A colleague who saw my check-in on Facebook unwittingly but perfectly summed up It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World with one innocent question: why would I bother to see “that old person movie”? He’s not off base: crammed with stars most of whom had seen better days even at the time—Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney, Milton Berle, Ethel Merman, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Jimmy Durante, Carl Reiner, Phil Silvers, the Three Stooges—it’s the Cannonball Run of the Great Generation. Silly and fun in a “pull my finger” way, it’s a straightforward slapstick comedy about greed from a director (Stanley Kramer) known for tackling serious subjects. As I watched this, I saw the face my grandfather made when he told a risqué joke—kind of like Three’s Company’s Mr. Roper (Norman Fell), who by the way is also in this.
The story isn’t complicated: on a California desert highway, a group of travelers encounters a dying criminal on the run (Durante) whose last words tip them off to a suitcase of money buried in a park “under a big W.” After a futile attempt to devise a plan to find the money together and share it, a madcap race to get to it erupts—and it’s every man (and woman) for himself.
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is over the top in every way: the scenery is huge—perfect for the 70 millimeter restoration I saw—the story is elaborate and overlapping, the cast is immense, and the film is very, very long. It’s interesting to see television stars like Fell, Peter Falk, Jim Backus, Marvin Kaplan, Jonathan Winters, and Don Knotts in minor roles, most before they were famous. Nothing about this film is sophisticated, which is a large part of its corny charm. Overall, the plot and the humor are uneven, going from impressively witty to beyond stupid—particularly the denouement with the fire truck ladder. The dialogue degenerates into yelling and the action becomes monotonous as the film progresses. Despite its shortcomings, though, it kept me engaged almost to the end—no small feat for a film that runs over three hours and has an intermission.
(Music Box) B-
Music Box Theatre 70mm Festival