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The madcap 1963 comedy arrives on Blu-ray, but are its goofy gags any funnier in high-def....?
Fox / 159 Minutes / 1963 / Rated G / Street Date: February 7, 2012
It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World opens with a man speeding along perilously down a mountain road. He loses control and his car flies off the road and crashes several feet down the hill. Four cars stop to find out what happened, a gaggle of colorful characters including Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, and Jonathan Winters, among others. The men walk down to see if they can find the driver, who is still alive but clearly about to kick the bucket. The man manages a few last words, describing a treasure buried under a big "W" in Santa Rosita Park. Soon all hell breaks loose as the group scatters in a race to be first to the fortune. But all the while the group is being closely monitored by the police, headed by a veteran police captain (Spencer Tracy)...
It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is far from a perfect film. The unflattering female caricatures are outmoded and soon become tiresome. Ethel Merman provides a lot of humor in the film, but the filmmakers went to the "old bag" well one too many times. The other two female "leads" are there as little more than second fiddles to their husbands. The screenwriters definitely had a 50's mentality when it comes to depicting females, as well as the cartoonish attempts at humor, which often echo what one would typically see in a Looney Tunes golden age short.
But It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World does contain plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and it also contains some unforgettable visuals. Some of the stuntwork is very impressive, though these parts of the film do not overcome the film's tendency to overuse laughable process shots, where it is obvious to anyone that the actors are in a studio. Any movie where Jimmy Durante is killed off in the beginning has to be good, unless of course the remainder of that film is a flashback, which It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World fortunately is not. The cameos are interesting and suitable for the tone of the film, and silent film fans will want to look out for ZaSu Pitts (Greed) and the most talented person to appear in this film, Jerry Lew, err, I mean Buster Keaton.
Two other things I do not like about the film are the absurd letdown ending, and the lyrics to the "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" song, which are very hard on the ears. I know it sounds like I am picking on the film, but I do recommend it despite its sizable flaws. Especially compared to the current theatrical release Rat Race - stay home and spend your money on the original instead.
Note that there was more than one version of It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World released. Roadshow versions were common at the time for 70mm films, which were often given the "spectacle" treatment. But for the regular release the movie's distributors decided a shorter version of the film was more appropriate, and so the film was reportedly cut from 192 minutes down to 154 minutes. This Blu-ray edition brings us the 159 minute cut of the film. The history of this film and its various versions is somewhat convoluted, so more research on this topic has much to reveal to those fans of the film who are interested. As I discuss below, an hour of deleted scenes (though much of the footage is repetitive) are provided in a supplemental section.