For the third installment of my movie review series, I’m pleased to present to you The Gumball Rally!
I have a very special soft spot in my heart for this film, as I was taken to see it in the theater by my father when I was just six years old, and I credit the film for being the spark that ignited my life-long love of cars!
Released in 1976, The Gumball Rally was directed by Chuck Bail, and stars Michael Sarrazin, Tim McIntire, Raul Julia, Gary Busey, Norman Burton, Nicholas Pryor, and Collen Camp.
An over-the-top, madcap romp in the style of earlier films of the 1960’s such as It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, The Gumball Rally aptly captures American car culture of the 1970s and all the trappings of the era: bell-bottom jeans, wide lapels, dark sunglasses and leather coats, all in shades of brown or mustard.
Furthermore, The Gumball Rally can be credited as being the genesis for, and archetype of, every point A to point B race movie made thereafter, such as the Cannonball Run series of films, Need for Speed and countless others.
The plot of The Gumball Rally is, like many films of the genre, pretty straightforward. The main protagonist, Michael Bannon, played by Sarazzin, is a well-heeled but bored Wall Street businessman, who gathers a group of automobile enthusiasts together in New York City to participate in a coast-to-coast race to the parking lot at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, with only one rule: “There are no rules.”
The winner of said contest, attests Bannon, will receive “…no glory and no headlines. Just a few magic hours flat out against the red line, with no catalytic converter and no 55 mile-an-hour speed limit!”
Amongst the group of competitors are Bannon’s friend Steve ‘Smitty’ Smith (Tim Mcintyre, a very underrated actor who sadly passed away at the age of 41) who enlists the talents of a former Italian Formula 1 driver and serial womanizer, Franco (Raul Julia, excellent as always); Gibson (Gary Busey) a wild good-old-boy; Alice and Jane (Susan Flannery and Joanne Nail) a pair of sultry vixens; Barney Donahue and Andy McAllistair (J. Pat O’Malley and Vaughn Taylor) a pair of upper-crust octogenarians; and Lapchick the Mad Hungarian (Harvey Jason).
Pitted against the racers is Lieutenant Roscoe (Norman Burton), a cop obsessed with stopping the proceedings. Strong comic performances throughout provide a solid foil to the automotive action.
And on the topic of automotive action, The Gumball Rally does not disappoint, featuring a bevy of the greatest cars of the era. Bannon competes in a splendid 1966 Shelby Cobra 427, Smitty in an exquisite 1974 Ferrari 365/4 Daytona Spyder. The vixens scorch America’s roads in a 1974 Porsche 911 Targa, while the octogenarians cruise in a resplendent Mercedes 300SL convertible, and Lapchick the Mad Hungarian terrorizes the country in a Kawasaki motorcycle.
Other cars in the film include a 1970 Camaro Z/28, a 1971 Dodge Polara 440 police car, a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow, a Jaguar XK-E ragtop, plus many more.
There are numerous exciting race sequences in the film, and it is noteworthy that all of the high-speed driving was performed by the actors themselves. The race culminates in a truly amusing sprint between the Cobra and Ferrari in the Los Angeles River aqueduct.
Who will cross the finish line first? Watch the The Gumball Rally and laugh your way to that discovery. I give the film seven out of ten pistons.
About The Author: Rob Finkelman is a freelance writer for Street Muscle Magazine. He attended and graduated from New York University’s film school in 1992, and subsequently worked in the movie business for twenty years as a documentarian and screenwriter. Combining his two great passions in life – films and cars – and writing about them is a dream job for him. He will be bringing us a Car Movie Review each month, and he’s open to suggestions so list yours below.