Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Doozy #12: Live-Action Cartoon as Slapstick: Blake Edwards

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The final Daily Dose of the films of the 1950s and 1960s features the opening scene from Blake Edwards' super deluxe homage to slapstick, The Great Race. This is our second major The Great Race clip this week, with the film's famous pie fight featured in Breakdown of a Gag, Episode 7.

 

Please discuss how this film's opening sets up the live-action cartoon mood and atmosphere for the entire film. And Blake Edwards literally spared no expense to get that look -- as The Great Race was the most expensive comedy ever made at that point in time.

 

As usual, all of the Daily Doses are archived at Canvas.net course under the "Daily Dose of Doozy" link.

 

Enjoy your discussions!

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I'm a big fan of Jack Lemmon and The Great Race. I saw it for the first time recently on DVD for this course. Pardon my enthusiasm and my digressions below!!!

1. Describe specifically how this scene looks and feels like a “live-action” cartoon.

The brilliant colors of the hot-air balloon and of the costumes certainly add to the feeling of a live-action cartoon. I kept thinking of ice cream parlor décor from back in the day when the chairs and tables had metal scrollwork and padded seats . . . . But I digress! Then the clip has other details (spoofs): the women who can’t resist The Great Leslie, the literal sparkle to his teeth when The Great Leslie smiles for the camera, the bush that moves across the landscape, Professor Fate dressed all in black (and if you’re a fan of Jack Lemmon, his appearance onscreen could be said to signal fun to come), the woman fainting and the screaming after the hole in the balloon is spotted by spectators, the band music punctuating dramatic events, the hot-air balloon landing on the villain and his assistant. . . . Need I say more?!

2. In what ways does the scene function as an “homage” to earlier slapstick comedies?

I think the visual details, although updated with color and technical touches (like the sparkle to the teeth), are the most prominent examples of homage. The narrative and the action and the gags (see answer to number 1) are more examples of homage.

3. How does Blake Edwards depict The Great Leslie (Curtis) as the “definitive hero” and Professor Fate (Lemmon) as the “definitive villain”?

Even before this scene in the clip starts, Edwards makes sure viewers know who the hero and the villain are. But in this clip, it’s The Great Leslie dressed all in white and clean-cut, and Professor Fate dressed all in black and plotting evil with his rocket to the balloon. Although I think viewers know from the start that The Great Leslie will always come out unscathed and that Professor Fate will never really inflict any harm with his evil deeds: the hot-air balloon landing on him and his assistant is one clue, but in the action after the clip, even Professor Fate and his assistant Max get out alive!

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1. Describe specifically how this scene looks and feels like a "live action" cartoon.

 

I'm not seeing the follow up animated credit sequence, but I can see that it is well executed in terms of shots and editing with comic-like framing and juxtaposing large wide angled framed shots with close ups of the action on the ground and the antagonists along with air balloon shots including Curtis's straight jacket escape fete and parachute trick.

 

2. In what ways does this scene function as an "homage" to earlier slapstick comedies?

 

It includes much if not all of the slapstick elements including exaggerated action and subject, violent harpoon attempt to foil the efforts for the fete to be pulled off, physical and there is a repetition almost ritual nature to diving from a air ballon with a parachute.

 

3. How does Blake Edwards depict The Great Leslie (Curtis) as the "definitive hero" and Professor Fate (Lemmon) as the "definitive villain?"

 

Curtis is made to look (typically in white) like the hero against death defying odds and villain wears dark and I believe even had a moustache like the cliche moustache and railroad tied up damsel in distress to thwart the Hero efforts depiction. He has an accomplice that also looks like a baddy in appearance. Very cliched but effective in appearance depiction.

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1.     Describe specifically how this scene looks and feels like a "live action" cartoon.

 

One cannot help but compare this clip with same look and feel of a Roadrunner Wiley Coyote cartoon.  The animated sparkle in the Great Leslie’s smile, the fumbling villains with the large harpoon gadget for the “shock and awe” factor in their attempt to bring down the hot air balloon, all similar to the attempts of the determined coyote to make a meal out of the very clever and super fast roadrunner. And like in the cartoons, the elaborate plans and devices used to stop, capture or destroy the roadrunner/hero, will backfire and cause more damage and destruction to the coyote/villain.

 

2.     In what ways does this scene function as “homage" to earlier slapstick comedies?

 

The time period this clip portrays, early in the twentieth century, seems to be an obvious homage to the days of the earlier slapstick comedies and to the earliest days of movie making itself.  With early year vintage cars and clothes/fashion of the day all reflects the comic films we have reviewed from our earlier classes. The time period is a perfect fit.

 

3.     How does Blake Edwards depict The Great Leslie (Curtis) as the "definitive hero" and Professor Fate (Lemmon) as the "definitive villain?"

 

Blake Edwards depicts The Great Leslie as the definitive hero by having him always dressed in all white attire.  Women throw themselves at him while men applaud his daring deeds.  Professor Fate is the definitive villain very much like the cartoon character of Snidley Whiplash from The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show, dressed head to toe in black and constantly trying to foil the all too good heroes of the show. 

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1. From nearly the beginning of this scene, it feels like a live-action cartoon. From the glint of the tooth following an award winning smile from the protagonist to the attempted avoidance to the eventual landing of the basket on our antagonists, this scene embodies many aspects of a live action cartoon.

 

2. This scene acts as an homage to earlier slapstick comedies by encompassing many of the traits of slapstick comedy common in earlier slapstick comedies. For instance, the gag is physical because it involves Curtis using his body to escape death, exaggerated when the woman cannot stop kissing the protagonist, make-believe in the scenario of a man attempting to get out of a straight jacket while suspended under a hot air balloon, and violent when the basket crashes on the stories two villains. By using almost all the elements of earlier slapstick comedies, this scene acts as a fine homage to them.

 

3. The most simple way Blake Edwards distinguishes between hero and villain is by wardrobe. Having Curtis dressed in all white establishes him as the definitive hero; likewise, dressing Lemmon and Falk in all black ensures that they will be seen as the villains by the audience. 

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The first thing I noticed in the clip from the “Great Race” is the bright colors which was very common in cartoons from the time this movie was made. Then of course we have Tony Curtis's shimmering tooth just in case there was any doubt that he was the good guy. On the other hand Professor Fate had the twirling mustache of Dudley Do-Right’s nemesis Snidely Whiplash (or the not so twirly Boris Badenov).

 

Dr. Fate uses a ridiculously elaborate weapon to try to stop The Great Leslie preforming his feat. It looks like something the coyote would buy to stop the roadrunner - however it doesn't say Acme on the side so we'll never know if he got it from the same company ;)

 

The Great Leslie shows uncommon ingenuity and foresight by bringing a parachute on the balloon, something Bugs Bunny might do. As Leslie floats safely to the ground, the evil Dr.Fate becomes the victim of his own nefarious plot. The Balloon falls on him and his sidekick even as they try to run to avoid it. Falling victim to one's own plot was a fate well known to any Warner Brothers cartoon “villains”.

 

I think Blake Edwards did a wonderful job in capturing old-time slapstick and mirroring cartoons; especially cartoons of the time.

 

On a side note, I have to say I am a little surprised that Blake Edwards was disappointed in the sitcoms of the time. 1964 is when shows like “Gilligan's Island” and “The Munsters” come out both of which used slapstick. “Gilligan's Island” in particular paid homage to the old-time slapstick in that the Skipper and Gilligan were often times much like Laurel and Hardy. The Castaways even made a silent movie once. If I'm ever stranded on a desert island I want to be on one where whatever I need pops up too ( that is of course with the notable exception of a boat for rescue)

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As someone definitively not a big fan of this film in particular, I can only say that the homage seems to be more in the form of one to "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show" characters than to anyone from classic slapstick. The very historic premise--using a time period BEFORE the classic era of silent film--always made it difficult for me to see this as an homage to people like Chaplin or Keaton, let alone Laurel and Hardy, and no amount of pie throwing is going to change that. And I use the Rocky and Bullwinkle reference pointedly because, of all the possibilities, it seems that the Professor Fate character has been ripped most injudiciously by Edwards or Lemmon from Hans Conried's Snidely Whiplash. Although Curtis never came across as the counterpart Canadian Mountie, Dudley Do-Right--somewhat at a loss for wits or romantic assertiveness at times--he was thoroughly the good-guy. The stunt at the beginning of the film was more an homage to Curtis film role as "Houdini" than to anything I can recall seeing in a slapstick classic and, again, I have seen dozens more cannon shots into balloons in cartoons. And gladly so...

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1. Describe specifically how this scene looks and feels like a "live action" cartoon.

 

It looks like the setup of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, where Tony Leslie looks at the camera and smile, and you see the flash of his teeth. The stunt with the hot-air balloon, which looks extremely dangerous and intimidating, seems very unrealistic. The reveal of both Peter Falk and Jack Lemmon as the villains adds to the comic effect of the situation. As we all know that in a Wile E. cartoon, the traps never work, so it works out in Curtis' favor as 'The Great Leslie' successfully performs the stunt despite the fact that the balloon has a giant hole in it. Just like the traps in the cartoons, the balloon crashes into both Fate and Max, just as it should happen.

 

2. In what ways does this scene function as an "homage" to earlier slapstick comedies? 

 

It pays tribute to the earlier slapstick comedies as it portrays dangerous stunts, in terms of exaggeration and absurdity. It captures the spirit by setting up the multiple gags, in which each has a certain significance to help the scene. There is the level of violence where a villain tries to harm the hero, or at least sabotage their every move. In a way, the entire film is a live-action cartoon, because it has so many moments and gags that it is impossible to choose a favorite.

 

3. How does Blake Edwards depict The Great Leslie (Curtis) as the "definitive hero" and Professor Fate (Lemmon) as the "definitive villain?"

 

The Great Leslie's wardrobe is completely white, which gives him a more angelic look, and Fate's is completely colorful. This is more flamboyant and a little clichéd, but Lemmon gave the character a certain dignity than a villain really should have. Leslie moves at a subdued pace and has posed body movement, whereas Fate's behavior and movements are absolutely outrageous.

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This scene feels like a clip from a ' Rocky and Bullwinkle" cartoon. Where (Lemmon & Falk) Boris & Natashe shoot  down the balloon carrying our heroes (Tony Curtis) Rocky & Bullwinkle. I think this scene functions as an "homage"  to the silent era of Mack Sennet's Keystone Kops. Blake Edwards was/is very creative in the way he does this film  because he uses a cartoon theme to depict the characters.

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1.       Much is “cartoony” in this film and this clip. The colors are bright primary and secondary colors or bright white (for the good guy) or dark black (for the bad guy and his assistant). The large red arrow Professor Fate shoots into the balloon could be from Acme in a Road Runner cartoon. The over-the-top acting styles of Jack Lemmon and Peter Falk in this scene are also more “cartoony” than realistic.

2.       As Richard Edwards mentions in the Curator’s Notes, the very fact that it’s set in early 20th-century America means that the clothing styles, camera styles, etc. will be similar to those in early film comedies. Monochromatic coding (white for good, black for bad) was useful in black-and-white film (and was also a carry-over from stage melodramas) and is used here. The hot air balloon is also a throwback, used in comedies like Buster Keaton’s The Balloonatic (1923).

3.       Again, The Great Leslie is in crisp whites (and even his teeth surrealistically gleam, with sound effect) because he is the hero and Professor Fate is in a black suit and top hat as the villain. As The Great Leslie, Tony Curtis behaves coolly and confidently. As Professor Fate, Jack Lemmon moves jerkily and laughs crudely.

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The cartoonish part is the bad guys in a car disguised as a bush and then the giant crossbow.

The homage to earlier slapstick comedies includes the exaggerated reactions from the crowd,the set up with the crossbow, we know whats going to happen, but watch it anyway and laugh.

Of course, we know the good guy in white and the bad guys in black.

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What can I say ?-who doesn't love a villain dressed in black head to tails-(tux coat tails that is lol),with a huge mustache to twirl and sneer ?- I can easily see Professor Fate tying ladies to train tracks, demanding the rent or marriage, the audience boo's, hisses, at every entrance-vs the dressed in white hero arriving at the last minute to save the day.  Professor Fate is Wild E. Coyote to a tee with huge cannons, arrow machines, and general mayhem.

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The Great Race is not only an homage to classic slapstick, it is set in the time period of the beginning of slapstick, taking place around the time of Keystone and Chaplin, between 1910s and 1920's. It harkens to the days of early cinema even in the credits with the hissing and booing of the bad guy, and the cheering of the good guy, and the time period music played on the piano, just as a piano would accompany silent cinema.

 

It feels like a live action cartoon, I would say clearly more Road Runner than Bullwinkle. We see Fate continuously trying to thwart Leslie with devices and contraptions that could have ACME written on them - crossbows, guided missiles, mini dirigibles, and mini submarines. The whole beginning segment plays out almost like a Road Runner cartoon. The cartoonishness of the bush moving, the hand cranked crossbow missile, and the balloon falling on Fate and Max is right out of Road Runner.

 

It is an homage to earlier slapstick in its clear delineation of good guys and bad guys. You could watch that clip with no sound - as a silent film - and still get the gags.

 

Edwards depicts the Great Leslie all in white, dashing, handsome, charming, daring, brave, and loved by women. The comical bit of the glinting of his teeth is great. Even his name is 'Great'. Professor Fate is the iconic early villain. He is all in black, with twirling mustache, cape, and is angry and spiteful. Even his name 'Fate' conjures up something foreboding. These types of characters are iconic in early cinema (the time setting of the film). Think of 1914's The Perils of Pauline, for example.

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  1. From the beginning of the scene, you get the introduction of the stunt about to be performed, the assembling of said stunt, the lull with bated breath just after the hole in the balloon is discovered (an obvious conflict that arises), and the final segment of the performer soaring down with a parachute, landing him safely to the ground.

 

With this scene, you have a clear protagonist and antagonist (one that also has an accomplice), aiding in the standard hero/villain concept of many early slapstick comedies.  You also have a complicated stunt, one that involves a sudden problem, but that miraculously ends in success. 

 

From a visual standpoint, the initial look of the "hero" and the "villains" gives clear, bold statements leading to their respective stands in the movie.  Curtis is dressed all in white, performs in front of a huge audience (who are all there for him), and ends up succeeding in his complicated stunt even with the dangerous hindrance caused by Lemmon.  In the same respect, Lemmon is dressed in all black, with pronounced make-up featuring an evil brow.  Not to mention the balloon that finally drops on the villain, stopping him before he can escape.

 

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As others have already said this is a homage to the days of silents- Perils of Pauline, the Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, but it also reminds me of Dudley Do Right. That has someone is trying to do something great or good - that things happen - they are funny but they happen.  In the end things turn out fine but that is how Edwards even sets things up - you know that it just make not be as smooth as it looks.

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The cartoonish feel applies to so much---Leslie's "sparkling" teeth, women having violent desires to be with him, and especially the villains in the moving bush and the Acme-esque crossbow to ruin the stunt.

Like many others said, it is VERY Wile E. Coyote vs. the Road Runner.

 

The early 20th century costumes are one throwback to silent slapstick. The slightly hammy acting done by the women--kissing Leslie and fainting when they see the punctured balloon is another. Most of all, it is the work of Fate and Max lurking in the bush with their exaggerated features and evil expressions. You expect to hear "Curses! Foiled Again!" at the end when the balloon comes crashing down on them.

 

Colors are a way to show good vs.evil. The white outfit worn by Leslie shows he is good, clean, virtuous (?) and Max and Fate as evil in their black suits and hats. We also get to see the bright colors of the ladies' oufits, the balloon, something you could not see in the black and white or tinted silent films.

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1.  This scene looks and feels like a live action cartoon for a couple of reasons.  The first reason is how the characters were dressed.  Even though everyone in the movie was dressed period correct, Jack Lemmon was dressed in all black with a mustache to symbolize he was the bad guy.  Tony Curtis was clean shaven, dressed in white and pristine to symbolize he was the good guy.  Colors were used as a contrast between the two characters which is something only normally done with cartoons.  The second reason are the characters' actions, mainly Jack Lemmon's.  The way Jack Lemmon talks and generally moves around in the film imitates that of a cartoon character.  Boris from Rocky and Bullwinkle or Wile E. Coyote come to mind.  He does it so perfectly that it's on that fine line of being too much.  Tony Curtis doesn't stray too much from his normal character portrayal in this scene or film, but if you pay attention, you can see that he tries to take extra care to do everything just perfectly in order to be that white knight.  

 

2.  I feel this scene pays homage to early slapstick comedies by the pure physicality of it.  The Great Leslie does not talk in this scene, so you have to watch his actions in order to understand his part of the story.  Professor Fate and Max bicker back and forth, but they're relying on their actions to tell their side of the story for this scene.  Throughout the movies it's their actions that make you laugh more so than what they say.  

 

3.  I touched on this in the first question, but Blake Edwards depicts The Great Leslie as being the definitive hero by dressing him in all white, having his look pristine no matter what he does, having him succeed in everything he does, through his "good guy" actions, and in the end by getting the girl.  Blake Edwards depicts Professor Fate as being the definitive villain by dressing him in all black, making him grouchy, failing at everything he does, and the fact that he only has beating The Great Leslie at something on his mind.  

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1. The scene plays homage to Rocky and Bullwinkle and many of the Looney Tunes cartoons. The bright colors of the balloon, the clothes of the crown and the huge red arrow give it a cartoon feel. Also with Tony Curtis in all white and Jack Lemmon in all black is typical of the time and give a further cartoonish feel.

 

2. It play homage to silent slapstick with By the complexity of the gag. Keaton and Lloyd come to mind with the stunt that was done. Although we know that To y Curtis didn't actually do part of the gag it still works. As stated above the colors and the technical camera work improve/enhance what was done during the Golden Age of Comedy.

 

3. Besides Curtis in white and Lemmon in black, Curtis has a clean, likable image. This can be seen at the beginning of the gag when 2 women run up and kiss him. Whereas Lemmon has a sneaky and unlikable personality. He reminds me of Snidly Whiplash from Duddly Doright.

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Hi, 

 

1. This scene looks like a live action cartoon in several ways.  First how the hero is tall dark and handsome, dressed in a gleaming white suit- even his teeth sparkle!!  The villains are dressed in black, have sinister mustaches, hats, and even black capes.  Then the hero gets a glittering straight jacket strapped on as the villains sneak in the launch area inside of a bush, ready to use a large crossbow.

 

2. This pays homage to earlier slapstick on many levels.  The setting, the audience to watch the stunt, the gleaming white clad hero and and dark sinister villain.  The out come for the villains is also slapstick, they shot a hole in the hot air balloon that then crashes into then in the end.

 

3. The Great Leslie is the hero from his name, gleaming white outfit, sparkle on his teeth, and even swooning ladies.  The villain is a stereotypical black clad gent with sinister intentions, even his entry to the scene was sneaky- coming thru a moving bush.

 

Thank you :)  

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The Great Race is one of the most hilarious and underrated comedies ever made. It could be the best performance in Jack Lemmon's long and distinguished career, while Blake Edwards is simply a master behind the camera.

 

The film is full of cartoonish, violent slapstick humor, often creating situations like falls, fights, accidents and explosions that otherwise would be deadly, but the victims here are more humiliated than harmed. This clip features the first of numerous attempts at Leslie's life executed by Fate, with initial success but complete failure at the end. These backfiring attempts are trademark in this film. We could compare the film to a Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoon; extreme violence, exaggeration and ludicrous mechanisms used, but no serious damage made. 

 

There's no doubt that the film pays a direct homage to silent and early sound slapstick comedies. Besides, it's dedicated to two of its greatest representatives, Laurel & Hardy. Its humor is mainly visual and physical, just like in the silent era, while the famous pie fight scene is another homage to the early days of comedy.

 

The characters of Leslie and Fate spoof the image of the classic Hollywood hero and villain, respectively. Leslie is depicted as a brave, elegant, handsome, self-confident but likeable womanizer, and is always dressed in white. His would-be nemesis is in all-black and executes diabolical plans to destroy him. Throughout the whole film, Fate seems more dedicated in beating Leslie than achieving fame and money, and we could assume that if he succeeded in killing or otherwise destroying him then his life would have no purpose.

 

 

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The villain in black, the hero in white, and the garish, primary colors of the announcer's clothing are all cartoon visuals. The gleam in Leslie's smile and the bluster in Professor Fate's manner tell us that these aren't real people inhabiting a real world. In fact, Lemmon gives the most over the top comedic performances given by a great actor since Cary Grant In "Arsenic and Old Lace". 

The moving bush, daring stunt and the inevitability of the balloon falling on Fate and his assistant all harken back to silent film. While I find films like this one and "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" to be excessive and somewhat forced, I appreciate the love that went into making them, this one more so than "...World", where, for all of it's comedy superstars, the funniest thing for me was the manic Dick Shawn dancing with the deadpan Barrie Chase. 

There's no denying the epic scale of the pie fight but Laurel and Hardy did it better in "Battle Of The Century", something I think even Blake Edwards would agree with.

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1. The sparkle from the main protagonists' smile in the opening shot, the bush moving from one location to another, the villains device to foil the main hero's daredevil stunt, the big hole in the balloon with air escaping from it, and the villains believing that by moving from area of the ground that they have avoided the hot air balloon, but in the end they got hit by the basket of the hot air balloon in the other end.

 

2. It elaborates on the good vs evil character plot, use of exaggerated acting, white to represent good, black to represent evil, the main hero doing his own stunts instead of a stunt double, and the costume design, production design, and setting are an homage to earlier slapstick comedies. 

 

3. The Great Leslie is handsome, smart, and can get out of a situation no matter how difficult it might be. Professor Fate wears a cape, a tall hat, and has a mustache that represents the movie villain of the early 20th century, as well as an accomplice to do his evil dirty work.

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The plot, the charcaters and the action could easily be short cartoons from Warner or even Disney. We have the exaggerated villain trying to cheat on someone, but it actually does not work at all and they bite it otherwise.

 

It is clear to me that this scene approaches much more to the old-fashioned slapsticks than the "new wave" ones. Almost all five of the characteristics we've set at the beginning of this course are there and technology works to the movies' old style.

 

The hero and the villain are well defined once the hero has super abilities, he does what anyone can. the villain, on contrary, works on a sabotage to harm him. Besides, the clothing and acting in both cases make thing clear on which one is what.

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The scene in The Great Race where Jack Lemmon and Peter Falk try to sabotage Tony Curtis does remind me of Looney Toons Cartoon. When they shoot the giant arrow at the balloon it reminds me of Wile E. Coyote shooting a rocket to try and stop the roadrunner.

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Didn't this movie inspire a Hanna-Barbera cartoon show on TV? Sort of coming full circle. :)

 

There were also two comic movies that followed within a few years that covered a lot of the same territory: Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines and Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies. The latter film even had Tony Curtis in it.

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