Peter Ustinov

The Grand Prix of Gibraltar

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"The brilliant humorist takes a devastating look at sports car racing," goes the subtitle to this late-'50s satire, in which Ustinov does all the voices (and many of the sound effects, including mimics of engines revving up). Some of it's much funnier if you're a racing aficionado than if you aren't, and it's more often modestly funny than uproarious (though it is uproarious on occasion). Still, the 55 minutes of comic sketches based around a fictional Grand Prix in Gibraltar are admirably done (and, according to Ustinov's comments in the detailed historical liner notes to the CD reissue, not even done with the use of a prepared script). The most impressive facet is Ustinov's skill at mimicking the voices and inflections of various nationalities, whether they're American, British, German, French, Italian, or Russian (all of the non-Anglo characters speak in accented English, of course). These are as skilled and comic as the somewhat more celebrated talents in this arena by Peter Sellers, with much of the humor due to Ustinov's timing and nuance rather than the content, as when he portrays the way over-serious Germans or the ridiculously stuffy and upper-crust British official. For 1958 it's fairly hip, with the governor dying immediately as he lowers his arm to start the race, the race ending inconclusively without a winner, the Germans boasting of being slaves to machines, absurdities sailing right over the American interviewer character's head, and the like.

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