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IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963)
Stanley Kramer strikes a gem with this "mad" comedy about convict Smiley Grogan, who, after release from a very long prison sentence, ventures to a California park where he allegedly his $350,000 from a job long past. En route, however, he accidentally careens off a cliff with four witnesses to testify. As the onlookers rush to help him, his dying words hint at a buried treasure, sending the four witnesses on a mad dash to hoard the cash for one's own!
The large steller cast includes: Spencer Tracy, Edie Adams, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Jimmy Durante, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, Dorothy Provine, Phil Silvers, Jonathan Winters, Peter Falk, Terry-Thomas, Andy Devine, and Eddie "Rochester" Anderson.
Director Stanley Kramer's "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" is a wild, frequently funny, epic comedy.
Director Stanley Kramer's, "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" is a wild, frequently funny, epic "comedy to end all comedies," that explores the worst of what can happen if people stumble upon the opportunity to get a lot of money for free. Although the film is long, (175 minutes in the home video version), the pacing mostly holds up, thanks to director/producer Kramer, his editor and the fact that the powerhouse of comedic actors/actresses in each chapter of the story really shine through their various ensemble skits, and had a great time doing so.
The basic story involves a fortune in hidden money, and how human greed of the people involved made it a hilarious, if unnecessary race for something for nothing. This story starts on a desert highway in the Nevada area. Three cars and a truck are traveling west all on different agendas. In one car, two men Benjy Benjamin & Dingy Bell (Buddy Hackett and Mickey Rooney) were on their way to Las Vegas. Another car had a couple, Monica and Melville Crump, DDS (Sid Caesar & Edie Adams) going on a second honeymoon. Yet another car had a young couple Russell & Emeline Finch (Milton Berle & Dorthy Provine), with her overbearing, spoiled, mother-in-law, Mrs. Marcus (Ethel Merman) in the back seat. A truck, driven by the likable yet stubborn Lennie Pike (Jonathan Winters) makes the fourth vehicle on this fateful road.
Suddenly a crazy driver, Smiler Grogan (Jimmy Durante) in a big sedan dangerously passes them all in break-neck speed. However, he fails to make a curve, and goes flying off the edge of the road, landing in the rocky area down the slope. Well, all 5 men from the four vehicles get out and go down the hill to see if they could help him. He was thrown from the car, and as he lay dying, he told them of this marvelous treasure of money, $350,000 that was buried on the beach under a "W" in Santa Rosita, a town near San Diego.
Soon after Smiler died, two undercover cops who were hot on Smiler's trail showed up, and questioned the 5 on what the now dead crook had told them. No one mentioned the money, and they quickly came up with an impromptu response.
When they think that the cops had gone, they pile into their vehicles and stop a little ways up the highway to discuss their options. All 8 people are eager to go after the money, but no matter how they try, they can't come up with a way to split the cash so everyone is happy. So, in anger they agree to have a race to the beach, and whoever gets there first gets it all. This decision turns out to be a recipe for one hilarious disaster after another for each group of participants and bumps their treasure hunting party up to 15 people instead of 8 by the time they are finished!
Unknown to them all, is that the police have surmised that the 8 know where the money is, and will go to Santa Rosita to get it. Because of a coordinated effort of the Sheriff's office and the police headquarters in Santa Rosita, under the direction of Captain T.G. Culpepper (Spencer Tracy), the eight of them are put under surveillance, and their every move is observed.
Benjy & Dingy go to one well-to-do private airport on the far side of the next town and Melville & Monica Crump go to a farmer with an airplane, with the idea of flying to Santa Rosita. Both are in for hair-raising experiences.
While Benjy and Dingy have to crash the private club, they manage to hook up with Tyler Fitzgerald (Jim Backus) the only person who could fly them to Santa Rosita, who unfortunately was really plastered for the day. Their terrifying ordeal happens the next morning, which is one of my favorite sequence of scenes due to the hysterical interactions and reactions of Buddy Hackett and Mickey Rooney.
While Melville and Monica find out that the farmer's plane is a 1916 plane is barely flying condition, after high adventure they make it to Santa Rosita only to be locked by accident in the basement of a hardware store, which proves to be a difficult place to break out of, despite the fireworks and dynamite.
Meanwhile, during a rowdy car race between Lennie in his truck and the Finches, Lennie runs into the Finch car, totaling it. Feeling bad, Lennie takes off down the highway on a kid's bike, while the Finches and the raucous Mrs. Marcus are picked up by Algernon Hawthorne (Terry Thomas) who agrees to take them to the beach for a 10% share. They pass by Lennie (Jonathan), leaving him in the dust.
Lennie then runs into film flam man Otto Meyer (Phil Silvers) at the gas station, and unwisely tells him of the buried money, and asks him to drive him there for a share of the money. Otto tricks Lennie out of his car, and drives away. However, Lennie does eventually catch up to Otto briefly, and is temporarily subdued, but not for long. A favorite scene involves Jonathan Winters and the destruction of a gas station. It's a classic scene of physical comedy, done by a master.
And so it goes. All four groups of people plus others sucked into this wild money hunt all wind up together at the beach, and when an unsuspected person takes the money, they find themselves unexpectedly on one more big chase, with the men winding up swinging wildly back and forth on the top of a ladder of a fire truck, which is another of my favorite sequence of scenes.
The screenplay, by the talented William Rose, switches around to each set of participants, entertaining the audience with all the trouble and trials each struggles through in a hilarious way, as nothing comes easy to anyone. This style of comedy was based on witty lines, comic timing and talent, funny situations, great car chases and great slapstick.
The large stellar cast reads as the Who's Who in comedy, as many loved to work with Kramer. Great performances were seen by Spencer Tracy, Edie Adams, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, Dorothy Provine, Phil Silvers, Jonathan Winters, Peter Falk, Jimmy Durante, Terry-Thomas, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, William Demarest, Andy Devine, Stan Freburg, Carl Reiner, Joe E Brown, Jim Backus and others, including fun cameos by Buster Keaton, Jack Benny, Don Knotts and the Three Stooges.
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World's music by Ernest Gold, is well done and silly. It establishes a fun, offbeat tone, then maintains it throughout the film, adding to the fun.
"It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" is rated G and is great family entertainment with the underlying moral that crime doesn't pay in either the short run or the long run.
If you enjoyed IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD, you may like A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, THE GREAT RACE, THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN ON THEIR FLYING MACHINES, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, and/or THE PRODUCERS.