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IT'S A 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
Director: Stanley Kramer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: MGM/UA
Features: See Review
Length: 161 Minutes
Release Date: September 18, 2001

“Now look! We’ve figured it seventeen different ways, and each 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!”

“Except you lady, may you just drop dead!”

Film ****

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.

It was this year’s movie, Rat Race, which inspired me to want to experience this huge, one of a kind comedy, and I’m glad I got the chance too. Rat Race is indeed one of Hollywood’s funniest comedy escapades of recent memory, and It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, which was the inspiration for Rat Race, is truly one the all time classics of cinematic comedy.

Video ****

The video quality that MGM has fashioned for this disc is simply amazing. When I opened the package, and discovered that this was a double-sided disc, I was completely skeptic, because I thought that double-sided discs were a thing of the past, and dual layering was the way to go these days. Nevertheless, the image quality adds up to perhaps the best transfer of any classic movie I’ve ever seen on DVD. The movie was originally shot in Super-Cinerama (which is even wider than your basic 2.35:1). From that, the wide shots turn up extremely nicely in this presentation, and the picture is thoroughly sharp, crisp, and completely clear. A true winner in the classics department.

Audio ***1/2

The audio quality really caught me be surprised, much like the video quality did. The 5.1 Dolby Digital presentation is a highly impressive mix, upon which sound seems to pick up, most particularly from side speakers, as well as rear speakers as well. The frequent chase scenes are the biggest part of the presentation, as the sound in those scenes are remarkably done, too. MGM, from what I can tell, really did the homework this time on this release, in both video and audio terms.

Features ***

A nice assembly of features, which are all featured on side B of the disc. The main feature is the retrospective documentary titled “Something a Little Less Serious”, which features interviews with some of the remaining cast and crew members still working today, reflecting on the big experience of making the first big comedy movie. Also included are some deleted/extended scenes, and two trailers for the movie.

Summary:

Comedies hardly get as big as It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, and it’s doubtful that there will ever be a comedy of this caliber ever again. If you can muster a three hour laughfest, which I certainly could, then you should experience this one of a kind comedy masterpiece.