007 fans will love the shots of the revolving number plates on the DB5 as well as the oil slick release and smoke screen. Look out for the ejector seat gag near the end of the picture.
Rat Packers Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr play a couple of Con-men who pose as Priests driving a red Ferrari, intent on ‘blessing’ everyone in the race. After they’ve let down a tyre on the Paramedic’s truck, we hear the immortal line.
J. J. McLure: They weren’t Fathers ...
Victor: ...they were Mothers!
Jackie Chan and his co-driver pilot a high tech, computer controlled Subaru complete with pop up jet engine in the back. They have night vision and every dodgy Japanese gadget under the rising sun in their car which makes for a few laughs.
The gang are pursued by Do-Gooder, Mr Arthur J. Foyt (George Furth) who falls foul of every trick in the book as he attempts to uphold the Law and protect the delicate sensibilities of the American people. As Seymour AKA Roger Moore pulls up at a roadblock in his DB5 he enquires what’s going on.
Foyt: It’s a Stake-out.
Seymour: Oh well, Bon Appetit!
Foyt: British humour.
For me though, the real star of this movie was actor Jack Elam who many will recall from ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’. He proves his comic timing is excellent as the questionable Doctor, who samples his own anaesthetic and recounts tales of malpractice on several occasions with a wild eyed look and stand up hair. He’s somewhat helped as whenever the Paramedic truck door is opened, he looms towards camera to the strains of a rising organ scale of which Dr Phibes would have been proud.
As you’ll have gathered, there’s an awful lot of silliness going on in this picture but it’s all set in sunny surroundings and everyone involved looks as if they’re having a good time. This was the kind of gig at which director Hal Needham excelled and it was just the right type of movie to play over the Summer Holidays back when it was released into cinemas.
Looking at it now, the pacing seems much slower than I recall and it doesn’t seem quite so hilarious but it’s still a fun flick. It’s a great chance to see such a collection of big stars together in one movie and also nice to see some colourful fun at a time when the world seems so grey and serious. So, sit back with a glass of wine and enjoy it. Better still, share a good curry and a few beers with some mates – then put it on. It’s the perfect movie for just such an occasion.
‘The Cannonball Run’ is one of those movies that has some out-takes over the end credits, so don’t switch off the minute the story ends. Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr are hilarious as they ad-lib when Burt Reynolds fluffs his lines.
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