[box cover]

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Lauded by legions of film fans as the most hilarious, side-splitting, fall-off-your-seat funny movie of all time, this reviewer — who, embarrassingly, had never seen It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World before screening this DVD — can only ask: Have any of those people seen it lately? Stanley Kramer's 1963 big-budget romp certainly stands as a cinematic milestone: It was the first film presented at the new Cinerama Dome theater in Hollywood, and it was a big, big movie. Costing $7 million (which still meant something in those days), Kramer used 39 stuntmen to make his epic comedy, and he found spots for nearly every heavyweight comic in the business — Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Mickey Rooney, Edie Adams, Dick Shawn, Phil Silvers, Jonathan Winters, Jimmy Durante, Terry-Thomas, Carl Reiner, Jerry Lewis, Don Knotts, Jack Benny, and The Three Stooges to name only a handful. The paper-thin plot concerns a group of folks motoring down a desert road (Winters, Silver, Rooney, Hackett, Caesar, Adams, Ethel Merman, and Dorothy Provine) who spot a speeding car go off a cliff. Climbing down to the wreckage, they find the barely-alive driver (Durante), an escaped crook on his way to dig up his loot. He tells them where the buried booty is before he dies, then the squabbling onlookers take off in their cars, racing to get to the money first. Spencer Tracy is the detective on their trail, with familiar faces like Norman Fell, Andy Devine, William Demarest and Stan Freberg playing cops, plus a plethora of gag cameos by stars of the day. The cast list alone is an amazing achievement, one that simply could not be replicated today (make a list of between 30 and 40 top comic actors working in films and television — now imagine the money and coordination involved to get all of them in a single film), but the movie itself hasn't worn well. The humor is coarse and obvious. Comics like Caesar and Winters, who excelled at performing their own material, are surprisingly lackluster here. Merman (who seems to receive the most lavish praise from IAMMMMW lovers) plays a one-note, harridan mother-in-law character who grates rather than amuses. The stunts — particularly the plane stunts during the airport sequence — are breathtaking, but the movie eventually starts to feel more like a marathon than an entertainment. Kramer's original cut of his "comedy to end all comedies" was over five hours in length; a team of editors pared it to under three hours, but some scenes were eventually restored (the version on this DVD release runs 2 hours and 41 minutes). This is a very long film about shrill, annoying people, with gags and jokes that fall flat far more often than they deliver. Filmed in 70mm Ultra Panavision (not in Cinerama as stated in the notes in the supplements), It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was adapted to be presented as the first single-lens Cinerama production. A shorter, straight 70mm release was distributed as well, followed by a re-cut in December 1963 for standard 35mm release. MGM's DVD offers a crisp, bright anamorphic transfer (2.55:1) of the 35mm version, with solid Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The double-sided disc features supplements on the reverse, including the original theatrical trailer and the trailer for the 1970 reissue; the 60-minute 1991 featurette Something a Little Less Serious, a remembrance of the film by Kramer and various cast members, and extended scenes with extra footage scavenged from a 70mm work print of the longer version. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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