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It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).

October 7, 2008

The Scoop:
This has to be a one-of-a-kind film — the world’s only epic comedy. At a time when American cinema was overflowing with lavish historical and biblical epics (complete with overtures, intermissions, exit music, casts of thousands — and gargantuan running times), it shouldn’t be too surprising that someone tried to use the formula on a slapstick comedy. And it shouldn’t be too surprising that the trend never really caught on.

The story concerns an ever-widening circle of strangers in a race to find a fortune “buried under a big W.” But this paper-thin plot is really just an excuse to string together a seemingly endless array of kitschy sight gags and pratfalls. The film is filled with just about every familiar face producer/director Stanley Kramer could lay his hands on. While some of them are a treat (specifically Spencer Tracy and Buster Keaton), most of them just get lost in the shuffle. Among the parade of stars are Milton Berle, Buddy Hackett, Sid Caesar, Mickey Rooney, Jonathan Winters, Phil Silvers, Terry-Thomas, Edie Adams, Peter Falk, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Joe E. Brown, Jim Backus, Don Knotts, the Three Stooges, Jimmy Durante…. Need I go on?

Although there are some good gags, they get absolutely deadening after being pounded into the viewer’s skull for more than three hours straight — not counting, of course, the obligatory intermission. (The director’s cut, which no longer survives, was apparently even longer.) And, frankly, just a mere five minutes of Ethel Merman is enough to make a sane man kill. Even the title is a mouthful when used in casual conversation. In the end, it’s a whole lot of manic energy expended on a whole lot of nothing.

Best Bit:
I’m not sure there is a best bit, but if you’re looking for something definitive, it probably would have to be some form of scream. There’s a lot of screaming and yelling in this movie, mostly by Ethel Merman.

Side Note:
The film was the first to be shot in the “single camera” Cinerama format. (Previously, three cameras were needed to shoot Cinerama films.) Its premiere opened the landmark Cinerama Dome theater in Hollywood, which is still in operation today.

Companion Viewing:
“1941” (1979).

DVD Savant.

Take a Look:
The trailer:

This clips comes from the midpoint of the movie, where we get to check in with what wacky predicaments everyone’s gotten themselves into!

Everybody get on board the fire engine!

Putting it in Spanish doesn’t make it any more entertaining:

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