Tuesday, September 12, 2023

The Gumball Rally

It hits me like a cannon-- er, a gu-umball! Like a gu-umball!

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "The Gumball Rally" (Warner Bros., 1976). Michael Bannon (Michael Sarrazin) is a successful businessman living in New York.

You can tell by how young and vibrant and smoking he is!

One day during a meeting, he begins looking to his stash of candy gumballs. Suddenly, inspiration strikes, and he calls a rival in California, Steve Smith (AKA "Smitty," played by Tim McIntire) and says one word: "Gumball."
Smitty, the rich rival. That's his entire character.

Suddenly, an eclectic collection of characters across the country get a telegram with a single word: "Gumball."

The chosen drop everything and head to a secret garage in NYC, to prepare for an underground rally race across the USA! But preparing for the racers is Lieutenant Roscoe (Norman Burton), a law man with an axe to grind.
He's the guy in the plaid pants, which are explained in-story!

He prepares to set speed traps and road blocks to catch the scofflaws in the act! Some will breakdown, some will crash, some may get caught, but there can be only one winner of the Gumball Rally!
Will it be the rich, attractive white man, or the rich, less attractive white man?

This requires clarification

You would be forgiven if you thought that I was writing about Hal Needham's "Cannonball Run" movies, but no! What you first need to realize is that the "Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Trophy Dash" was a real illegal cross country race that was started in the 1970s, and that there are several unrelated movies based on that idea. The first was "Cannonball!" starring David Carradine (which I have yet to see), the second was this movie, "The Gumball Rally," but thanks to the star power and humor of the "Cannonball Run" series of films these ones are all but forgotten to time. While this is a comedy at its core, it still manages to be slightly more realistic than any of Hal Needham's movies, but that might be to its detriment.

Not a bad pedigree

This movie was directed and co-written by Charles Bail who was previously known for producing some 70s exploitation films like "Black Samson." While this seems to be his last film, he went on to direct episodes of quite a few classic television shows like "C.Hi.P.s" and "Knight Rider." This was also one of the first screenplays written by Leon Capetanos, who went on to write more than a few beloved Hollywood films (such as "Down and Out in Beverly Hills").

Wait a second... is that...

The cast is a who's who of "before they were famous." You'll see a young Raul Julia (best known as Gomez Addams in the "Addams Family" series of movies),

Sexy, sexy Raul Julia.

a young Gary Busey, who plays a crazy southerner… I suppose that's "acting,"
Yes, this is pre-motorcycle accident Gary Busey.

and… Well, okay, it's not exactly a who's who, I guess, but they actors are competent even if the film itself isn't that memorable.
I could have sworn that this was "Lost" actor Terry O'Quinn, but no, it's actor Stephen Blood. 

Not bad, just "meh."

There are car stunts, and there is at least one explosion, but overall the film is just uneventful. Much of the film is just watching the drivers cross long straight stretches of highway and complaining that its boring.

"Wow. This drive sure is boring." "Yup."

You don't get much backstory on any of the characters, and the only two that really get any development are "Team Mercedes" (the elderly J. Pat O'Malley and Vaughn Taylor), who actually exchange more dialogue between each other than anyone else in the entire film, and they're entirely superfluous to the story.
I'm glad we spent so much time developing their characters. Not really.

Motorcycle rider Lapchick (a play on "Chaplin" as in "Charlie Chaplin" gets NO lines).

A not insignificant part of the film takes place in New York City, and seems to have been filmed on location. The first leg of the race is in NYC… Famously empty and abandoned NYC. "The City That Sleeps in Late" I believe it's referred to.
AKA "The Hollow Apple," on account of how sparsely populated it is.

All right, maybe modern audiences who are used to every idiot with opposable thumbs being able to drive, and the obscene number of cars on the road anymore to the point where it chokes traffic to a crawl at all hours can't relate to the movie's depiction of unacceptable traffic. I spent the last fifteen minutes of the film fuming upon seeing Los Angeles traffic ACTUALLY MOVING DURING DAYLIGHT HOURS and the main characters whine about how it's "too slow."
There's room enough between cars to pull this stunt.

What was the point?

There's also a side story about one of Bannon's mechanics (Lazaro Perez) pining to drive in the rally, so he gets a gig driving a Rolls Royce across the country to deliver to a rich man's second mansion.

"Be sure to keep the miles off of it or the master will have your thumbs broken!" "Wait, what?"

He Shanghai's his girlfriend Angie (Tricia O'Neil) to drive nonstop across America. The two run into an obligatory motorcycle gang (it was the 70s) and get the car caught in a sandstorm which ruins the paint, and that's about it -- the two don't really interact with any of the other characters and aren't part of the race, and this takes up real estate in the movie.
If you took census information from 1970s movies, fully 1/3 of the population was motorcycle gangs.

Just to be clear: We learn nothing about the rivalry between frenemies Bannon and Smitty, arguably the main characters in the film, but we get an entire story arc of his mechanic and girlfriend driving cross-country.

Despite my gripes, it's not unwatchable, and may inspire you to take a road trip. However, it's not nearly as memorable as other films based on the famous race, and there's a reason it's forgotten to time.

Pretty safe for kids

There's next-to-no swearing, no nudity (despite several post-sex scenes with Raul Julia), and the only gun fired in the movie is a water pistol, so while it's rated "PG" I would say that it's a pretty soft "PG," as you'll see more violent cartoons from the 1980s (there is a little tobacco use, though).

Even the film's single explosion is played for laughs.

Where can you watch it?

"The Gumball Rally" is currently available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video, and is available to stream for free on YouTube Premium.

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