It’s likely that many of you have never seen “The Gumball Rally.” I have. I’m likely one of the few to see it on the silver screen (as a kid). This weekend, I’ll have my own little Gumball Rally.
I can’t say whether my opinion is biased because I saw “The Gumball Rally” before “The Cannonball Run” (1984) and its sequels. But to this day I think “The Gumball Rally” is the best car-centric movies about an illicit coast-to-coast race than any of the Cannonball films.
Sure, it didn’t have A-list stars (it did help move along the careers of Gary Busey as his nutty self and Raul Julia as Italian loverboy and Le Mans winner Franco Bertollini) and one has to get past the initial shock of its 1970s production quality. But it’s a better film.
A comparison of all the cars in each film is a wash. However, the lead characters in “The Gumball Rally” (Michael Sarrazin as Michael Bannon and Nicholas Pryor as Professor Samuel Graves) drive an AC Cobra while the protagonists in “The Cannonball Run” (Burt Reynolds as J.J. McClure and Dom DeLuise as Victor Prinzi) drive a souped-up Dodge Tradesman ambulance. Hal Needham and Brock Yates’ actually drove a Tradesman in the actual 1979 race upon which both movies are based, but I’ll take the painfully quick and sexy Cobra any day. The stunt driving by 1960s Cobra racer John Morton lends realism to “The Gumball Rally” and, overall, the cars in “The Gumball Rally” are more beautiful.
If you want stunts, “Cannonball Run” wins. But the scenes of pure speed in “The Gumball Rally” don’t get in the way of funnymen being funny and vice versa.
I love the one liners peppered throughout “The Gumball Rally.” Erstwhile race organizer Michael Bannon: “Some of you won’t make it, but for those of you that do there will be no glory, no headlines. Just a few magic hours flat-out against the red line with no catalytic converter and no 55-mile-per-hour speed limit.” Then there is Raul Julia’s race car driver character’s commentary, with a somewhat corny but appropriate Italian accent, on the rear view mirror: “What’s behind me is not important.”
A final showdown in the L.A. River puts “The Gumball Rally” over the top. (The actors reportedly drove the cars throughout most of the movie, even in the river.)
This Monday I’ll be leaving Palm Desert with my wife, driving a Lincoln Town Car to the San Francisco Bay Area as a “hired driver.” I’ll be Jose from “The Gumball Rally,” the down-on-his-luck mechanic who hired on drive a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow without telling the owner would be racing cross country, to my wife’s Angie (Jose’s girlfriend).
It’ll be like my own personal Gumball Rally. Except for the high speeds, a paint-peeling sandstorm or trophy.
It’ll only be 500 miles instead of 2,800, but with the right attitude, any road trip can be fun.
( I dedicate this trip to all of my Gumball crew from Perris High School, Class of 1981. It was what I did with you that led to my so-far 27-year career.)