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Stanley Kramer's EPIC Comedy Still Shines!
by BEN BURGRAFF/IMDb


Producer/Director Stanley Kramer, 1963

IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD is certainly a product of the time it was made, with it's style and pacing more in tune with early 60s audience expectations than the logic-bending, dumbed-down comedies churned out today. But to call the film 'dated' is a disservice to the innovator who created it, Stanley Kramer. He envisioned an epic comedy, with multiple subplots around a central theme, that would bring together nearly all of America's brightest comedy talents. To critics who warned him that no one would watch a comedy over two and a half hours long, he said, simply, that if a film is entertaining enough, audiences would come, no matter the length...and the film's blockbuster success proved him correct!

The story is a comic tale of greed gone rampant, as a group of innocents-turned-fortune hunters get themselves into a variety of disasters while racing to recover over $350,000 in stolen money. From the moment dying hood Jimmy Durante passes along an ambiguous message where it is hidden (beneath a 'Big W' at Santa Rosita State Park), the bystanders fight among themselves over whether to do the 'right' thing, and report it (discarding THAT option, when the police arrive on scene), to split the money between them (trying to find an equitable way of accomplishing that is a running gag through the film), or to just split up and race like hell to be the first to get to the cash. Of course, this is what happens, and thus hangs the tale...

(Spoilers to follow! If you haven't seen the film yet, close this page and rent it, right now!!!)


Milton Berle


Dorothy Provine


Ethel Merman


Terry-Thomas

Dick Shawn

Each carload of passengers suffers through a unique series of escalating comic catastrophies en route to Santa Rosita. Milton Berle, as a milquetoast small businessman recovering from a nervous breakdown, traveling with wife Dorothy Provine and mother-in-law from HELL Ethel Merman (who could drive ANYONE to a breakdown), goes through four vehicles in a progression of disasters, enlisting the aid of visiting British military officer/botanist Terry-Thomas (whose observations about American society...particularly the American fixation with bosoms...penned by British screenwriter William Rose, are still timely and funny), and later, Merman's dimwitted, whacked-out beach bum son Dick Shawn ("I gotta save my MAMA!") into the group.


Sid Caesar


Sid Caesar and Edie Adams


Edie Adams


Edie Adams

Dentist Sid Caesar (in a role originally intended for Ernie Kovacs, who died before production began), on a second honeymoon with wife Edie Adams (Kovacs' real-life wife), after attempting to negotiate a fair division of the loot (only to be 'shot down' by greedy Merman), buys a ride in a broken-down bi-plane (piloted by comedy legend, Ben Blue). After landing in Santa Rosita, the couple rush to buy a pick and shovel, only to end up locked in Edward Everett Horton's hardware store basement, which they systematically sledge-hammer, torch, and ultimately blow up, attempting to escape.


Mickey Rooney


Buddy Hackett


Paul Ford


Carl Reiner


Jesse White

Las Vegas hustlers Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett, in the funniest subplot of the film, drive to a country club, and hitch a ride in soused Jim Backus' private plane. Backus promptly gets knocked out, leading to one of the WILDEST flights in screen history, as Hackett, less than competently, 'pilots' the plane, screaming at Rooney, "What, am I supposed to do everything? You want me to fly the airplane, you want me to work the radio, what are you gonna...What are you, the hostess?" Meanwhile, at Santa Rosita Airport, pilot Paul Ford and ATC chief Carl Reiner attempt to talk the pair through a landing (with controller Jesse White sarcastically suggesting they just shoot them down)...and the Three Stooges, stoic firemen, wait to finish things off...


Jonathan Winters


Phil Silvers


Marvin Kaplan


Arnold Stang

Good-natured moving man Jonathan Winters, after being 'used' by Merman, and destroying his truck, makes the mistake of trusting passing motorist Phil Silvers (playing his 'patented' schemer), who strands him in the desert with a girl's bike, and a growing fury, which finally vents itself on poor Marvin Kaplan and Arnold Stang's new gas station...


Mike Mazurki


Don Knotts

Greedy Silvers fares no better than the others; coerced into taking farmer Mike Mazurki deep into a ravine to deliver medicine, Mazurki's son (played by his real-life son) succeeds in 'directing' Silvers into a raging river, costing him his car; he soon cons poor schmuck Don Knotts out of his car, with a story about being a secret agent (a scene, Knotts told me, years later, Silvers largely ad-libbed!)...


Eddie "Rochester" Anderson


Peter Falk

Gradually, everyone converges on Santa Rosita State Park, and two more 'gold diggers' join in the hunt, as cab drivers Eddie "Rochester" Anderson (driving Hackett and Rooney), and Peter Falk (driving Caesar and Adams) "get the bug".


Spencer Tracy
(I only WISH I had THIS autograph!)


Jerry Lewis

Meanwhile, dedicated veteran police captain Spencer Tracy (looking frail in his next-to-last film), having guessed that Durante had passed the location along, waits to spring, and close the long-standing case. But he sees his favorite hat crushed by an insensitive motorist (Jerry Lewis)...the nagging, persistent phone calls of his wife and daughter are driving him crazy...the city fathers are cutting his retirement pension to the bone, as punishment for his integrity...the stolen money begins to look very attractive...and Mexico is just a few miles away...

Succumbing to the same temptation as everyone else, he becomes the joker in the deck, ordering the police to 'stand down' so he can make the 'collar'...

Amazingly, everyone reaches Santa Rosita State Park within minutes of each other, and a homicidal Winters, chasing Silvers, manages to discover the secret of the Big 'W'. The long-hidden loot is dug up...then Tracy introduces himself...

Realizing they're busted, everyone agrees to Tracy's proposal to turn the cash over to him, and turn themselves in, piling into the two cabs (with Falk replying to Tracy's sarcastic remark to drive carefully, as these might be the cabbies' last passengers, "Funny? That's funny, right? You may be the most comical cop I ever met!") When Tracy is spotted turning the wrong way, everyone quickly realizes they've been 'had' by the wily old policeman, and the two cabs pursue him, beginning the wildest chase of the film, with the three cars careening through the streets of Santa Rosita, climaxing in a comic masterpiece of a finale, high upon a fire escape of a condemned building...

The grand finale, is, in my opinion, the perfect 'over-the-top' slapstick climax to an 'over-the-top' adventure, as Tracy and the comedians, after losing all the money, are flung through the air off an out-of-control, overloaded fire ladder, in a variety of wildly comic 'retributions' (watch, in particular, for Dick Shawn's; that's GOTTA hurt!)...*

* If you'd like to see highlights of the entire fire ladder finale, I created an animated gif of the sequence...be warned, it's a LARGE file (3.4 MG), so it may take a while to upload, but all the funniest moments are included! To view it, click HERE!

...and, in true slapstick tradition, nobody dies, and the film ends on a comic high note, with the ever-annoying Ethel Merman receiving her own much-deserved comeuppance, bringing gales of laughter from everyone, even granite-faced Tracy!

*********

The film is certainly not without faults; the pacing, occasionally, drags (not surprisingly, as Kramer had never directed a comedy before); Tracy's station scenes are a bit 'flat' (likely due to his poor health); and the ultra-widescreen (three-screen, actually) Cinerama format does NOT transfer well on television, even when 'letterboxed'. This is a film meant to be viewed to it's best advantage in a Cinerama-adapted theater.

But saying all this, the film is still an amazing achievement, blending a wide range of comic styles into a cohesive, VERY funny movie, a film chosen by the American Film Institute as one of the greatest comedies ever made!

IT'S A MAD...WORLD was the first film I ever shelled out money for, as a kid, back in 1963. I left the theater totally enthralled, and it STILL has that effect on me, over forty years later! Will kids today feel the same way about the current crop of comedies, in forty years?

Stanley Kramer did it right! My only regrets about the film are that Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Jackie Gleason, George Burns, and Groucho Marx (who WAS asked, but demanded too much money) don't make appearances (I think every other film comedian in Hollywood shows up, somewhere, in this gem); and that there is still 'lost' footage floating around, somewhere, waiting to be found (there is a longer Buster Keaton clip, I'm told; his cameo in the film does seem a bit abbreviated)...I hope, someday, to see the 'entire' film, as Stanley Kramer intended it!


Director Stanley Kramer, Jonathan Winters, Edie Adams, Nick Stewart, Mickey Rooney, Buddy Hackett, Milton Berle, and Sid Caesar


The CAST

Spencer Tracy .... Capt. C. G. Culpepper
Milton Berle .... J. Russell Finch
Sid Caesar .... Melville Crump, DDS
Buddy Hackett .... Benjy Benjamin
Ethel Merman .... Mrs. Marcus
Mickey Rooney .... Ding 'Dingy' Bell
Dick Shawn .... Sylvester Marcus
Phil Silvers .... Otto Meyer
Terry-Thomas .... Lt.Col. J. Algernon Hawthorne
Jonathan Winters .... Lennie Pike
Edie Adams .... Monica Crump
Dorothy Provine .... Emeline Marcus-Finch
Peter Falk .... Cab Driver
Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson .... Cab Driver
Jimmy Durante .... Smiler Grogan

...plus MANY more...and a few SURPRISES!


Who is the FUNNIEST comedian in "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World"?
Milton Berle
Sid Caesar
Buddy Hackett
Mickey Rooney
Jonathan Winters
Phil Silvers
Dick Shawn
Terry-Thomas
Peter Falk
Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson
Ethel Merman
Jerry Lewis
Don Knotts
The Three Stooges
Other
  
Free polls from Pollhost.com




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