IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD
Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Spencer Tracy, Milton
Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, Phil
Silvers, Terry-Thomas, Jonathan Winters, Edie Adams, Dorothy Provine, Eddie
“Rochester” Anderson, Jim Backus, Ben Blue, Joe E. Brown, Alan Carney, Barrie
Chase, William Demarest, Andy Divine, Peter Falk, Norman Fell, Paul Ford,
Sterling Holloway, Edward Everett Horton, Marvin Kaplan, Buster Keaton, Don
Knotts, Charles McGraw, Zasu Pitts, Carl Reiner, Madlyn Rhue, Arnold Stang, The
Three Stooges, Jesse White, Jimmy Durante
Director: Stanley Kramer
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.76:1
Features: See Review
Length: 163 Minutes (Original), 197 (Extended)
Release Date: January 21, 2014
“Look! We've figured it seventeen different ways, and every time we figured it, it was no good, because no matter how we figured it, somebody don't like the way we figured it! So now, there's only one way to figure it. And that is, every man, including the old bag, for himself!”
“So good luck, and may the best man win!”
“Right! Except you, lady. May you just drop dead!”
Stanley Kramer’s It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World was perhaps the first big star-studded comedy, or motion picture for that matter, of its time. Never before, had a single movie featured so many big named faces together on the screen. Prior to this movie, Kramer had never made a comedy in his legendary movie making career.
He was best known for creating such remarkably dramatic fare as Inherit the Wind and Judgment at Nuremberg. Kramer’s primary goal with Mad Mad World was to make the comedy to end all comedies, as the movie does have that kind of feel to it, because it never runs out of ways to make you laugh harder than you could ever imagine. In the realm of physical comedy, this movie should be remembered as the one to push the envelope.
The movie opens with a car speeding on a highway before spontaneously flying off a cliff and crashing onto the rocks below. The man behind the wheel, fugitive Smiler Grogan (Jimmy Durante) survives the accident only for a few minutes. But in that time period reveals to a group of strangers that he has hidden $350,000 under a big ‘W’ in a park, located several hours from the current location.
Grogan then kicks the bucket, leaving the strangers bickering about how to evenly split the money. After reaching no solutions at all, it soon becomes a matter of every man for himself, and so the crazy chase begins. Once getting word of this madcap chase, the police, headed by Captain Culpepper (Spencer Tracy), plan to confiscate the money once it is found.
Greed plays a big part in the characters’ motivations. Consider the deliberately obnoxious Otto Meyer (Phil Silvers), who isn’t informed about the hidden money until one of the rats in the race, Lennie Pike (Jonathan Winters) considers cutting him in for a share if he can give him a lift in his car.
From that point on, Otto quickly becomes the most despicably desperate and greedy one of the crowd. Also on the obnoxious side is Mrs. Marcus (Ethel Merman), mother-in-law to the put upon J. Russell Finch (Milton Berle), who’s the most annoying nag every no one would want to be around or endure.
In addition to the list of big named stars, the movie should be remembered for its incredible stunt sequences. Given the time this film was made, the production level looks as if it was ahead of its time. The chase scenes are outlandish and hysterical, basically because the entire movie is indeed a chase. Rarely has comedy and action blended together so well. If you doubt me for a second, watch the howling moment when Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett take their chances at flying a plane to get to the destination, after their pilot (Mr. Magoo himself, Jim Backus) passes out drunk.
I reviewed the movie upon it’s initial DVD release back in 2001, and gave the video quality a four star rating. Now, if you’ll please ditch that version because what we have here is one of the most monumental Blu-ray upgrades of all time, courtesy of the fine folks at Criterion. This actually may set the standard for a 1960‘s Blu-ray restoration...it’s that darn spectacular! And with a rare widescreen aspect ratio of 2.76:1 (which the DVD release didn’t include), this fully represents the original Ultra Panavision presentation for it’s initial theatrical release. Picture and color quality are both at a staggeringly amazing level here, and it doesn’t let up for the entire 2 hour and 43 minute running time. On the extended version, which is located on the second disc, the presentation isn’t as glorious only because some of the included source material is of raw quality and couldn’t be cleaned up as well. But that’s most excusable, as what we have here is quite simply one of the most jaw-droppingly glorious HD presentations ever delivered by the best Blu-ray studio in existence!
The DTS HD mix matches the magnificent picture quality perfectly. This is one of the most bombastic physical comedies ever made, if not THE most, so it makes sense that a furious audio mix would aid it entirely. Ernest Gold’s memorable score is rendered tremendously well, and injects a more giddy delight in the opening titles than ever before! And all of the physical prat falls that fill the movie, especially the ones involving cars, planes or collapsing buildings, are heard in the most spectacular form imaginable! And surround sound is indeed taken advantage of when these extended bits of comedic action come into play!
Where to begin? For starters, this is one of all around best looking packages for any Blu-ray release of recent memory! And with this being a Blu-ray/DVD Dual Format release from Criterion, a total of 5 discs are included (2 Blu-ray, 3 DVD) to accompany everything!
The first Blu-ray discs contains the original theatrical version, while the second includes the extended, roadshow edition, and the extras are spread across both discs! And this is one loaded lineup!
Included is commentary featuring Mad Mad World aficionados Mark Evanier, Michael Schlesinger, and Paul Scrabo (this is only available on the extended version). Next up is a new documentary on the Visual and Sound Effects of the movie, which features interviews with Visual-Effects Specialist Craig Barron and Sound Designer Ben Burtt. There’s also an excerpt from a 1974 talk show hosted by director Stanley Kramer and Featuring stars Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett and Jonathan Winters, as well as a press interview from 1963 with Kramer and various cast members.We also get excerpts about the movie’s influence from the 2000 AFI Program “100 Years... 100 Laughs", as well as the
Two-Part 1963 episode of the TV program “Telescope”, which follows the press junket and premiere. Also featured is “The Last 70mm Film Festival”, A 2012 program featuring various Cast And Crew and hosted by Billy Crystal, as well as a selection of humorist and voice over artist Stan Freberg's original TV and radio ads for the film, along with a new introduction by Freberg. Rounding out the extras are Trailers and Radio Spots for the movie.
But like all Criterion releases, it doesn’t stop there! There’s also a great booklet featuring an essay by film critic Lou Lumenick and new illustrations by the great cartoonist Jack Davis, along with a map of the shooting locations by artist Dave Woodman.
With this Blu-ray release of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Criterion has already produced the single greatest Blu-ray package of this year. The movie remains one of the absolute funniest comedies ever made, so it makes sense that Criterion would release a Blu-ray that would match this movie’s sheer extravagance! An absolute must own for anyone AND everyone!!!!