It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is one of my favorite comedies; I would easily put it in my Top Ten. Some people find the film bloated and overlong, at two hours and 45 minutes; I say, there is more to love. In fact, the newly-released Criterion Blu-ray includes a restoration of the original “roadshow’ version that clocks in at three hours and eleven minutes! That’s a lotta laughter.
How can you explain why you find something funny? For me, there is something so wild and liberating about seeing the gang of “ordinary citizen” characters in the film shed all pretenses of morals and the social contract and behave in crazy ways. It is as if the promise of a wad of ill-gotten cash literally transforms these characters into cartoon versions of their own identities. There are moments in the film where their grotesque display of these outsized emotions and greed is simply breathtaking.
There are a lot of cool stunts too—with real cars and planes!
Luckily for you, gentle readers, there is an alternative if your local reparatory theater is not equipped to show 70mm. The new Criterion Blu-ray is a stunner and features a new 4K transfer of the original camera negative. Trust me, I know this film, and Criterion’s disc features the single best transfer of a pre-digital age color film that I have ever seen. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World now enters the “Take All of My Money Hall Of Fame”: I have purchased this title on VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, and now Blu-ray. Once I even rented it on 16mm for a district “Film Day” I was hosting!
If you have never seen the film, I can think of several reasons it should be on your hot list. Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad has the greatest comic cast in motion picture history. To avoid spoilers, I have left out any mention of the dozens of big-star cameos, but just the principal cast is a dream team of funny people from the middle of the last century. It’s one of the craziest films ever made, with awesome practical effects around every twist and turn. Oddly enough, it’s also a beautiful film to look at; the cinematography, sets, and costumes are all first-rate. That does not happen much in comedies, which are famous for being shitty to look at.
Have I mentioned that it’s super, super, super, super funny?
“He just went sailing out there (appropriate hand gesture).”
“Okay, at least we all agree on THAT.”
“This is a girl’s bike. This is a bike for a little girl!”
“That’s my brother-in-law. Be careful of him—he’s not normal.”
“There’s no reason to be worried—they’re just four little sticks of dynamite.”
“I’m coming to save you, Mama. That’s why you had me—so I could come and save you!”
In fact, I was surprised and disappointed at the Music Box screening when the audience laughed so hard at one of Buddy Hackett’s lines that it completely drowned out Jonathan Winter’s next, far funnier line. Oh well, I will always have this disc that we can return to again, again, again, and again—alone. Or I could just shout the line out whenever I feel like it! My wife loves that!
But the most mind-bending revelation is that, at a very early stage of production, Mickey Rooney’s partner in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was not Buddy Hackett, but Judy Garland! Imagine if the film had reunited those two; we would have witnessed Andy Hardy and his favorite girl from the 1930s transformed into a crazed, middle-aged married couple in the 1960s. What I would give to see that version of the film.
I know that Music Box audience last week will not be forgetting any of them any time soon. They howled. I have not heard laughter that loud in a theater in a long, long, long, long time.