It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World
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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.
Director/Producer: Stanley Kramer
Screenplay: Tania Rose, William Rose
Cinematography: Ernest Laszlo
Music: Ernest Gold
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