powered by AFI
When an elderly thief dies following a car accident, the other motorists involved hear his dying words about burying the money from his last heist under "a big W" in a Los Angeles location and take off on a madcap chase to beat each other to the loot. Hot on their tail is C.G. Culpepper, a police captain who wants to crack the case before he retires. Greed and desperation throw the group into a series of misadventures that culminate in a disastrous free-for-all with police, firemen and rescue squads standing by.
Producer-Director: Stanley Kramer
Screenplay: William Rose, Tania Rose
Cinematography: Ernest Laszlo
Editing: Frederic Knudtson, Robert C. Jones, Gene Fowler, Jr.
Art Direction: Rudolph Sternad
Music: Ernest Gold
Cast: Spencer Tracy (Capt. C.G. Culpepper), Milton Berle (J. Russell Finch), Sid Caesar (Melville Crump), Buddy Hackett (Benjy Benjamin), Ethel Merman (Mrs. Marcus), Mickey Rooney (Ding Bell), Dick Shawn (Sylvester Marcus), Phil Silvers (Otto Meyer), Terry-Thomas (J. Algernon Hawthorne), Jonathan Winters (Lennie Pike), Edie Adams (Monica Crump), Dorothy Provine (Emmeline Finch), Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Peter Falk, Leo Gorcey (Cab Drivers), Jim Backus (Tyler Fitzgerald), Ben Blue (Airplane Pilot), Barrie Chase (Mrs. Halliburton), William Demarest (Chief of Police), Paul Ford (Col. Wilberforce), Edward Everett Horton (Dinckler), Buster Keaton (Jimmy the Crook), Don Knotts (Nervous Man), Carl Reiner (Tower Control), The Three Stooges (Firemen), Joe E. Brown (Union Official), Andy Devine (Sheriff Mason), Sterling Holloway (Fire Chief), Marvin Kaplan, Arnold Stang (Gas Station Attendants), Charles Lane (Airport Manager), Howard da Silva (Airport Officer), Charles McGraw (Lieutenant), ZaSu Pitts (Switchboard Operator), Madlyn Rhue (Police Secretary), Jesse White (Radio Tower Operator), Lloyd Corrigan (Mayor), Stan Freberg (Deputy Sheriff), Mike Mazurki (Miner), Norman Fell (Detective), Jimmy Durante (Smiler Grogan), Allen Jenkins (Police Officer), Doodles Weaver (Salesman), Jack Benny (Man on Road), Jerry Lewis (Mad Driver), Selma Diamond (Voice of Culpepper's Wife), Chick Chandler, Barbara Pepper, Cliff Norton, Roy Roberts (Bits)
Why IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD is Essential
With its star-studded cast of past and current comedy greats, It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World is a three hour homage to American comedy, featuring some of the most time-honored gags in the comic tradition, from the slapstick chase and car crash that opens the film to the banana-peel pratfall at the end.
The film was one of the first fiction films made in Cinerama and the only comedy ever to use that wide-screen technique. It was also the first Cinerama film to be shot with only one camera. All earlier such films had been shot with three cameras simultaneously.
The cast of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World featured one of the most impressive arrays of comic talents in lead and cameo roles ever assembled for one film. They included veterans from the worlds of vaudeville (Phil Silvers), burlesque (Buddy Hackett), silent comedy (Buster Keaton), radio (Jack Benny), Golden Age of Hollywood (Zasu Pitts), television (Sid Caesar), advertising (Stan Freberg) and stand-up (Jonathan Winters).
Despite mixed reactions from the critics, the film enjoys a cult following today and it's not hard to find someone who has a favorite memory of the film, whether it's the scene where Jonathan Winters single-handedly wrecks a gas station with his bare hands or the one where Sid Caesar and Edie Adams try to fly a dilapidated airplane.
by Frank Miller
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
In 1974, Dino de Laurentiis produced an unofficial remake titled, Unbelievable Adventures of Italians in Russia.
The first videotape version of the film was made using the 154-minute 35mm negative. In the '90s, footage from an old 70mm print was restored to the film, bringing the running time up to 186 minutes. Most of the remaining six minutes is now believed lost. Kramer considers the 154-minute version the only official one.
It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World enjoys a fervent cult following today and "The Mad World Committee" continues to campaign for the restoration of the 70mm version and the return of the missing footage from that version.
The 1991 television documentary Something a Little Less Serious: A Tribute to 'It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World' brought together Kramer with cast members Edie Adams, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Norman Fell, Buddy Hackett, Marvin Kaplan, Jerry Lewis, Carl Reiner, Mickey Rooney, Arnold Stang and Jonathan Winters. The hour-long program is also included on the film's DVD.
It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World has inspired episodes of The Simpsons, Charmed and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and been spoofed in the low-budget horror film Dead End (1986).
by Frank Miller
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
In the animated opening titles of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, the world explodes in a cascade of letters that become the cast list. Just before that, for only three frames, they spell out the names of the animators, the same team that made A Charlie Brown Christmas.
B>It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World marked Jonathan Winters' film debut.
In his cameo, Jack Benny drives a Maxwell, the same out-of-date car he drove on his radio and television series. Fans don't look on the car as the real thing, however, because Kramer neglected to have cartoon voice artist Mel Blanc provide the sounds of the car's motor as he had on the radio.
Leo Gorcey's cameo as a cab driver was his first film appearance since he left the Bowery Boys series in 1956.
Stan Laurel turned down an offer to appear in the film because after Oliver Hardy's death in 1957 he had sworn never to perform again.
Some actors who turned down roles in It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World included Judy Garland, Bob Hope, George Burns and Red Skelton.
When It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World was completed, Spencer Tracy told Stanley Kramer it was the most fun he had ever had on a film set.
With $10 million in grosses in 1964, It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World was the second highest-grossing film of that year, just behind The Carpetbaggers. As of 1970, it had made $60 million worldwide.
It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World opened on November 7, 1963, as the premiere presentation at Hollywood's new Cinerama Dome.
The day before the film's November 17, 1963 New York premiere -- the film was shown in a special charity preview to benefit the Kennedy Child Study Center and the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Institute. It was the last public screening ever attended by the Kennedy family before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy shortly thereafter.
In addition to Cinerama showings, It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World was also released in a 35mm version for regular movie theatres. The 35mm version was actually shorter than the 70mm Cinerama version, which included a prelude, an intermission and special news inserts reporting the characters' progress in searching for the buried loot.
The only version of the film available is the 35 mm print that runs 154 minutes. The 70 mm negative, with additional scenes and music, has been lost.
Allegedly, the 197-minute version of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World includes a dance sequence featuring the voices of The Shirelles, one of the most popular girl groups of the sixties..
A 1970 reissue used the tagline, "If ever this mad, mad, mad, mad world needed It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World it's now!".
Memorable Quotes From IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD:
"Even businessmen, who rob and cheat and steal from people everyday, even they have to pay taxes." -- Jonathan Winters as Lennie Pike
"Now look! We've figured it 17 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!" -- Buddy Hackett, as Benjy Benjamin, starting the competition.
"But this is a girl's bike. This is for a little girl." -- Winters, as Lennie Pike, having to find some form of transportation when he loses his truck.
"Now what kind of an attitude is that, 'These things happen?' They only happen because this whole country is just full of people who, when these things happen, they just say, 'These things happen,' and that's why they happen! We gotta have control of what happens to us." -- Ethel Merman, as Mrs. Marcus.
"Trouble? Having any trouble?"
"Yes, and we don't need any help from you!"
"Well!" -- Jack Benny, as Man in Car, offering unsuccessfully to help Merman, as Mrs. Marcus, and her family.
"I'm coming. That's what I'm here for. That's why you had me, Mama, to save you." -- Dick Shawn, as Sylvester Marcus, riding to the rescue.
"Exactly like your father: a big, stupid, muscle-headed moron!" -- Merman describing Shawn, as her son, Sylvester.
"You know, I'm not entirely uncertain you haven't damaged this machine." -- Terry-Thomas, as J. Algernon Hawthorne.
"As far as I can see, American men have been totally emasculated -- they're like slaves! They die like flies from coronary thrombosis while their women sit under hairdryers eating chocolates and arranging for every second Tuesday to be some sort of Mother's Day! And this infantile preoccupation with bosoms. In all my time in this godforsaken country, the one thing that has appalled me most of all is this preposterous preoccupation with bosoms. Don't you realize they have become the dominant theme in American culture: in literature, advertising and all fields of entertainment. I'll wager you anything you like that if American women stopped wearing brassieres, your whole national economy would collapse overnight." -- Terry-Thomas, as Hawthorne.
"Old fashioneds? Do you think you oughta drink while your flying?"
"Well stop kidding willya, and make us some drinks! You just press the button back there marked 'booze.' It's the only way to fly!" -- Mickey Rooney, as Ding Bat, and Jim Backus, as Tyler Fitzgerald, discussing air safety.
"Dingy, don't let this worry you. We're gonna get killed." -- Hackett, as Benjy Benjamin, trying to fly the plane.
"Even if it is a democracy, in a democracy it don't matter how stupid you are, you still get an equal share." -- Winters, as Lennie.
"Listen, anything you got to say about your mother-in-law, you don't have to explain to me. You know what I mean? Like, if she were the star of a real crummy horror movie, I'd believe it." -- Winters, on Merman.
"My wife is divorcing me, my daughter is applying to the courts to have her name changed, my mother-in-law is suing me for damages, my pension has been revoked. And the only reason you ten idiots will very likely get off lightly, is that the judge will have me up there to throw the book at....I'd like to think that sometime, maybe ten or 20 years from now, there could be something I could laugh at. Anything." -- Spencer Tracy, as Capt. C.G. Culpepper, bemoaning his involvement in the plot.
Compiled by Frank Miller
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
Stanley Kramer had started his career in 1948 with a failed comedy called So This Is New York. After years of first executive producing and then directing and producing message pictures, including The Defiant Ones (1958), Inherit the Wind (1960) and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), Kramer decided to attempt another comedy when writer William Rose presented him with a one-page outline for a slapstick epic about greed. He would later say that he hoped people would remember how un-funny his first film had been and appreciate how much he had learned about comedy in the ensuing 15 years.
Kramer's stated goal to was to make the biggest slapstick comedy ever made, "a comedy to end all comedies".
Kramer and Rose planned the script development carefully so they would be ready to shoot by the summer of 1963, a time when most comedians would be free from television, film and stage commitments.
The film's original title was Something a Little Less Serious, a reference to Kramer's reputation as a producer and director of message films.
The first actor Kramer considered casting was Spencer Tracy, with whom he had worked on Inherit the Wind and Judgment at Nuremberg. With all the comedians he was planning to cast, Kramer felt he needed one serious dramatic actor to ground the film in reality, and Tracy, who had functioned as a moral stand-in for the director in their previous, more serious films together, seemed the perfect choice. Kramer and Rose conceived the role of the retiring police captain specifically for him.
Ernie Kovacs was originally slated to play dentist Melville Crump opposite his real-life wife, Edie Adams. When he died in a car wreck, the role went to Sid Caesar, whose latest TV series alternated weekly with Adams' on ABC.
Most of the roles in It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World were created with specific actors in mind. Kramer had surprisingly little trouble getting exactly the cast he wanted, partly because he offered comparatively good salaries -- from $50,000 to $150,000 -- for even the smallest roles.
Groucho Marx wasn't available to play Milton Berle's father-in-law, so the character's gender was changed so they could cast Ethel Merman.
The one great clown Kramer didn't even approach was Charles Chaplin. The producer-director thought it would be impossible, since Chaplin was living in self-imposed exile in Switzerland and was so wealthy no amount of money could have lured him back to the screen.
Don Rickles desperately wanted to be in It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, but Kramer never asked him, a sore point that he heckled the producer-director about every time Kramer came to see Rickles perform live.
Kramer cast Jimmy Durante as the crook who dies in the first scene because he felt the actor's face could be both funny and tragic at the same time.
by Frank Miller
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World was shot in Ultra-Panavision, which was a wide-screen process that made it possible to shoot a film in Cinerama but with only one camera.
The film was so crammed with action that each leading actor was given two scripts: one for the dialogue and one for physical comedy.
Because he was ill during the shooting of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (this was one of his last films), Spencer Tracy could only work four hours a day. He was shot mostly in close-ups, with a double doing any action shots required for the character.
When Sid Caesar got into a screaming battle with writer William Rose about re-writing his lines, Kramer defused the situation by bringing out Tracy and introducing him to the comic.
The cast was in awe of Tracy and spent much of their time between scenes keeping him amused. Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett delighted him with off-color take-offs on Boys Town (1938), in which Rooney had co-starred with Tracy. Jonathan Winters would improvise entire movies while impersonating Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.
Usually a very disciplined performer who liked to know exactly what was going to happen in each scene before he shot it, Tracy quickly warmed up to the more improvisatory approach of the various comics cast in the film.
Much of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World was shot on location in Palm Springs during a very hot summer. Kramer set up an air-conditioned truck filled with benches, stools and chairs where the cast could cool off between shots.
In addition to Palm Springs, other locations included the Mojave Desert and various highways in Colorado and California. The final credits include special thanks to fifteen different California communities.
When Jack Benny shot his cameo appearance, Kramer let him hold the comic pause before his signature line, "Well," as long as he wanted. The entire crew was holding back laughter before he finally said the line. In the editing room, however, Kramer shortened the pause a bit.
Milton Berle always made sure he was the last person left on camera any time he was in a group scene. He even invented bits of business that kept him on screen longer than the others.
While filming Winters' destruction of the gas station, the crew forgot that he had been bound in tape and went off to lunch without freeing him.
Producer-director Stanley Kramer asked Buster Keaton to perform one of his signature bits, moving two steps forward then one back before racing away from whatever was threatening him. Even in his eighties, the comedian was as spry as he had been in his prime.
Kramer later said, "During the filming of Mad World with all the comedians, I think Spencer Tracy was in poorer health than I (believed): he had bad color and no stamina whatever. But then, even though this lack of energy showed, I think he had his best time ever during the making of a film. The comedians worshipped him. Never before or since has a king had a court full of jesters who strove only to entertain him so that his majesty might say, 'That was funny,' or just laugh and smile. Milton Berle, Jonathan Winters, Buddy Hackett, Phil Silvers, Mickey Rooney - even the silent Sid Caesar - crowded about him and vied for his affection. They had it. And he talked about them to the very last; he loved them all."
The slapstick stunts were conceived on such a grand scale they required 39 stunt men at a cost of $252,000.
Billing was a huge problem with such a large cast of famous names. Kramer finally decided to give Tracy top billing, since he was the biggest film name in the cast. He then billed the leading comedians in alphabetical order, followed by supporting players billed the same way. The only name which didn't conform to this credit ranking besides Tracy's was Jimmy Durante's. Kramer wanted to give him special mention to compensate for the brevity of his role.
Possibly as a reflection of the battle over billing, after the leading players' names are listed alphabetically, hands appear to shift various names to the top.
The final cost of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World was $9.4 million.
To publicize the film, Kramer spent $400,000 flying in international press to interview the stars and view a special screening.
by Frank Miller
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
"It is a milestone for the manner in which it has taken these primitive comedy techniques [of silent comedy], fortified them with staggering sensations of sight and sound that represent modern filmmaking at its technically slickest, and emerged not an overstuffed anachronism, but a blend of the best of two eras -- the innocent simplicity of the golden age of slapstick and the satirical 'message' approach popular in these uneasy times of disenchantment, self-examination and moral reevaluation." -- Tube, Variety.
"It's made, as it says, with its profusion of so many stars, so many 'names' playing leading to 5-second bit roles, that it seems to be a celebrities' parade. And it is also, for all its crackpot clowning and its racing and colliding of automobiles, a pretty severe satirizing of the money madness and motorizing momentum of our age." -- Bosley Crowther, The New York Times"A Keystone comedy is really what Kramer has made, but writ large, with the stupefying ambition that produces from time to time the world's largest lollipop, pizza, bass drum, or beer stein." - Newsweek.
"To watch on a Cinerama screen in full colour a small army of actors inflict mayhem on each other with cars, planes, explosives and other devices for more than three hours with stereophonic sound effects is simply too much for the human eye and ear to respond to, let alone the funny bone." - Dwight MacDonald.
"Mad World reaches its nadir with an abortive climax that puts Spencer Tracy and ten comedians atop a fire ladder reeling several stories about the street, presumably on the assumption that eleven men suspended in mid-air will be eleven times funnier than Harold Lloyd used to be. Alas, the law of diminishing returns prevails." - Time.
"...stretches its material to snapping point but offers happy hours of star-spotting...There are several great sequences, most of which involve Terry-Thomas, whose image of America as a bosom- and money-fixated society is spot on." - Adrian Turner, TimeOut Film Guide.
"The picture may be long, but this allows all the stars ample time in the spotlight. Merman is funny playing a thoroughly obnoxious woman; Winters and Silvers are also particularly memorable. There is much humor that falls flat, but also a great deal of hilarity in this film, both visual and verbal." - Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic.
"Three hours of frantic chasing and violent slapstick is too much even when done on this scale and with this cast, but one must observe that scene for scene it is extremely well done and most of the players are in unusually good form though they all outstay their welcome and are upstaged by the stunt men." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide.
"...the film really starts to drag in its second hour. There's only so much double crossing, screaming and fighting one can take. That being said, all road pictures have stolen something from this flick...The final half hour picks up the pace with a wild cab driving sequence and a fire engine ladder rescue one has to see to believe. A raucous comedy that doesn't know when to quit. Worthwhile just to see the world's best comedians at work." - crazy4cinema.com
AWARDS & HONORS
It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World placed ninth on The New York Times' ten best list.
Photoplay magazine honored It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World with two Laurel Awards, one for Top Road Show and one for Top Song.
The film received two Golden Globe nominations, Best Motion Picture-Musical/Comedy and Best Motion Picture Actor-Musical/Comedy for Jonathan Winters.
It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World was nominated for an Eddie for Best Edited Feature Film by the American Cinema Editors.
The film received six Oscar® nominations: Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Score, Best Song, Best Sound and Best Sound Effects Editing, winning in the last category.
The Mystery Writers of America nominated It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World for an Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Motion Picture. The nomination went to the film's writers, William and Tania Rose.
Compiled by Frank Miller & Jeff Stafford
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
One doesn't ordinarily think of director/producer Stanley Kramer as a man with a knack for comedy. After all, this was the creator of such big, important message movies as The Defiant Ones (1958), On the Beach (1959), and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). So it was with great trepidation that critics approached his slapstick epic, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). Kramer hadn't made a comedy since he produced So This is New York in 1948 with Richard Fleischer directing. But he wanted a break from the serious dramas that had become his calling card and envisioned It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World as both an encyclopedia of American comedy styles and routines as well as a scathing satire on greed.
Critics, for the most part, found the film too long (it was just over three hours), too excessive, and not funny enough. Audiences, on the other hand, were starved for a good laugh (the film was released just five days prior to John F. Kennedy's assassination) and turned out in droves, making it the second biggest moneymaker of 1963 (Cleopatra claimed the number one spot). Even today, the film enjoys a cult following and it's not hard to find someone who has a favorite memory of the film, whether it's the scene where Jonathan Winters single-handedly wrecks a gas station with his bare hands or the one where Sid Caesar and Edie Adams try to fly a dilapidated airplane.
Kramer would later claim that It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was the most difficult film he ever made and it's not hard to see why when you consider the huge cast, countless stunts, and special effects. Working with a script by William Rose, who wrote the delightful British car-race comedy, Genevieve (1953), Kramer came up with a crazy quilt plot about several motorists racing to discover a hidden treasure in stolen money buried under some palm trees in Los Angeles.
Due to club commitments by most of the professional comedians in the film, the only convenient time for the entire cast to shoot the film was in the middle of summer, which was not the most pleasant time to be in the Mojave Desert, the film's major location. Nevertheless, one of the highlights of the production for Kramer was working again with Spencer Tracy (He starred in Kramer's Inherit the Wind (1960) and Judgment at Nuremberg), who had a strict four hour a day work schedule. Kramer later said, "During the filming of Mad World with all the comedians, I think Spencer Tracy was in poorer health than I (believed): he had bad color and no stamina whatever. But then, even though this lack of energy showed, I think he had his best time ever during the making of a film. The comedians worshipped him. Never before or since has a king had a court full of jesters who strove only to entertain him so that his majesty might say, 'That was funny,' or just laugh and smile. Milton Berle, Jonathan Winters, Buddy Hackett, Phil Silvers, Mickey Rooney - even the silent Sid Caesar - crowded about him and vied for his affection. They had it. And he talked about them to the very last; he loved them all."
Since its original premiere in 70mm, there have been various versions of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in distribution. The 70mm version, with a running time of 162 minutes, included 8 minutes of overture music with 16 minutes of an intermission title card that broadcast "news bulletins" on the soundtrack, reporting progress in the search for the money. The more common version shown is the 35mm version with a running time of 154 minutes. Of course, there are some diehard fans who continually lobby for the 197-minute version which includes a dance sequence featuring the voices of The Shirelles. At any length, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is still a fun showcase for some of the great comic talents of the 20th century, even if some of the cameos like Buster Keaton, Ben Blue, Jack Benny, and The Three Stooges, only last a few seconds.
Screenplay:Tania Rose, William Rose
Title credits: Saul Bass
Cast:Spencer Tracy (Capt. T.G. Culpeper), Sid Caesar (Melville Crump), Milton Berle (J. Russell Finch), Ethel Merman (Mrs. Marcus), Mickey Rooney (Ding Bell), Phil Silvers (Otto Meyer), Buddy Hackett (Benjy Benjamin).
by Jeff Stafford