The Great Race | 1965
Blake Edwards’ homage to old-school slapstick comedy doesn’t range as far geographically as it might appear for a film about a car race from New York to Paris, by the largely overland east-west route.
The opening scenes, setting up the rivalry between the charming, handsome Great Leslie (Tony Curtis) and the dastardly, scheming Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon) with balloons, biplanes and a rocket train, were filmed at Mereworth Farms in Versailles, southeast of Frankfort in Kentucky.
The race, a publicity stunt to promote ‘Webber Motor Cars’ starts from ‘New York’, which is no more than the studio backlot.
Remaining in California, the desert where the car of reporter Maggie Dubois (Natalie Wood) breaks down and she contrives to get a lift with the Great Leslie, is the Alabama Hills, near Lone Pine on I-395, Inyo County, central California, striking rock formations which provide a dramatic visual setting, overlooked by the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada range.
You’ll find the Hills off Whitney Portal Road, west of the town of Lone Pine.
The location was once Hollywood’s go-to region for exotic mountain landscapes, such as The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935), Gunga Din and King of the Khyber Rifles (1953).
We’re still in California as Fate, assisted by the ever-incompetent Max (Peter Falk), takes a short cut driving along rail tracks – before encountering a train travelling in the opposite direction. The engine is Sierra Railway 3, dubbed the "Movie Star Locomotive", having appeared in the likes of High Noon, the Marx Bros' Go West, The Long Riders, Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven and Back To The Future III.
The scene was filmed at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, 10501 Reservoir Road, Jamestown, the old Sierra Railroad in northern California, and that’s where you’ll still find the engine. The railway's Jamestown locomotive and rolling stock continue to function much as they have for over 100 years, and yes, you can ride the old line.
Jamestown is about 100 miles southeast of Sacramento.
The Western town of 'Boracho', where the competitors are obliged to stay overnight to get a refill of gas, was Warner Bros’ old ‘Laramie Street’ standing set (demolished in 2004) on the Burbank backlot, which had also been seen in Westworld and Blazing Saddles.
The railway station at ‘Boracho’, though, was filmed on the railroad set on the Universal backlot.
The snowy wastes of ‘Alaska’ and the little ‘Russian’ town are more studio sets, but once we get to the (fictitious) city of ‘Potsdorf’, we finally leave the US, arriving in Austria, with a mash-up of locations in the cities Salzburg and Vienna.
The palace was built for Prince-Archbishop Johann Ernst von Thun in 1700, becoming the summer residence of the Archbishops of Salzburg.
If the two carved heraldic eagles guarding the entrance gate look just a tad… um… Third Reich, well spotted.
But that’s ancient history. Since 1993, Schloss Klessheim has been converted into Salzburg Casino, Kleßheim 1c Schloss Klessheim, Wals.
Fate and Max are meanwhile arrested by Baron von Stuppe (Ross Martin), who has nefarious plans of his own. His palace in the middle of a lake (actually an artificial pond) is Schloss Anif, Schlossallee, 5081 Anif, a couple of miles south of Salzburg.
It’s become more famous as the castle seen during the opening ‘flyover’ of the same year’s The Sound Of Music, and was also seen as Roschmann’s castle in 1974’s The Odessa File and the Prince’s castle in 1976’s The Slipper and the Rose.
It remains a private home, and is not open for tours or generally visible from the road.
After all the mix-ups, the rightful king is restored and we are treated to the biggest pie fight in cinema history.
The ‘Finis’ line is set up, naturally, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, Champ de Mars.
It’s sometimes claimed that there was filming at the town of Gearhart, on the Oregon coast. This had been planned but was ultimately cancelled due to bad weather.