Sunday, December 30, 2012

#867. It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

Directed By: Stanley Kramer

Starring: Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Ethel Merman

Tag line: "It's The Biggest Entertainment Ever To Rock The Screen With Laughter!"

Trivia: The roles of Melville and Monica Crump were originally larger roles and written with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in mind

Stanley Kramer’s It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is a big, loud, extremely funny film with an all-star cast, dozens of great cameos, and plenty of property damage. With a running time of around three hours, it’s more than a gargantuan comedy; It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is a flat-out epic. 

It even has an intermission!

While running from the police, escaped convict “Smiler” Grogan (Jimmy Durante) loses control of his car on a remote California highway. The vehicle careens off the road and ends up in pieces at the bottom of a steep cliff. 

A group of good Samaritans (all of whom Grogan flew past on the highway) pull over to lend a helping hand, including Russell Finch (Milton Berle), a businessman heading out of town with his wife (Dorothy Provine) and her loud-mouth mother (Ethel Merman); Dr. Melville Crump (Sid Caesar), a dentist, and his wife Monica (Edie Adams), on their way to a second honeymoon; Ding (Mickey Rooney) and Benjy (Buddy Hackett), two pals bound for Las Vegas; and Pike (Jonathan Winters), a truck driver scheduled to make a delivery in Yuma. 

Unable to help the badly injured Grogan, the group instead catches his dying words. Having spent 15 years in custody for his role in a tuna factory robbery, Grogan tells this motley crew that he’s buried $350,000 in cash in Santa Rosita State Park, and that anyone willing to drive down there and dig it up is welcome to it. 

This kicks off the race to end all races, with each vehicle breaking all sorts of traffic laws in an effort to beat the others to Santa Rosita. What none of these motorists realizes is that their every move is being tracked by the police, who, under the command of Santa Rosita’s Capt. Culpepper (Spencer Tracy), plan to apprehend all of them the moment they’ve reached their destination.

Everything about It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is big, starting with its primary cast, many of whom were established stars when the movie was released in 1963. Along the way, a number of other characters join the race for the loot, including a British adventurer (Terry-Thomas), a con artist (Phil Silvers) and a lifeguard / mama’s boy (Dick Shawn). 

That’s a damned impressive collection of performers, if you ask me. But the numerous cameos are just as extraordinary, featuring everyone from Jack Benny and Jerry Lewis to Buster Keaton and The Three Stooges! 

Fortunately, there’s plenty going on in It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World to keep them all hopping, with not one, but two aerial sequences (the funniest involving Ding and Benjy, who convince millionaire Jim Backus to fly them to Santa Rosita, only to be left piloting the plane themselves when their drunken captain is knocked unconscious); a gas station that's torn to bits (courtesy of Jonathan Winters' Pike); and a hardware store that’s nearly burned to the ground (when Dr. and Mrs. Crump are inadvertently locked in the basement, and try to escape). 

All this, plus a death-defying finale set atop a condemned building, results in a madcap adventure that’s downright hilarious from start to finish.


Tommy Ross said...

Flat out the best comedy ever, EVER!! And for the reasons you mentioned (it's scale and epic-ness) it will be a long, long time, probably never, before anything ever tops it.

Pat Conolly said...

I was disappointed when I saw this at the theater originally. I was 9 years old and my main reason for seeing it was to see the Three Stooges. I kept waiting and waiting for them to show up, and when they finally did, as I recall they didn't do or say anything at all in the few seconds they were onscreen.
I should really check this one out again.