Cast & Crew
One summer, saxophonist Pete Hammond, Jr. leaves his hometown of Milwaukee to find his fortune in New York City. Although Pete can speak the language of urban hipsters, he remains a naïve, optimistic young man, sure he can easily conquer the big city. Upon arriving, he is directed to the seedy West Side, populated by other penniless creative types. After some street youths amuse themselves by dousing him with water, Pete escapes into Mac Macreavy's bar, where the kindly owner recommends that he seek a room with the brassy landlady sitting at the end of the bar, Soda. Meanwhile, Soda's tenant, Peggy Brown, attempts to cool off in her apartment across the street. A talented dancer, Peggy is forced to earn her rent as a taxi dancer at a dive run by unscrupulous Nelson Miller, known as Nelly. When a telephone company employee comes to repossess her phone, Peggy wheedles a few more weeks of service in return for a future "date," which she secretly plans to avoid assiduously. She then goes to Mac's, where he counsels her to return home, but even though Nelly is pushing her to become a prostitute in order to repay the money she owes him, she refuses to go back to her abusive parents. While she is at the bar, Soda rents her room, for which she owes several months' rent, to Pete, and when Peggy returns to find him there, he notes her desperation and feels guilty. When Pete then realizes that Peggy has nowhere to go, he offers to let her stay with him until she can find another room. Although she mistrusts his intentions, Peggy has no other choice, and soon comes to understand that Pete is as kind and unassuming as he appears. That night, the telephone man appears, drunk and hoping for his "date." Pete throws him out, but when the man recites Peggy's phone number, Pete realizes that Peggy has indeed promised something to the stranger, and assumes she has duped him into thinking she was respectable. As they argue, Peggy vows that she has never sunk so low, and predicts that one day soon, even Pete will be beaten down by the city's rat race. For weeks, Peggy works through the night at the dance hall, but all her profits go straight to Nelly. Meanwhile, Pete cannot find work, until one afternoon musician Frankie asks him to audition for a jazz combo. Thrilled and certain he will get the gig, Pete buys a mink cape for Peggy and takes her to dinner. Although Peggy remains cynical and points out that the "mink" is really cat fur, Pete's enthusiasm affects everyone, until even the miserly Soda buys them a bottle of wine to celebrate. At the audition, Frankie and his band mates are tough on Pete, and soon ask him to buy them some beer. By the time Pete returns, Frankie, who is actually a hustler, has run off with all of Pete's instruments. Despondent and disillusioned, Pete nonetheless refuses to give up, and despite the disdain of Peggy and Soda, insists on reporting the theft to the police. Soon after, Pete is offered a job playing on a thirty-day cruise, but must somehow buy new instruments in order to take the job. Secretly, Peggy, who is falling in love with Pete, procures a loan from Nelly by agreeing to become a call girl, but plans to elude him until Pete returns from the cruise with money to repay Nelly. In the apartment, Pete is touched to discover a new saxophone awaiting him, and although he suspects that Peggy may have had to debase herself to help him, she assures him that she does not care enough about him to bother. On the cruise, Pete spends his free time writing letters to Peggy intimating that he has feelings for her, and at home, she desperately clings to his letters while fending off Nelly. One night, however, Nelly pulls her into his office, strips her of her clothes and jewelry, then declares that she has nothing without him and orders her to meet her "date." Peggy, planning to run away, goes home to pack, and just then, as Pete returns from the cruise, Nelly and his thug show up to punish Peggy by slashing her face with a knife. Pete gives them all his money, his watch and finally, his instruments as repayment, and after punching him, Nelly leaves without further violence. As Peggy thanks Pete, the police call to inform him they have recovered his instruments, but when he goes to retrieve them, he is presented with a bass fiddle and a violin. Planning to pawn them, he returns to the apartment, only to find Peggy packing to leave. Pete declares his love for her, and when she states that she is bad luck and will only take advantage of him, Pete tells her he believes in her. Her cynicism melting, Peggy falls into his arms, promising "if there's anything left of me, it's yours."
Hal K. Dawson
Jack "tipp" Mcclure
David Joseph Landfield
Joseph G. Sullivan
Louis M. Lettieri
A. H. Barnett
John P. Fulton
G. E. Richardson
The Rat Race (1960)
The Rat Race opens with Peter Hammond, Jr. (Tony Curtis) saying goodbye to his father and boarding a bus bound for New York City where he dreams of becoming a successful and famous saxophone player in a jazz band. As he journeys from Milwaukee toward his destination over the opening credits of the film, we are treated to a montage of evocative roadside Americana circa 1960 set to a stirring jazz score by Elmer Bernstein. When Pete arrives in New York, we catch glimpses of the Greyhound Bus terminal, Dempsey's Restaurant (it closed in 1974) and the Dixie Hotel (now called Hotel Carter Manhattan and once ranked as the dirtiest hotel in America) before the film transitions into the Paramount studio sets that reveal the movie's stage origins.
Most of the story unfolds in a cramped one room apartment that Pete offers to share with a down-on-her-luck taxi dancer named Peggy (Debbie Reynolds). The arrangement is strictly non-romantic and decisive at first with Pete and Peggy being slowly drawn together by the bad luck and hard knocks they both endure in their daily struggle to survive in this hostile urban environment. Pete is ripped off by street vendors and later a gang of thieves posing as jazz musicians they invite him to a "fake" audition where he is set up while Peggy sinks deeper and deeper into debt by borrowing money from her sleazy nightclub boss Nellie (Don Rickles) who, sooner or later, will come to collect the loan in full or else.
For Debbie Reynolds, The Rat Race offered a refreshing change of pace from the young ingénue roles she had been typecast in such as Tammy and the Bachelor (1957) and The Mating Game (1959). In her biography Debbie: My Life, the actress wrote, "The Rat Race was going to be a departure for me. I had to play a young girl who has been in New York for five years trying to break into show business. To keep from starving, she models at whatever she can get daytimes, and at night works in a dance hall. I decided I'd do some research on that kind of life before I started the picture. One night some publicity people from Paramount took me to a dance joint on West Forty-Sixth Street in Manhattan. It was a seedy rundown place with a group of very voluptuous girls and a few dozen guys, mainly older men a deadbeat-looking crew. They were polite but standoffish. I couldn't get to know them under the circumstances."
Reynolds decided to approach the taxi dancers on her own later after dressing in a strapless dress and blond wig she bought in a cheap Times Square shop. The working girls were only too happy to give Reynolds pointers on how to dress and "play" their male customers for extra tips without resorting to sexual favors. Reynolds recalled, "The most important thing was to keep a guy dancing, because if a man became interested in one girl, he was apt to spend fifteen or twenty dollars on her in one night. The only man I seemed to shock into showing interest was a little Italian deli owner named Joe. Joe and I started dancing. He reeked of Parmesan and pepperoni. The top of his head came up to my nose. Almost instantly he was kissing my shoulder and saying "I go for you baby." It broke me up. Joe was not pleased but I couldn't help it. When he left me on the side of the dance floor, Veronica [one of the taxi dancers] sidled over and said, "That ain't it, kid."
Reynolds' after-hours research proved to be valuable training because she gives a convincing performance as a hard-bitten but resilient character who hasn't completely given in to total cynicism and despair, even though she is one step away from prostitution. Tony Curtis, on the other hand, was at the peak of his stardom when he made The Rat Race and his portrayal of the guileless Pete, while believable, lacks the dramatic impact of his earlier work in Sweet Smell of Success (1957) and The Defiant Ones (1958). Another problem is that Curtis was 35 years old when he made this film, but his naïve character suggests he is barely past the age of a college graduate. Even in his own autobiography, the film had little resonance for him as his recollections proved faulty when describing his role as "a jazz musician trying to make it in a sleazy club run by Don Rickles." Reynolds is the one in the film working for Rickles and Curtis never even visits the club. Curtis did note, however, that he "had to learn how to play the saxophone for The Rat Race and that he enjoyed working with director Robert Mulligan and co-star Debbie Reynolds. "When we wrapped the film," Curtis wrote, "she [Reynolds] gave me a fine set of art supplies, and I gave her one of my paintings. Mulligan's pictures always had a lot of atmosphere. He tried to deal with real people and situations."
Although Curtis and Reynolds garnered plenty of publicity for their roles in The Rat Race, the film was not a success with their fans who didn't want to see them in such a relentlessly downbeat drama that offered very little romance but plenty of urban angst. Even by today's standards, the film is unusually bleak, allowing for very few breaks in the claustrophobic atmosphere due to its theatrical origins. Yet, the film is still well worth seeing for Elmer Bernstein's pulsating score and cameo appearances by jazz musicians Gerry Mulligan and Sam Butera. The color cinematography of Robert Burks also perfectly captures the milieu of Curtis and Reynolds' apartment life in the same manner as Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954), which Burks also filmed.
Best of all is Don Rickles as the loathsome Nellie who sweats profusely throughout the entire film while radiating malice and contempt for everyone. His big scene where he berates Reynolds after she has come to him for yet another loan is an early indication of his future as the king of the insult comics. In his tirade, he says "You know what I think you're trouble is, nervous. You know how I can tell? Cause what I call nervous is someone who makes other people nervous and you make me. You're here, you're there. You've got a Mexican jumping bean mind!"
When The Rat Race opened at theatres, the reviews were generally positive with only some minor reservations. The New York Times deemed it "Brisk, believable and entertaining....a clear-eyed, pungently atmospheric view of two youngsters caught in the savage, frenetic business of storming our town's slightly tarnished artistic and commercial towers....As a result, The Rat Race maintains a sort of wonderama approach to the sordid." The New York Herald Tribune proclaimed it "a generally jazzy, smart, sometimes violent movie...Although it does have strokes of humor, it generally stays grim, although it is a somewhat lush Technicolor grimness." And the Variety review noted that "The film is sturdier in its parts than as a whole, but when it's good it's very good, thanks mostly to Kanin's witty, adult dialog and Robert Mulligan's perceptive direction." One of the few dissenters was the Time magazine reviewer who wrote "The Rat Race is something for the rubbernecks who think New York is a great place to visit but would hate to live there and never get tired of saying so....The villain of the piece is the great big city, a sort of cold-water Sodom populated by pimps, prostitutes, land pirates, tourist trappers, gay young switchblades, soft-hearted bartenders and hardnosed landlords."
After The Rat Race, Debbie Reynolds would return to the romantic comedy genre with The Pleasure of His Company and The Second Time Around (both 1961) and Tony Curtis would go on to another career highpoint, opposite Kirk Douglas, in Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus (1960).
Producers: William Perlberg, George Seaton
Director: Robert Mulligan
Screenplay: John Michael Hayes (uncredited); Garson Kanin (play)
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Art Direction: Tambi Larsen, Hal Pereira
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Film Editing: Alma Macrorie
Cast: Tony Curtis (Pete Hammond, Jr.), Debbie Reynolds (Peggy Brown), Jack Oakie (Mac), Kay Medford (Mrs. 'Soda' Gallo), Don Rickles (Nellie), Marjorie Bennett (Mrs. Edie Kerry), Hal K. Dawson (Bo Kerry), Norman Fell (Telephone Repairman), Lisa Drake (Toni)
by Jeff Stafford
Debbie: My Life by Debbie Reynolds
Tony Curtis, the Autobiography by Tony Curtis & Barry Paris
The Rat Race (1960)
Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004)
Elmer Bernstein, who was not related to Leonard Bernstein, was born on August 4, 1922, in New York City. He displayed a talent in music at a very young age, and was given a scholarship to study piano at Juilliard when he was only 12. He entered New York University in 1939, where he majored in music education. After graduating in 1942, he joined the Army Air Corps, where he remained throughout World War II, mostly working on scores for propaganda films. It was around this time he became interested in film scoring when he went to see William Dieterle's The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), a film whose score was composed by Bernard Herrmann, a man Bernstein idolized as the ideal film composer.
Bernstein, who originally intended to be a concert pianist and gave several performances in New York after being discharged from military service, decided to relocate to Hollywood in 1950. He did his first score for the football film Saturday's Hero (1950), and then proved his worth with his trenchant, moody music for the Joan Crawford vehicle Sudden Fear (1952). Rumors of his "communist" leanings came to surface at this time, and, feeling the effects of the blacklist, he found himself scoring such cheesy fare as Robot Monster; Cat Women of the Moon (both 1953); and Miss Robin Caruso (1954).
Despite his politics, Otto Preminger hired him to do the music for The Man With the Golden Arm, (1955) in which Frank Sinatra played a heroin-addicted jazz musician. Fittingly, Bernstein used some memorable jazz motifs for the film and his fine scoring put him back on the map. It prompted the attention of Cecil B. De Mille, who had Bernstein replace the ailing Victor Young on The Ten Commandments (1956). His thundering, heavily orchestrated score perfectly suite the bombastic epic, and he promptly earned his first Oscar® nod for music.
After The Ten Commandments (1956), Bernstein continued to distinguish himself in a row of fine films: The Rainmaker (1956), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Some Came Running (1958), The Magnificent Seven (a most memorable galloping march, 1960); To Kill a Mockingbird (unique in its use of single piano notes and haunting use of a flute, 1962); Hud (1963); earned a deserved Academy Award for the delightful, "flapper" music for the Julie Andrews period comedy Thoroughly Modern Mille (1967), and True Grit (1969).
His career faltered by the '80s though, as he did some routine Bill Murray comedies: Meatballs (1980) and Stripes (1981). But then director John Landis had Bernstein write the sumptuous score for his comedy Trading Places (1983), and Bernstein soon found himself back in the game. He then graced the silver screen for a few more years composing some terrific pieces for such popular commercial hits as My Left Foot (1989), A River Runs Through It (1992) and The Age of Innocence (1993). Far From Heaven, his final feature film score, received an Oscar® nomination for Best Score in 2002. He is survived by his wife, Eve; sons Peter and Gregory; daughters Emilie and Elizabeth; and five grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004)
The title card reads "Garson Kanin's The Rat Race." On August 14, 1957, Hollywood Reporter reported that Perlberg-Seaton, the production company owned by William Perlberg and George Seaton, had purchased the rights to Kanin's play of the same name, with Kanin attached as the screenwriter. September 1959 Hollywood Reporter news items note that the production began on location in Milwaukee, Chicago and various spots in New York City, including the Greyhound bus terminal, Dempsey's Restaurant and the Dixie Hotel. Filming then moved to the Paramount lot in Hollywood.
Joe Bushkin, who appeared in the original Broadway show, reprised the role of "Frankie" for the film. According to a September 17, 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item, twenty-two members of the Chicago press were cast as extras. As noted in Hollywood Reporter on October 30, 1959, unit production manager Robert Snody was replaced by Harry Caplan due to scheduling issues. Hollywood Reporter news items add Paul Horn, Theona Bryant and Tim Sullivan to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed.
Reviews noted that The Rat Race marked the first purely dramatic performance for Debbie Reynolds, known for her musical and comedic roles. Variety stated that she showed "a keen sense of restraint and thespic maturity," while LAMirrror-News asserted that Reynolds made "the subtle but still clearly defined transition from girl to woman."
Released in United States July 1960
Released in United States Summer July 1960
Released in United States July 1960
Released in United States Summer July 1960