FILMS… The Cannonball Run (1981)

#1980s #AllPosts


Burt Reynolds takes the driving seat as two Rat Packers race to the finishing line…


A possible reboot plot for a Fast and Furious movie that hasn’t yet been written.


The Cannonball Run (trailer), DagobahZone AND PHOTOS © 20th Century Fox


The Cannonball Run (1981) is a British Bank Holiday favourite movie for adults and kids alike. Here, I started writing this review on a Finnish national holiday, and so it was the perfect movie to rewatch as the telly options were dire. The alternatives on television were an Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007) movie or a Lego Friends (2014) film, so there was really no contest.

Sadly, an actor in this movie, Roger Moore passed away a few days before I rewatched this movie and wrote the post. This meant his fantastical tongue-in-cheek comic role was particularly sad and difficult to watch. Moore played himself as a man convinced he is Roger Moore and he excelled at this role played to comic self-parodied perfection.

This movie review is as much a tribute to Roger Moore as it is about the subject of this blogathon his co-star, Dean Martin. The film has more testosterone and cars in it than your average Fast and Furious movie. It could easily be recast or remade now with the Fate of the Furious (2017) cast members.

But to my knowledge, this hasn’t been written luckily. The Cannonball Run has a stellar cast led by a heart-throb for women of a certain age –  ie ages with Archers (2009) mum, Mallory Archer – Burt Reynolds. The Rock therefore would play Reynolds’ role due to their worldwide heart-throb status. Probably.

But back to The Cannonball Run movie, where other cast members included many, many 1980s favourite acting names, the previously mentioned Roger Moore – in that part that your James Bond-loving uncle would heartily approve of – and Farrah Fawcett and the girlies in the cast (including Adrienne Barbeau and Valerie Perrine) and their girly charms for your dad.

It also has a re-pairing of Sammy Davis Jnr and Dean Martin which I know would have appealed to my grandmother. So the whole family is catered for before the opening acting credits finish. Add to this, Jackie Chan and Jamie Farr and a few cameos and we are on our way.

So what’s it all about? The Cannonball Run, a comedy film tells us about an illegal cross-country car race from Connecticut to California. It was based on real-life illegal car races that ran around this time with the film’s screenwriter and director both taking part in these races. These then experiences and characters he met during these races form part of the storyline.

In the first of many scenes, we meet the races with all too many crazy participants who as in the Wacky Races (1968-70) cartoons often try to sabotage the other’s chances along the way. The entrants also try to evade the police for their numerous illegal offences. Darlin Husband explained the then-historical illegalities of this race due to the change in speeding laws around this time.

The more notable participants include Burt Reynolds playing J. J. McClure, entering with his best buddy a mechanic, Victor (Dom DeLuise) and his alter ego, Captain Chaos. The pair’s initial scenes show their endless debate on the best transport they can use to win the race. The boys settle on acquiring and driving an ambulance.

A mode of transport surprisingly so far (as far as I know having only seen these Fast and Furious films after Jason Statham joined the cast) not used by The Rock’s Dominic Toretto. To make it all seem authentic to the cops McClure and his pal dress up as ambulance attendants and enrol an eccentric doctor Dr Van Helsing (Jack Elam).

During the race, they kidnap a pretty ditzy tree-loving blonde, environment-loving gal Pamela Grover (Farrah Fawcett in her fun comic role) as their patient. Leading to some inevitable – but fun – romance. Their main rivals in the race are played by Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.

Martin is a washed-up Rally Driver, Jamie Blake and Davis Jnr is Fenderbaum who is both a scammer and a gambler. This pair disguise themselves as Catholic priests. However, Blake has a liking for a stiff drink and is also a hit with the ladies which is at times to their detriment. In this, the first of the Cannonball Run films, Martin and Davis Jnr almost have a battle of the best alpha-male bromance rivalry on-screen with Reynolds and DeLuise.

However, both pairs of men are up against one of the most eccentrically fun characters written for any movie. Ever. This character is Seymour Goldfarb, Jr, a mummy’s boy and heir to a fortune who thinks he’s the James Bond actor, Roger Moore.

Goldfarb Jnr appears complete with James Bond-inspired gadgets – and is played delightfully by Roger Moore himself – and he has a different girl and the iconic Bond theme tune in every scene. Couldn’t you just see Fast and Furious 7‘s Jason Statham and The Fate of the Furious Helen Mirren parodying their mother and son roles here?

Other significant characters include a man intent on stopping the race, Mr Arthur J. Foyt who as part of the “Safety Enforcement Unit” attempts to prevent the race because of its effect on the environment and its obvious safety issues. Also, the police stop the participants due to a wide variety of misdemeanours, with a now recognisable cameo (only after watching a lot of 1980s movies recently!).

Add to this a tech-obsessed Jackie Chan and a sheikh played for no apparent reason by Jamie Farr. With a huge number of supporting characters in addition to these ones. My only gripe would be that these others led to too many characters in this movie. I feel the film concentrating more on the major characters would have been more than enough with more screen time for the Rat Pack pair’s characters’ adventures.

I loved rewatching this classic 1980s movie especially as I couldn’t remember much about this film. This includes the characters’ back story and development during this movie. More importantly, I’d forgotten who won the race making the rewatching a more fun experience. It was a nice touch that we got an origins story for each of the characters which added to the film and made the characters less one-dimensional.

Many of the characters – and actors – returned for the sequel movie (which I’ve yet to see but now want to). The cast almost sent up themselves particularly Roger Moore and Jackie Chan. Here both men hammed up their previous film roles to their obvious delight.

More on Moore’s role can be found HERE as he is one of my favourite film characters, ever. There is also another fun cameo from an actor also parodying one of his previous film roles. There were a number of great bromance stories in this tale, and it was particularly nice pairing Dean Martin up with his old rat pack buddy Sammy Davis Jr.

The pair continued to show great chemistry and comic timing and rapport in their all scenes together. Martin especially had a great comic part as he attempted to thwart his fellow participant’s chances. Yet in contrast, hindered his chances at the sight of a bottle of booze or a pretty girl almost forgetting his “priestly” role.

However, the reunion of these men is not the only connection of the Cannonball films with the Rat Pack. If you look at it as part of a Six Degrees of Dean Martin Rat Pack connections game, you could play it for hours.

I noted that Dean Martin at the beginning of his film career starred twice in a famous film series with Bing Crosby, an actor who in turn had replaced Peter Lawford in the final Rat Pack movie. Then travelling on to the end of Martin’s film career, Martin and Davis Jnr reprised their Cannonball Run parts in what would be Martin’s final movie, The Cannonball Run II (1984).

This sequel also starred another of Martin’s rat pack buddies Frank Sinatra (also in his final movie). it’s kind of nice that Martin’s final two cinema appearances were with his fellow two rat pack lead members. The Cannonball Run films are an almost comic tribute to the trio’s camaraderie and rapport seen in their Rat Pack movies.

It’s just surprising with these connections this sequel didn’t go full circle and wasn’t subtitled a Road to.. movie. However, after reading the sequel’s impressive cast list, it’s surprising it wasn’t a runaway success. It seemed geared up for box office success and to pass the finishing line as the more successful of movies.

In spite of the appearance of many of the old cast including Jack Elam, Burt Reynolds and DeLuise in their much-loved original roles and new cast members including Ricardo Montalban, Telly Savalas, Shirley Maclaine, Richard Kiel and Catherine Bach it was a surprising disappointment at the box office. But for Rat Pack fans everywhere you could say this movie was the perfect star vehicle.


Weeper Rating:  😦 😦  /10

Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂  🙂  🙂 🙂 /10

Hulk Rating: ‎ mrgreen  mrgreen  ‎mrgreen mrgreen/10


The Dean Martin Centenary Blogathon 2017, No 27

This was entered in the Dean Martin Centenary Blogathon run by Musings of a Classic Film Addict. Other posts with this cast include more on Roger Moore’s role here and his tribute post here. Valerie Perrine stars in Water, Superman and Valerie, A Portrait of Valerie Perrine. Roger Moore also starred in this guest post of The Man with the Golden Gun. North Sea Hijack and The Wild Geese. Burt Reynolds’ tribute is HERE. Adrienne Barbeau stars in The Fog and Escape from New York. Dean Martin stars in Airport and Jamie Farr stars in MASH and With Six You Get Egg Roll.


13 thoughts on “FILMS… The Cannonball Run (1981)

  1. I. Love. This. Movie. I think this is one of those forgotten 80s films and I don’t think it gets as much love as it deserves. This is definitely one of those cases of “they don’t make them like they used to.” Great review, Gill!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is one of my first drive-in experiences after I got my drivers license and could thus go to any damn movie I wanted without having my father’s permission. (I also did a double feature review of my own a couple of months ago on the two Cannonball movies.) Love your take on it.

    Liked by 1 person

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