It was a Cinema 1544 first (and will hopefully not be the last) this week with our feature film being presented from afar (specifically Conway, AR) via webcam by old friend Jeff Padberg (cameo appearance by Mita!) It wasn’t without a glitch, but we got technology to work for us rather than against us before the film started. Note: the presenter was long-distance. The film was local. Watching a film on webcam would be almost as painful as the mpeg we had of El Topo.
To lead into the film, I selected a short – it doesn’t have a proper name because it is really a set of clips that were designed to be interspersed in a Spike and Mike’s animation festival. For lack of anything better, we”ll call it “Toy Cack“, animated by Breehn Burns.
The short features Dr. Tran, who is a Kindergartener, a boy with a cough drop for a head, and the cough drop’s senile grandmother. Grandma is driving them the the toy store (called “Toy Cack” and hence the title) but for some reason just can’t stop running over little boys. The whole thing culminates with Grandma bailing out after creating carnage in front of the Children’s Hospital, and the car mercifully runs out of gas – in front of the Toy Cack.
For the record, Padberg did not approve of the choice of short, effectively saying that his film was about a car race, not a killing spree.
The film was “The Gumball Rally“, directed by Charles Bail. The film was one of the first (meaning before the Cannonball Run series) to cash in on the popularity of the so-called Cannonball Run, an actual, illegal, underground, coast-to-coast race staged several times in the ’70s and perhaps early ’80s. Some teams were able to make the run in just over 30 hours, but that did entail not adhering to posted speed limits.
Interestingly enough, The Gumball Rally was not endorsed by the stagers of the actual race, which is probably why it has an even sillier name. Apparently the race organizers were so upset at what they thought to be the buffoonery put out by this film that they set out to make their own official version…The Cannonball Run series. So yeah, they really did put a more realistic light on the race with THAT one.
What’s perhaps most intersting to me is that the entire first act of the film (which, to be fair, is probably a two-act and not a three-act film) takes place before the race even starts. It sets the background for the film and introduces us to Lieutenant Roscoe (P. Coltrane?), the film’s Inspector Javert of sorts. Roscoe, upset about being unable to nail these hardened criminals for last year’s race, has gotten wind of this year’s and is staking out the New York City garage where the race is to start. We also get to meet some of the main characters in the ensemble cast, the most interesting of which is the crazy Italian, played by Raul Julia.
Here we have the Italian before he goes bananas on the garage with a highly realistic squirt gun, the kind of which is completely and totally illegal now that squirt guns have to be made in neon colors so as not to confuse the cops. (So why hasn’t anybody ever made the neon-pink .44? “It’s just a squirt gun, officer!” Note: please do not construe anything here as indicating that I am in favor of killing policemen. It’s just an observation.)
Here we have the Italian again, espousing his driving philosophy. One might imagine that his car also does not have brakes so that all the great racing tropes can be touched upon.
Finally, the race begins in the early morning hours in the heart of New York. Roscoe has had his car sabotaged while he slept at the stakeout, and most of the cars (and one motorcycle) make it out of the city intact.
While Roscoe chases them from state to state (he cheats and uses airplanes) the race continues. It seemed like only minutes before the teams hit the desert. Which is kind of far from NYC.
There are assorted hijinks along the way, the most memorable of which are the escapades of the Italian, who simply cannot put the race ahead of seducing the beautiful ladies of America. An all-girls team has some problems being chased down by some guys that are hot for them, and one team whose car is disguised as a police cruiser (complete with different magnetic decals for each state they pass through) is pulled over by the real cops and manages to convince the officer (who is unsurprisingly unconvinced by the car) that it’s a movie shoot, and that, oh, he’s perfect for a bit part – the camera is just right over there! Ah, the vanity of the masses!
The motorcyclist seems to get the worst of all the hijnks – here we see him as he’s about to get accidentally launched through a billboard in a mishap so hilarious it could not possibly have been staged.
Roscoe is foiled one last time when the two lead cars are somewhat tipped off by another motorist that there’s a speed trap waiting for them – the motorist was getting paid off by both parties and tried to double-cross the racers, but alertly they passed the speed trap at 55, throwing poor Roscoe into a conniption.
Finally the race gets to Los Angeles, and the participants find themselves in the snarling traffic of the LA freeway system. The following is Gary Busey’s solution:
But the lead cars get somewhat more inventive, and ditch down into the LA River for the final leg of their trip. This, for those of you not in the know, is the LA River.
See, not as ludicrous as it may sound. Finally, right before the finish line at the Queen Mary parking lot, the race organizer (in a lead car and racing against the Italian) pulls out the final stop – he has a hot American woman waving at the cars. The Italian, true to his nature, stops and the race organizer wins again!
Then, during the celebrations in the parking lot, Roscoe shows up and tows everybody for being illegally parked. Wah-wah-wah-waaaaaaah! Of course, this doesn’t even seem to phase any of them, and they all agree to turn right back around and race back to New York – as soon as they can find somewhere to buy expensive cars in LA. Opulence. I has it.