The Great Race Locations
Filmmaker Blake Edwards conceived the idea for the motion picture based on the transcontinental automobile race in 1908 from New York City to Paris, France. However, The Great Race production mainly took place in Austria and California, and only a few scenes were shot in Paris.
Several soundstages at the Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank, California, were used as The Great Race film set. Principal photography began in June 1964 at the studio, with a projected 100-day filming schedule. Then four days later, it was reported that a second-unit team was dispatched to shoot the exterior and aerial footage of a home in San Marino, California.
There were plans to shoot in the coastal town of Gearhart, Oregon, just three miles north of the Seaside resort town. But they had to cancel it due to rain and moved overseas to complete work in Vienna, Salzburg, and Paris. Salzburg, Austria, served as the Potsdorf city exterior, and a few historical landmarks in Vienna, Austria, were featured in the film. It includes the Hofburg Palace, Anif Palace, and the Karlskirche Church.
A scene where Leslie dangles by his feet from a massive hot air balloon at the beginning of the film was shot in Frankfort, Kentucky. Other locations include Versailles, KY, Stockton, CA, Pismo Beach, CA, Monument Valley, and more.
The pie fight in The Great Race goes down in the history of cinema as the largest pie scene ever filmed. Not only did it take five days to complete the sequence, but they also used more than 4,000 pies filled with whipped cream, fruit, and custards, costing $18,000 for the pies alone.
The rocket train car scene in The Great Race
Sierra Railway, Jamestown, Tuolumne County, CA
One of Professor Fate’s daredevil stunts in an attempt to outdo The Great Leslie’s acts involves a rocket train car. With his sidekick Max, he “intends to cover the measured mile in approximately twelve seconds,” but found themselves up in the air before landing in the muddy pig pen.
While many train scenes in the movie were filmed at the backlot of Universal Studios in Universal City, California, this sequence was shot in the Sierra Railway. It’s found in Jamestown, the thriving gold Rush town, the first town you’ll encounter when you enter Tuolumne County from the west. The railway first operated in 1897 and was a crucial role in helping to develop the county’s economy.
The Sierra Railway remains one of the country’s most intact steam railroads. It has an interesting and impressive history, attracting filmmakers over the decades. The railroad has been a popular site for over 200 movies and TV productions, along with its locomotives and historic equipment.
Today, visitors can experience a fun and educational six-mile roundtrip train ride. After a fun trip, they can have a picnic, explore the historic grounds, and spend the day soaking in the beauty of the Gold Country in California. Tuolumne County Transit offers regular weekday service in Jamestown, so you can take buses 1, 2, 3, and 4 to get to the railway.
The ballroom dance scene in The Great Race
Heldenplatz 21/4, 1010 Wien, Austria
Leslie can’t believe his eyes when he meets Crown Prince Frederick Hoepnick (Jack Lemmon) for the first time at the ball. “You bear an uncanny resemblance to someone…” he says to the prince, as he’s the spitting image of his greatest rival, Professor Fate. Then they all dance with The Royal Waltz, led by the prince.
An elegant scene requires an equally classy and grand setting, so it’s no surprise that filmmakers chose the Hofburg Palace for this sequence. This Imperial Palace is one of the world’s largest palace complexes, with the oldest parts dating back to the 13th century.
When you visit the Hofburg Palace, you’ll find a series of lavish, interconnected buildings worth exploring during your tour. There are museums, stunning gardens, Imperial apartments, and more, allowing you to gain an insight into Austria’s colorful Imperial past. It also gives you an opportunity to learn and understand the Habsburgs as rulers and people.
If you’re wandering around Vienna’s compact center, you’ll likely end up in the Hofburg Palace. It is vast and definitely impossible to miss. You can get there on foot as you stroll around the city or bike.
The iceberg scene in The Great Race
Warner Bros. Studios, Burbank, CA
One of the funny scenes in The Great Race is when Professor Fate, Max, Leslie, and Maggie get stuck on a melting iceberg at sea. “You’re wasting your time!” “We’re melting,” Fate says, feeling quite pessimistic about their situation. “We’re gonna sink!” Max adds, to which Leslie nonchalantly replies, “Eventually.” “Then you’re wasting your time!” Fate yells again.
It's probably unsafe and impractical to shoot this on location. Hence, the cast and crew built a film shoot set at Warner Bros Studios in Burbank, California. To be more specific, the iceberg sequence was shot on what’s now known as Soundstage 16. It’s the tallest soundstage on the Warner Bros. lot and one of the tallest in the world with a two-million-gallon water tank.
Overall, Warner Bros. Studios have 37 Sound Stages, ranging from 6,000 to 32,000 square feet on their ranch and main lot facilities. Stage 16 is one of the favorite stages for large audience shows and feature films, including The Voice and Dunkirk.
Regular tours are available for fans and film enthusiasts who want to see behind the scenes of their favorite movies or TV shows. You can enjoy a guided tour where an expert will take you to the backlots and see the exteriors from various shows and films. It is accessible via public transportation, with several bus stations just a short walk from the studio.
The crowd scene in The Great Race
Domplatz, Salzburg, Austria
Do you remember the part when Leslie and Hezekiah Sturdy (Keenan Wynn), his loyal valet, meet General Kuhster (George Macready)? In the middle of the crowd welcoming the duo, General Kuhster appears to escort them to the palace, where they will be “the guest of His Royal Highness, Prince Hoepnick.”
The grand Domplatz (Cathedral Square) provided a setting for the crowd scene. If you look closely, you’ll probably recognize the Salzburg Cathedral, which served as a backdrop to the scene. It’s a Baroque-style building built between 1614 and 1628, the largest early Baroque cathedral north of the Alps.
The Domplatz faces the west front of the cathedral, featuring four colossal marble statues. The inner statues depict Peter and Paul, while the out ones represent St. Rupert and Virgil, the province’s patron saints. While in the area, be sure to visit other cultural attractions around, including the Cathedral Museum.
Several bus stops are just a few meters from the square on Herbert-von-Karajan-Platz. You can take buses A, 1, 8, 10, 22, and 23, with stops near Domplatz.
Prince Frederick Hoepnick’s coronation scene in The Great Race
The Karlskirche, Vienna, Austria
Professor Fate is forced to pose as Prince Hoepnick during the coronation so that the rebels can have control over the kingdom. Meanwhile, Max and Leslie try to save him and the rest, who falls into the hands of General Kuhster and Baron Rolfe von Stuppe (Ross Martin.)
But before the ceremony is over, Fate escapes the church with Max, hiding under his robe while General Kuhster chases him, calling, “Your Royal Highness…Your Royal Highness, my Prince!”
Providing a setting for this momentous event in the film is the Karlskirche, one of the most beautiful churches in Vienna. Its gorgeous interior was highlighted in the coronation scene, but you’ll have to visit to witness its dazzling décor elements. Some consider it an architectural hybrid for having a mixture of Roman and Greek styles.
This magnificent church is hard to miss with an impressive, elongated dome and two massive columns decorated with bas-reliefs. These exterior columns celebrate St. Charles Borromeo’s life, to whom this Baroque church is dedicated. They’re also a symbol of the vast power of the Hapsburgs, embodying the Pillars of Hercules.
The Karlskirche has become a famous tourist attraction in Vienna due to its unique style. Plus, getting to the church from most hot spots in the city is easy, so a walking tour would be an ideal way to explore the area. But you can take tram two or the subway lines U1, U3, and U4.
The finish line scene in The Great Race
The Eiffel Tower, Paris, France
After all the adventures, obstacles, and struggles, the group finally reaches the finish line at the foot of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. But instead of crossing the finish line to claim his victory, Leslie stops in front of it and shares a sweet kiss with Maggie.
Professor is elated at first, thinking he finally beat his greatest enemy. But when he realizes what happened, he exclaims, “I didn’t beat him. He let me win!” He adds, “I can’t win your way. You cheated.” Understandably, Fate refuses to accept victory and challenges Leslie on another race.
The cast and crew built a set on the base of the iconic Eiffel Tower to film this scene in 1964. As France’s unique symbol in the world, Eiffel Tower welcomes nearly seven million visitors each year. It’s also known as the Iron Lady, one of the world’s most recognizable monuments, completed in 1889.
First-time visitors don’t have to worry, as Eiffel Tower is accessible to the public on private vehicles and public transportation. You can travel by boat along the Seine, rent a bike, catch buses 82 and 42, or get on lines 6, 8, and 9 on the Metro.
It’s not uncommon for filmmakers to pick a film site that could stand in for certain locations so that they don’t have to travel abroad to shoot certain scenes. However, the case is different for the filming location of The Great Race.
Sure, it uses different soundstages to capture the vibe and look of certain places. But the cast and crew didn’t just stick to filming in studios. They traveled to different areas in California, Salzburg, and Vienna to shoot scenes necessary to bring the characters and story to life. They also went to Kentucky, Oregon, and even Paris to complete the classic comedy that viewers love until today.
So, if you want to know what those places looked like nearly six decades ago, go on a film tour and set foot on the sites where The Great Race was filmed. It can be a great excuse to witness some of the stunning architecture in Europe.