This is a sequel to Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, but it is in some ways a flawed sequel. Not that it doesn’t have its moments – I can never stop myself from laughing at the sequence where two of the cars in the Monte Carlo Rally take a wrong turning and land in the middle of a winter sports area. Suffice it to say that cars do not mix well with curling, hockey, skiing and bobsled runs.
The villain, again played by Terry-Thomas, is Sir Cuthbert Ware-Armitage, the son and heir of the late (and unlamented by his son) Sir Percy of Magnificent Men. Sir Cuthbert of course expects to get the Ware-Armitage auto factory on his father’s death, but finds to his shock that his father lost half the factory to an American efficiency expert, played by Tony Curtis. The American can’t see beyond the end of his nose without glasses, but he’s vain enough of his appearance to take them off at the most inappropriate times – and he, of course, is the hero to oppose Sir Cuthbert’s dastardly deeds.
The two make a bet: full control of the factory goes to whichever finishes ahead in the Monte Carlo Rally. Other teams include a pair of British officers from the Khyber Pass (read mad inventor,) a pair of escaped convicts (forced to use the Rally to smuggle jewels,) a couple of Italian policemen (one wants to be Cassanova,) and a doctor and two medical students (all female.)
A somewhat flawed sequel? In two ways. First, in Magnificent Men the airplanes, carefully reconstructed from the original blueprints, were characters in their own right. That is not true in this film. The automobiles differ from each other, but for the most part they are pretty tame compared with the demoiselle and the Antoinette airplanes, or Sir Percy’s triplane. (Not to mention some of the crazier planes from the era.)
The second involves the female team. They are totally inconsistent in how they are portrayed. First they show up as “women drivers,” running nurses with baby carriages off the sidewalk and chatting nonstop. Then they are competent drivers and capable of outwitting the Italian drivers in several ways. Then the doctor who leads them is essentially raped by one of the Italian drivers – and responds by falling in love with him. Then she forfeits the race to use her medical skills when needed in an emergency.
The other characters are silly and stereotyped, but they are consistent throughout the film. The women’s team, and especially the doctor who leads it, seem to have split personalities of awesome dimensions.
Of course the whole movie is to a large extent inconsistent with reality. The opening sequence, involving the delivery of a letter to the British officers in the Khyber pass, involves (1) a mountainous desert, (2) a jungle with chimpanzees, (3) swimming an elephant across a crocodile-infested river, and (4) finally a desert again, is a funny bit of satire of the British occupation of India, but a totally screwed up piece of geography.
If you like slapstick comedy, this movie has plenty. But it is not up with Those Magnificent Men.