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Wednesday April 17th 2024

The Great Race | 1965

The Great Race film location: Schloss Klessheim, Salzburg, Austria
The Great Race film location: the royal palace of Crown Prince Frederick: Casino Salzburg, Klessheim, Salzburg, Austria | Photograph: Wikimedia / Andreas Weigel

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 production was filmed largely in California, with a bit of Austria and only a few scenes shot in Paris.

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.

The Great Race film location: Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, Inyo County, California
The Great Race film location: Maggie Dubois' car breaks down in the desert: Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, Inyo County, California

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).

In more recent years, the Hills have appeared in the likes of Marvel's Iron Man, John Sturges' 1955 Bad Day At Black Rock, Kalifornia and Tremors.

If you’re visiting, don’t forget that Lone Pine is now home to the Museum of Western Film History, and hosts the annual Lone Pine Film Festival.

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 Great Race film location: Railtown 1897, Jamestown, California
The Great Race: Fate and Max take a short cut along the rail track: Sierra Railway No 3, Railtown 1897, Jamestown, California | Photograph: Wikimedia / Drew Jacksich

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 royal palace of Crown Prince Frederick (Jack Lemmon again), to which they’re invited, is Schloss Klessheim, a Baroque palace in Wals-Siezenheim, two and a half miles west of Salzburg.

The palace was built for Prince-Archbishop Johann Ernst von Thun in 1700, becoming the summer residence of the Archbishops of Salzburg.

The Great Race film location: Schloss Klessheim, Salzburg, Austria
The Great Race film location: the royal palace of Crown Prince Frederick: Casino Salzburg, Schloss Klessheim, Salzburg, Austria | Photograph: Wikimedia / Eweht

If the two carved heraldic eagles guarding the entrance gate look just a tad… um… Third Reich, well spotted.

After Anschluss (the annexing of Austria by Germany in 1938) Adolf Hitler, who stayed at the nearby Berghof, used Schloss Klessheim for conferences and to host official guests.

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.

The Great Race film location: Schloss Anif, Salzburg, Austria
The Great Race film location: the palace of Baron von Stuppe: Schloss Anif, Salzburg, Austria | Photograph: Wikimedia / Arne Müseler

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.

The ballroom of the Prince’s palace, where Leslie is dumbfounded to see the resemblance to Professor Fate, is Vienna’s Hofburg Palace, Michaelerkuppel.

The next day’s coronation ceremony, with Fate almost becoming crowned, is held is the grandly Baroque 18th century Karlskirche (St Charles' Church), Karlsplatz 10, 1040 Vienna.

After all the mix-ups, the rightful king is restored and we are treated to the biggest pie fight in cinema history.

Finally arriving in Paris, there are a few glimpses of the real city, with Fate’s 'Hannibal 8' motor lumbering down the Montmartre Steps in front of the white-domed Sacré-Cœur Basilica.

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.