It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is a 1963 American epic-comedy film produced and directed by Stanley Kramer and starring Spencer Tracy with an all-star cast, about the madcap pursuit of $350,000 in stolen cash by a diverse and colorful group of strangers. It premiered on November 7, 1963. The cast features Edie Adams, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Phil Silvers, Terry-Thomas, and Jonathan Winters.
|It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World|
Theatrical release poster by Jack Davis
|Directed by||Stanley Kramer|
|Produced by||Stanley Kramer|
|Screenplay by||William Rose|
|Story by||Tania Rose|
|Music by||Ernest Gold|
|Edited by||Frederic Knudtson|
Robert C. Jones
Gene Fowler Jr.
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|210 minutes (original cut)|
192 minutes (premiere cut)
161 minutes (theatrical cut)
197 minutes (restored cut)
|Box office||$60 million|
The film marked the first time Kramer directed a comedy, though he had produced the comedy So This Is New York in 1948. He is best known for producing and directing drama films about social problems, such as The Defiant Ones, Inherit the Wind, Judgment at Nuremberg, and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. His first attempt at directing a comedy film paid off immensely as It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World became a critical and commercial success in 1963 and was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning for Best Sound Editing, and two Golden Globe Awards.
Despite this, the film suffered severe cuts by its distributor United Artists in order to give the film a shorter running time for its general release. The footage was excised against Kramer's wishes. On October 15, 2013, however, it was announced that the Criterion Collection had collaborated with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United Artists, and film restoration expert Robert A. Harris to reconstruct and restore It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World to be as close as possible to the original 197-minute version envisioned by Kramer. It was released in a five-disc "Dual Format" Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack on January 21, 2014.
"Smiler" Grogan, a just-released convict jailed for robbery 15 years earlier and fleeing police surveillance, crashes off California State Route 74. Five motorists stop to help him: Melville Crump, a dentist; Lennie Pike, a furniture mover; Ding Bell, and Benjy Benjamin, two friends on their way to Las Vegas; and J. Russell Finch, a business owner. Just before he dies, Grogan tells them about $350,000 buried in Santa Rosita State Park under "... a big W".
The motorists initially decide to share the money, but it soon becomes a race to get to the money first. Unbeknownst to them, Captain Culpeper, Chief of Detectives of the Santa Rosita Police Department, has been working on the Smiler Grogan case for years, hoping to solve it and retire. When he learns of the crash, he suspects that Grogan tipped off the passersby, so he has them tracked.
Everyone experiences setbacks on their way to the money. Crump and his wife Monica charter a dilapidated World War I-era biplane to take them to Santa Rosita, but are inadvertently locked in a hardware store's basement while shopping for digging equipment. They eventually free themselves with dynamite.
Bell and Benjamin charter a modern Beechcraft Model 19, but when their alcoholic pilot knocks himself out, the local airport has to instruct them on a talk-down landing.
Finch, his wife Emmeline, and his loud and obnoxious mother-in-law Mrs. Marcus are involved in a car accident with Pike's furniture van. The three persuade British Army Lieutenant Colonel J. Algernon Hawthorne to drive them to Santa Rosita. After many arguments, Mrs. Marcus and Emmeline refuse to go any farther, and Finch and Hawthorne leave them behind.
Pike tries to get motorist Otto Meyer to take him to Santa Rosita, but Meyer leaves Pike stranded with only a little girl's bike from his furniture van. Pike catches up with Meyer at a gas station and assaults him as the gas station owners try to stop him. Meyer escapes in his car while Pike destroys the gas station. He steals the station's tow truck and takes off after Meyer. Pike meets up with Mrs. Marcus and Emmeline and picks them up. Mrs. Marcus calls her dim-witted son Sylvester, who lives near Santa Rosita, to get the money, but believing his mother is in trouble, he instead races to her in his car.
Meyer experiences his own setbacks, including sinking his car in the Kern River and nearly drowning. Posing as a secret agent, he cons a motorist out of his car and continues on. All the while, Culpeper watches from afar. Two taxi drivers join the chase.
Everyone reaches Santa Rosita State Park at about the same time and searches for the big W. Culpeper orders all police to leave the area and goes in solo. Emmeline, who wants no part of the money, spots the big W first: four palm trees in the shape of the letter. Pike finds it next and informs everyone else. After they dig up the money, Culpeper identifies himself and talks them into turning themselves in, promising a jury will be more lenient if they do.
Culpeper takes the money and heads for Mexico. The group realize what is happening and give chase in the two cabs. When the chase becomes a foot pursuit, Chief Aloysius, who had blackmailed the mayor into tripling Culpeper's small pension, tears up the pension papers and orders Culpeper's arrest.
After a long chase, all 11 men end up stranded on the fire escape of a condemned office building. The suitcase containing the money opens, and the money falls onto the streets below, where passersby collect it. The men try to climb down a fire truck's ladder, but their combined weight causes the ladder to swing around wildly and fling them off, causing many injuries.
The hospitalized group, in various stages of traction, criticize Culpeper for taking the money. He muses that it will be a long time before he can laugh at anything again. Mrs. Marcus, flanked by Emmeline and Monica, enters, berates everyone, then slips on a banana peel. All the men, including Culpeper, laugh hysterically.
- Jack Benny as man driving a 1931 Cadillac Fleetwood (uncredited)
- Paul Birch as a Santa Rosita police officer at the intersection (with binoculars) (uncredited)
- Ben Blue as the vintage biplane pilot
- Joe E. Brown as the union official giving a speech at a construction site
- Alan Carney as a sergeant with the Santa Rosita Police Department
- Chick Chandler as the policeman at Ray and Irwin's service station
- Barrie Chase as the dancing, bikini-clad paramour (restored footage revealed her character was in reality married) of Sylvester Marcus
- John Clarke as a Santa Rosita Police Department helicopter pilot
- Stanley Clements as a local reporter at police station (uncredited)
- Lloyd Corrigan as the mayor of Santa Rosita
- Andy Devine as the sheriff of Crockett County, California
- Selma Diamond as Ginger Culpeper, Captain Culpeper's wife (voice only)
- Minta Durfee as a crowd extra watching the fire escape rescue (uncredited)
- Roy Engel as a Santa Rosita Police Department officer at the intersection (uncredited)
- Norman Fell as primary detective at the "Smiler" Grogan accident site
- James Flavin as a crossroads patrolman (scene deleted from general release version, uncredited)
- Stan Freberg as a deputy sheriff of Crockett County
- Nicholas Georgiade as supporting detective at the "Smiler" Grogan accident site (uncredited)
- Louise Glenn as Billie Sue Culpeper, the daughter of Captain Culpeper (voice only)
- Leo Gorcey as the cab driver bringing Melville and Monica to the hardware store
- Stacy Harris as police radio voice unit F-7 (voice only), and as a detective outside of Mr. Dinkler's hardware store (uncredited)
- Don C. Harvey as a Santa Rosita Police Department helicopter pilot (uncredited)
- Sterling Holloway as the Santa Rosita Fire Department fireman
- Edward Everett Horton as Mr. Dinkler, owner of the hardware store
- Allen Jenkins as a policeman (uncredited)
- Marvin Kaplan as service station co-owner Irwin
- Robert Karnes as Sammy, a Crockett County deputy following the ambulance (uncredited)
- Buster Keaton as Jimmy, Culpeper's boatman friend
- Tom Kennedy as a Santa Rosita traffic cop (uncredited)
- Don Knotts as the nervous motorist
- Charles Lane as the airport manager
- Harry Lauter as a Santa Rosita Police Department police dispatcher (uncredited)
- Ben Lessy as George the steward (uncredited)
- Bobo Lewis as vintage biplane pilot's wife (uncredited)
- Jerry Lewis as the motorist who runs over Culpeper's hat (uncredited)
- Mike Mazurki as the miner bringing medicine to his wife
- Charles McGraw as Lt. Mathews of the Santa Rosita Police Department
- Tyler McVey as a police radio voice (voice only, uncredited)
- Cliff Norton as reporter (scene deleted)
- ZaSu Pitts as Gertie, the Santa Rosita Police Department Central Division's switchboard operator
- Carl Reiner as the Rancho Conejo airport tower controller
- Madlyn Rhue as secretary Schwartz of the Santa Rosita Police Department
- Roy Roberts as policeman outside Irwin & Ray's Garage
- Eddie Ryder as Rancho Conejo air traffic control tower staff member (uncredited)
- Jean Sewell as wife of the migrant truck driver forced off the road (uncredited)
- Arnold Stang as service station co-owner Ray
- Nick Stewart as the migrant truck driver forced off the road
- The Three Stooges (Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Joe DeRita) as Rancho Conejo Airport firemen
- Sammee Tong as a laundryman
- Doodles Weaver as a Dinkler Hardware Store employee (uncredited)
- Lennie Weinrib as a police radio voice, and as a fireman (voice only; uncredited)
- Jesse White as a Rancho Conejo air traffic controller
According to Mark Evanier, William Rose's original story outline indicated that the five principals who visit Smiler Grogan's crash site were intended for Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Phil Silvers, Jackie Gleason, and Red Skelton. Skelton was unable to take much time off from his television series, and thus agreed to only make a cameo appearance in the film. However, his demands for a high salary led to Stanley Kramer's turning him down. Lucille Ball, Martha Raye, Joan Davis, and Imogene Coca were suggested as the men's female companions. Sophie Tucker and Mae West were both suggested for the role of Milton Berle's mother-in-law, which went to Merman. Rose wanted Jack Benny to play the role of the detective monitoring the group throughout the film. The role of Smiler Grogan originally was intended for Buster Keaton.
According to Paul Scrabo, Paul Picerni originally was cast as the second detective at Smiler Grogan's crash site. Picerni was unable to appear in the film, but he recommended fellow Untouchables character Nicholas Georgiade for the role. According to Georgiade, he was to have another scene in which his character had a police radio conversation with Spencer Tracy's Culpeper character. The scene ultimately was not filmed. An early cast list indicated that Jerry Lewis' role originally was intended for Jack Paar. According to Michael Schlesinger, the role of Algernon Hawthorne was meant for Peter Sellers, who demanded too much money and was thus replaced by Terry-Thomas.
According to Robert Davidson, the role of Irwin originally was offered to Joe Besser, who was unable to participate when Sheldon Leonard and Danny Thomas could not give him time off from his co-starring role in The Joey Bishop Show. According to the Monthly Film Bulletin, Jackie Mason then was cast in the role of Irwin, but had to bow out because of his nightclub commitments. The role ultimately went to Marvin Kaplan. According to Mark Evanier, Bob Hope was to have a cameo in the film. During the production of Mad World, Hope was arguing with the studio about the future projects that he was due in his contract, and they ultimately refused to allow him to appear. Further telephone conversations in Captain Culpeper's office were scripted and filmed but ultimately removed before the film's premiere. Culpeper was to be disturbed by a "Dr. Chadwick" and by an "Uncle Mike", in addition to his wife and daughter. The roles were played by Elliott Reid and Morey Amsterdam respectively.
Actress Eve Bruce filmed a scene as a showgirl who asks Benjy Benjamin and Ding Bell to help her put on suntan lotion. The scene was cut, and she is uncredited. Cliff Norton is listed in the opening credits, but is nowhere to be found in the film. Norton had a role as a detective who appears at the Rancho Conejo airport. King Donovan, playing an airport official, also appeared in the Rancho Conejo scenes but was cut from the film. Don Knotts originally shot a second scene in which he tries to use a telephone in a diner. Also featured in the scene was Barbara Pepper.
In the early 1960s, screenwriter William Rose, then living in the United Kingdom, conceived the idea for a film (provisionally titled So Many Thieves, and later Something a Little Less Serious) about a comedic chase through Scotland. He sent an outline to Kramer, who agreed to produce and direct the film. The setting was shifted to America, and the working title changed to Where, but in America? then One Damn Thing After Another and then It's a Mad World, with Rose and Kramer adding additional Mads to the title as time progressed. Kramer considered adding a fifth "mad" to the title before deciding it was redundant but noted in interviews that he later regretted it.
Although well known for serious films such as Inherit the Wind and Judgment at Nuremberg (both starring Tracy), Kramer set out to make the ultimate comedy film. Filmed in Ultra Panavision 70 and presented in Cinerama (becoming one of the early single-camera Cinerama features produced), Mad World had an all-star cast, with dozens of major comedy stars from all eras of cinema appearing in it. The film followed a Hollywood trend in the 1960s of producing "epic" films as a way of wooing audiences away from television and back to movie theaters. The film's theme music was written by Ernest Gold with lyrics by Mack David. Kramer hosted a roundtable (including extensive clips) on the film with stars Caesar, Hackett and Winters as part of a special The Comedians, Stanley Kramer's Reunion with the Great Comedy Artists of Our Time broadcast in 1974 as part of ABC's Wide World of Entertainment. The last reported showing of the film on major network television was on ABC on July 16, 1979, and before that, on CBS on May 16, 1978.
The airport terminal scenes were filmed at the now-defunct Rancho Conejo Airport in Newbury Park, California, though the control tower shown was constructed only for filming. Other airplane sequences were filmed at the Sonoma County Airport north of Santa Rosa, California; at the Palm Springs International Airport; and in the skies above Thousand Oaks, California; Camarillo, California; and Orange County, California. In the Orange County scene, stuntman Frank Tallman flew a Beech model C-18S through a highway billboard advertising Coca-Cola. A communications mix-up resulted in the use of linen graphic sheets on the sign rather than paper, as planned. Linen, much tougher than paper, damaged the plane on impact. Tallman managed to fly it back to the airstrip, discovering that the leading edges of the wings had been smashed all the way back to the wing spars. Tallman considered that incident the closest he ever came to dying on film. (Both Tallman and Paul Mantz, Tallman's business partner and fellow flier on Mad World, eventually died in separate air crashes over a decade apart.)
In another scene, Tallman flew the plane through an airplane hangar at the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport, next to the Pacific Coast Air Museum, in Santa Rosa.
The fire escape and ladder miniature used in the final chase sequence is on display at the Hollywood Museum in Hollywood. Also, the Santa Rosita Fire Department's ladder truck was a 1960s Seagrave Fire Apparatus open-cab Mid-Mount Aerial Ladder.
Production began on April 26, 1962 and expected to end by December 7, 1962 but in fact continued for a while longer, apparently conflicting with the notion that Tracy's trip down the zip line into the pet store on December 6, 1962, was the last scene filmed. Veteran stuntman Carey Loftin was featured in the documentary, explaining some of the complexity as well as simplicity of stunts, such as the day he "kicked the bucket" as a stand-in for Durante.
The film was promoted as the first film made in "one-projector" Cinerama. (The original Cinerama process filmed scenes with three separate cameras. The three processed reels were projected by three electronically synchronized projectors onto a huge curved screen.) It originally was planned for three camera Cinerama, and some reports state that initial filming was done using three cameras but was abandoned. One camera Cinerama could be Super Panavision 70 or Ultra Panavision 70, which was essentially the Super Panavision 70 process with anamorphic compression at the edges of the image to give a much wider aspect ratio. When projected by one projector, the expanded 70mm image filled the wide Cinerama screen. Ultra Panavision 70 was used to film It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Other films shot in Ultra Panavision 70 and released in Cinerama include The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Hallelujah Trail, Battle of the Bulge, and Khartoum. Super Panavision 70 films released in Cinerama include Grand Prix, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Ice Station Zebra.
Animated credit sequence
Kramer's comedy was accentuated by many things, including the opening animated credits, designed by Saul Bass. The film begins with mention of Spencer Tracy, then the "in alphabetical order" mention of nine of the main cast (Berle, Caesar, Hackett, Merman, Rooney, Shawn, Silvers, Terry-Thomas, Winters), followed by hands switching these nine names two to three times over. Animation continues with paper dolls and a windup toy world spinning with several men hanging on to it and finishing with a man opening a door to the globe and getting trampled by a mad crowd. One of the animators who helped with the sequence was future Peanuts animator Bill Melendez.
The film opened at the newly built Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles on November 7, 1963. The UK premiere was on December 2, 1963 at the Coliseum Cinerama Theatre in London's West End. Distinguished by the largest number of stars to appear in a film comedy, Mad World opened to acclaim from many critics and tremendous box office receipts, becoming the 3rd highest-grossing film of 1963, quickly establishing itself as one of the top 100 highest-grossing films of all time when adjusted for inflation, earning an estimated theatrical rental figure of $26 million. It grossed $46,332,858 domestically and $60,000,000 worldwide, on a budget of $9.4 million. However, because costs were so high it earned a profit of only $1.25 million.
Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote that the film "is everything, down to redundant, that its extravagant title suggests. It's a wonderfully crazy and colorful collection of 'chase' comedy, so crowded with plot and people that it almost splits the seams of its huge cinerama packing and its 3-hour-and-12-minute length." Variety stated "There are a number of truly spectacular action sequences, and the stunts that have been performed seem incredible. The automobile capers are some of the most thrilling and daring on record, Mack Sennett notwithstanding." However, the review continued, "Certain pratfalls and sequences are unnecessarily overdone to the point where they begin to grow tedious ... but the plusses outweigh by far the minuses." Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the film "really bugged me ... the first few pratfalls have, perhaps their comic shock values. Thereafter the chase—and the homicidal mania—simply go on and on — countless cars are wrecked, a plane or two, an entire service station, the basement of a hardware store, fire escapes, a fire-engine tower. The only new idea, occurring well into the third hour, hinges on a surprise development in the character of a proud, plodding chief of detectives, played by Spencer Tracy — and even this proves disillusionment." Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post was mixed, writing "Yes, it is furious, fast and funny and it is also vast, vulgar and vexatious because Kramer has not given us one sympathetic character and because it is shown in Cinerama." Paul Nelson wrote in Film Quarterly: "The film manages to stay on its feet for a little while and trundle self-importantly along, but it soon becomes painfully clear that its feet are flat and its wheels are square. Kramer lacks all the essentials of good comedy; he has few ideas, no cinematic or comic technique (the huge screen certainly didn't help him here: just one more technical burden), no sense of comic structure, and above all, no sense of pace."
The film's great success inspired Kramer to direct and produce Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (also starring Tracy and also written by William Rose) and The Secret of Santa Vittoria (also scored by Ernest Gold and co-written by Rose). The movie was re-released in 1970 and earned an additional $2 million in rentals.
The film holds a 71% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 34 reviews, with an average score of 6.9/10. The consensus states "It's long, frantic, and stuffed to the gills with comic actors and set pieces—and that's exactly its charm." According to Paul Scrabo, Kramer began thinking about his success with Mad World during the 1970s, and considered bringing back many former cast members for a proposed film titled The Sheiks of Araby. William Rose was set to write the screenplay. Years later, Kramer announced a possible Mad World sequel, which was to be titled It's a Funny, Funny World.
Awards and honors
The film won the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing and received Oscar nominations for its color cinematography, film editing, sound recording, music score, and original song for the title song. It also received two Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy and for Jonathan Winters' performance as Best Actor - Musical or Comedy, respectively losing to Tom Jones and Alberto Sordi for The Devil.
The film is recognized by the American Film Institute in the following lists:
- 2000: AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs – #40
Existing footage is in the form of original 70 mm elements of the general release version (recent restored versions shown in revival screenings are derived from these elements). A 1991 VHS and LaserDisc from MGM/UA was an extended 183-minute version of the film, with most of the reinserted footage derived from elements stored in a Los Angeles warehouse about to be demolished. According to a 2002 interview with master preservationist Robert A. Harris, this extended version is not a true representation of the original roadshow cut and included footage that was not meant to be shown in any existing version.
A restoration effort was made by Harris in an attempt to bring the film back as close as possible to the original roadshow release. The project to go ahead with the massive restoration project would gain approval from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (parent company of UA), although it did require a necessary budget for it to proceed.
Released on January 21, 2014 as a two Blu-ray and three DVD set, the Criterion Collection release contains two versions of the film, a restored 4K digital film transfer of the 159-minute general release version and a new 197-minute high-definition digital transfer, reconstructed and restored by Robert A. Harris using visual and audio material from the longer original "road-show" version not seen in over 50 years. Some scenes have been returned to the film for the first time, and the Blu-ray features a 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. It also features a new audio commentary from It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World aficionados Mark Evanier, Michael Schlesinger, and Paul Scrabo, a new documentary on the film's visual and sound effects, an excerpt from a 1974 talk show hosted by Stanley Kramer featuring Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, and Jonathan Winters, a press interview from 1963 featuring Kramer and cast members, excerpts about the film's influence taken from the 2000 American Film Institute program 100 Years ... 100 Laughs, a two-part 1963 episode of Canadian TV program Telescope that follows the film's press junket and premiere, a segment from the 2012 special The Last 70mm Film Festival featuring surviving Mad World cast and crew members hosted by Billy Crystal, a selection of Stan Freberg's original TV and radio ads for the film with a new introduction by Freberg, trailers and radio spots from the 1960s/70s, and a booklet featuring an essay by film critic Lou Lumenick with new illustrations by cartoonist Jack Davis, along with a map of the shooting locations by artist Dave Woodman.
Various subsequent films that employed the concept of a comedic search for money featuring an ensemble cast have either been speculated by critics, or confirmed by their creators, to have been modeled after It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, including Scavenger Hunt (1979), Million Dollar Mystery (1987), Rat Race (2001) and Three Kings (2011). The title music and some of the incidental cues were included in the documentary ToryBoy The Movie.
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- It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World at the American Film Institute Catalog
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- It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World at AllMovie
- It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World at Rotten Tomatoes
- It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World trailer on YouTube
- It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World 1963 Press Interview on YouTube
- Telescope (CBC) for "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" Featuring Jonathan Winters - Part 1 on YouTube
- Telescope (CBC) for "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" Featuring Jonathan Winters - Part 2 on YouTube
- It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: Nothing Succeeds Like Excess an essay by Lou Lumenick at the Criterion Collection
- Article documenting Robert Harris' attempt to restore It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World at the Wayback Machine (archived April 3, 2002)
- Writer Mark Evanier discusses his favorite movie
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