The Gumball Rally (1976), a review: MPW-45256Not as awesome as the Japanese movie poster, but it’s still good.

The Gumball Rally is a secret cross-continental race where by invitation only can men and women from all walks of life –teachers, housewifes, aristocrats, daredevils, etc.- running whatever vehicle they’ve chosen try to get from New York to Los Angeles first, perhaps even beating the previous year’s record time. While the race is spearheaded by candy company man Michael Bannon (Michael Sarrazin) -which explains the ‘Gumball’ name- and rich rival Steve Smith (Tim McIntire), it’s these two that would furiously contest getting there first with their respective copilots, as well as be the target for Lieutenant Roscoe (Normann Burton), who will be working with different law enforcement agencies to try yet again to stop the Gumball Rally.

In the pits, we see more than just fast cars (1968 Chevrolet Corvette, 1974 Jaguar XK-E), we see strategy, though some of it becomes more apparent as the race continues:

As soon as the race starts, racers begin to fall out of the race in all sorts of fashion. Some get momentarily pulled over (Camaro and 911E), some get away (mostly everyone at the beginning, but the Cobra and 365 GTS/4 get some serious style points as the race goes on), especially if it’s Roscoe leading the operation. Some get stuck in uncomfortable predicaments (911E and Rolls-Royce), some just couldn’t cross the finish line (Camaro, Corvette, XK-E, Chevy Van), some had to deal with freak weather (Rolls-Royce) and sketchy road conditions (300SL and Kawasaki), while some have to deal with far more important things than a race, and I’m not just talking about Franco Bertollini’s (Raúl Juliá) libido (365 GTS/4 and Polara). One participant just couldn’t catch a break, getting into crashes from start to finish (Kawasaki). Others were glad it was all over (Rolls-Royce), though some wish it didn’t (everyone else).

In the end, the race is done, the party’s just beginning, and Roscoe can take some solace that he at least impounded the cars on a technicality. But how do some of the participants get back to the East coast? One word: Gumball.

I’ve seen all of the coast-to-coast rally-themed movies: Cannonball Run, Cannonball Run 2, Cannonball Run 3 Speed Zone, Death Race 2000 The Cannonball. Some were good, some less so. I’m pleased to report that The Gumball Rally falls in the former, going as far as saying it’s the best of the bunch. Like The Cannonball, the movie has lust-worthy cars prominently displayed and driven like there’s no tomorrow. Cannonball Run 1-3 didn’t (an ambulance, a limo, and a stock BMW, respectively. Really?). But Cannonball Run 1-3 and The Gumball Rally has comedy, The Cannonball ekes out a bit of black humor at best. It’s virtually impossible not to talk about the inspiration of this movie and its brethren: The Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, whose story was written by the late Brock Yates and originally printed in Car and Driver magazine in March 1972. Details like vehicle choice to vitamin C pills make it into the movie. The article doesn’t go into detail about the political side of the race like the movie does. Well, hints at.

There’s far more to the discontent towards 1970s motoring than the 55mph speed limit and catalytic converters, but since the movie pointed those two out, I’ll emphasize them for simplicity’s the sake of those that don’t know what’s so bad about ‘em: The oil embargo of the early 1970s, as well as heavier “environmentally –friendly” measures really did a number to the (North) American way of motoring life of the time. Quick fixes included lowering the national speed limit to 55mph (to conserve fuel). In order to make their cars more environmentally friendly, automakers used stopgap methods of cleaning their now-politically incorrect machinery with power-sapping equipment like catalytic converters (technology that in time will mature to avoid hindering the engine’s power output, but not in their early days), as well as other methods of lowering horsepower figures (ex. Lower compression ratios). These methods would have to do until automakers could catch up and come up with more efficient machinery… recessions and corporate decisions permitting.

Everyday people, not only gearheads disliked what was going on, from going slower on vast expanses of freeways (fuel rationing permitting), to having less power to move around with. In the movie, this discontent was part of the reason why the Gumball Rally was held, as a protest to what many thought were pointless rules and regulations that hindered automotive freedom (one of the characters quipped that the age of the motorcar was over), aside from having a blast and achieving notoriety amongst your peers.

While I was impressed with the overhead camera work during the L.A. River scene, it’s the NYC driving scenes that I found more appealing; who wouldn’t want to bomb down those roads at full blast, just because it’s almost impossible to do so in a city where cabs, bicycles and public transport rule supreme and private car ownership is a pain? Sure, it’d help to know where one’s going, but still… I found the stunt work to be spectacular. The actual stunt show briefly shown made my brain hurt trying to figure out the physics of the Rambler wagon crash, and seeing the Knight Rider-loading-into-trailer-while-moving, er, move was a treat. It’s worth pointing out the pre-race prep work scene, with engines revvin’ and guys and gals wrenchin’ –with most of the machines worked on being supremely desirable, and in some cases unobtainable today- with period equipment and sponsors wrapping up the atmosphere. This movie is also the only time that I’ve heard a negative remark in regards to the T-Bucket hot rod. Then again, the driver lowered the car’s appeal.

My only gripe would be that I wish to have known what’s the deal with Lapchick (Harvey Jason), the Lone Eagle/Mad Hungarian. Aside from his misfortunes being a constant gag, we never really know what’s his deal. Even in the first racer’s meeting he was wound up tighter than a drum. The movie is what I would call proto-PG13, due to its close-ups of a few scantily-clad women and very brief nudity (mostly from pin-up centerfolds hung on the background), the occasional bad word and Franco’s libido.

I’ve already watched it twice and I’m seriously considering of buying it.





Opening pic:


5 thoughts on “The Gumball Rally (1976), a review:

  1. Pingback: Drive (2011), a review: | It Rolls.

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