on August 14, 2005
Stanley Kramer's IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963, UA) is my favorite comedy of the sound era and the most fondly remembered movie of my 1960's childhood in the San Francisco Bay Area. It has a sunny and airy mood, the comedy cast of a lifetime, sharp and hilarious dialogue, an irrestible greed plot, a melodic music score by Ernest Gold, and furious pacing for almost, or just over, three hours (depending on what version you are watching). The more I watch it on DVD at 161 minutes or at 182 minutes on Turner Classic Movies, the more I love it and want to see the long-lost 192 minute Cinerama world premiere version.
MAD WORLD does something right that every other movie of its type gets wrong--it starts a chase plot in reel one, then develops character outward as we go along. It does not spend 45 minutes setting up the story, as similar movies do. In the opening scene, a dying millionaire (Jimmy Durante) tells a group of people in the Southern California desert that a large sum of money is buried "under a big W" in a park south of San Diego. Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett are gag writers headed for Las Vegas. Milton Berle is headed for a vacation with wife Dorothy Provine and Ethel Herman as the mother-in-law to beat all mothers-in-law. Sid Caesar and Edie Adams are a dentist and his wife. And Jonathan Winters is driving a van of furniture. Monitoring all of them, as they race after the money, is Spencer Tracy as the coastal city (a compilation of Long Beach and Santa Monica) police captain with a wall map.
So we have a slapstick chase movie to end all slapstick chase movies. (WARNING: PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD!!) Heading a golden age of television cast are Caesar and Adams, who get to fly in a makeshift plane, then get locked in a hardware store basement. In a career performance, Winters hilariously gets to completely demolish a desert gas station. Berle has a running battle with the mother-in-law from Hell, Merman, who in turn has been given some gloriously acidic dialogue by superb sreenwriters William and Tania Rose. The Roses have never been given enough credit here. All of the sublime dialogue is on the printed page. Along the way, Winters meets up with Phil Silvers, who in turn mixes up with miner Mike Mazurki. Silvers is staggeringly funny with a car at the bottom of a canyon, then later drowning in a river. Rooney and Hackett are in another plane that flies through a Coke billboard after pilot Jim Backus knocks himself unconscious. There is also Dick Shawn as Merman's lifeguard son at Silver Strand Beach. And a phone running battle in his inner police office with Tracy and his wife and daughter that escalates over a simple vacation. And this is only part one, before the film's intermission! Part two has some of the funniest dialogue and greatest car chases in all of movie history for me. And the grand climax has never been topped for me--not even by silent era clowns.
MAD WORLD got mixed reviews when it opened city by city in late 1963, right before President Kennedy's tragic death in Dallas. The positive ones praised a wonderful cast and hilarious chase plot. The negative reviews said it was too long and repetitious at 193 minutes. So producer/director Kramer and his editors carefully cut the Cinerama world premiere version, two months into its run, to 162 minutes. It played in 70mm Cinerama engaggements at 162 minutes until 35mm engagements in Spring 1965. It was further cut then to 154 minutes with roadshow music and intermission removed. All 35mm prints today--and since 1965--run 154 minutes. The DVD, which may or may not still be for sale, restores roadshow music and runs 161 minutes. At an aspect ratio of 2.55, it also blessedly comes close to restoring the ultra-wide widescreen images of the original film. Maddeningly, though, this 161 minute DVD print is curiously missing the Oscar-nominated title song overture.
But there is also a 182 minute print of MAD WORLD (!), restored by my dear filmmaker friend Paul Scrabo, MGM executives, and a dying Kramer in 1991. That is the version that hit VHS and laserdisc in 1991 with a splendid hour-long documentary that I wish could be seen nowadays. It briefly surfaced on one DVD edition, then removed from another that has no bonus material. (So we have two different 161 minute DVD prints that may both be on moratorium! One with a lot of bonuses and one with none. It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world!) Anyway, the 1991 documentary combines behind-the-scenes filmmaking with cast/crew reminiscences. Almost everyone recalls a lot of hard work in desert heat, but also a heck of a lot of slapstick fun. One other thing I love about the movie is that the Southern California desert landscapes are deserted for miles--no other cars and no homes, just an occasional truck and gas station.
For 22 years, Paul and I and others have been on a futile quest to restore IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD back to its original 192 minute Cinerama world premiere length. The closest we have come is the 182 minute reconstruction on home video and cable TV, and it includes preview material. So we are still missing at least ten minutes of crucial visual material and as much as fifteen minutes. Included in the still lost material (I have the complete script--I think) are Shawn stealing his married girlfriend's (!) convertible, more of Buster Keaton's cameo as a crook, getting Jim Backus INTO a shower he subsequently is removed from, the identity of a strange man in the police station (he is a police reporter told to sit on the story for now), Tracy learning who Silvers is (an unemployed piano player and gambler), and the beginning of almost all the police office scenes. Current prints, including the 182, join them in progress.
There are easy-to-find Internet articles on Stanley Kramer's immortal masterpiece that claim the great Robert Harris and James Katz, who restored VERTIGO and MY FAIR LADY among others, want to reconstruct MAD WORLD. My Internet sources claim Harris has in his possession "188 minutes of bona fide world premiere footage." Only four minutes missing off the original 192 minute print--close enough for me! The Internet claims further that Harris just is waiting for a $2 million purchase order--lunch money in today's Hollywood--to do the work that needs to be done to restore this wonderful movie back to the length it ran when it opened in Los Angeles on November 7, 1963; the version that early in 1964 got six Oscar nominations.
We owe it to the memory of a great filmmaker and a magnificent cast, many still very much alive, to reconstruct and restore IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD from 154 or 161 minutes to 192 minutes for theatrical re-release (it has always been an audience favorite) and letterboxed 2.76 ratio home video sales. It is a precious part of our cinematic and cultural heritage. THIS REVIEW IS BASED ON THE 161 MINUTE DVD and 182 MINUTE CABLE TV PRINTS.
on January 27, 2014
This has been one of my favorite movies forever, and I own it on Laserdisc (either one or two versions, don't remember which) and DVD (at least two versions) already. So this edition was a must-have for me.
I got a kick out of the 197-minute extended version and I recommend it to anyone who knows and appreciates this movie already. I thought many of the added scenes in the really did bring value to the movie; some of them nicely filled in some continuity gaps that exist in the shorter releases.
However, I think that the extended version should NOT be the one you show to friends who have never seen the movie before - because of the variable quality of the material that Robert Harris and his team had to work with, some of the inserts are just too jarring if you're not already familiar with the movie. Show them the 154 minute, more polished version first.
Note that the extended version includes the original overture, intermission, entr'acte, and exit music. During part of the intermission, there is a time where the screen is totally black for several minutes, but police radio calls are played periodically on audio only. This was (and still is) intended to keep the audience posted on the action that is continuing to happen in the timeline of the film during intermission. It's great because, again, it provides better continuity - for example, you hear that Finch (Berle) and Hawthorne (Terry-Thomas) have stopped at an Avis location and rented a blue Chevy, which explains how they ended up with that that new blue car after intermission. (Ahh, product placement even back then! :-) But it is a bit unnerving, because there are longish periods of black screen with no sound at all, and your impulse is to think something went wrong with your Blu-Ray player or TV. Just relax, all is well :-)
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is a classic comedy. Combining big name talent, it tells the story of what happen when a group of strangers finds out where $350,000 is buried. Soon, these normally law-abiding citizens are speeding, stealing, and destroying property. What they don't know is the police are observing them the entire time. As the situations get more out of hand, the movie gets funnier.
I wasn't that impressed the first time I saw this movie. But on repeated viewings with friends, I've come to enjoy it more. The actors are phenomenal and the material has a timelessly funny quality to it. I'm young enough that I don't recognize all the stars, but that doesn't diminish my enjoyment at all.
I was excited when I found out that the movie was coming to DVD, but I've got to say the final product disappointed me. I have only seen the "restored" VHS version that's been out for years. This DVD goes back to the original theatrical release and cuts out some of my favorite scenes. They are included in the deleted scenes section, but it's a very poorly thought out section that makes it hard to find what you want to see. The DVD does include good picture and sound, and I have always enjoyed the documentary included from the videos.
This is a classic movie that everyone should see. However, if you're a fan of the recent videos, be forewarned that this is not the entire movie you are used to seeing. Hopefully, this movie will be reissued on DVD with this footage added back.
on October 5, 2001
I really wanted to like this DVD. I have the movie on VHS and enjoy it a lot. My reason for rating it so low was that it had almost 23 minutes missing from what was on the restored DVD version, including several memorable Phil Sivers moments. I see no reason why a DVD should offer less than the VHS. Shame on the producers of the DVD. What could they possibly have been thinking?
on March 12, 1999
As the first film I ever paid to see as a child (I was 11, and so proud of saving up the money!) I loved "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World". It was slapstick on a grand scale, with a clever commentary on greed thrown in. And the cast! Tracy, Berle, Caesar, Silvers, Winters, Rooney, Hackett, Shawn, Terry-Thomas, Falk, Rochester...and the 3 Stooges had a bit part, along with Jack Benny, Jerry Lewis, Buster Keaton, so many more! For one of the first generation of 'TV Kids', I was in Heaven!
With adulthood, and changing tastes, I can see some of the film's flaws...It's too long, Spencer Tracy is obviously in poor health and straining to keep his energy level up, some of the scenes (especially the early ones) lack pacing, and the Cinerama format almost guarantees you'll miss part of the action, even in a wide-screen format.
But the film's sense of joy is undimmed, and the new digitally-remastered edition Amazon.com is offering gives them full attention. Enjoy again Rooney and Hackett's mishandling of an airplane, Jonathan Winter's gas station destruction scene (a classic!), and, of course the bodies-flying finale.
And hang in there...After the film is a 'Making of...' documentary, with FABULOUS ancedotes by the surviving cast members...It alone is worth the cost of the film!
After 36 years, I STILL love this movie!
on December 6, 2013
......IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD on Blu-Ray released by The Criterion Collection!!! Maybe it's my age, having first devoured this wacky masterpiece (starring more comedians than you can shake a shtick at) as a young lad in an actual theater, in Cinerama, no less, or maybe it's because of the dozens of views on the old boob tube, Dialing For Dollars, or holidays (usually New Year's), but this crazy cinematic comedy concoction is hot wired to my cerebral cortex. I've purchased this three times already, on VHS,LaserDisc and the Walmart "exclusive" Blu-Ray, but since this new release is from Criterion it will probably be my fourth and last, unless they come out with a hologram version in my lifetime! Criterion has restored the film to a length of 197 minutes, and their website states that there is material on the set not seen since the original "road show" version. As usual for Criterion, oodles of extra material is included. The price of the set is reasonable as well and they include both DVD AND Blu-Ray versions. I'm sure that sales figures for all the previous releases show there's a large audience who already own at least one of the older releases, so the lower price point makes a purchase more attractive. Just reading the product description is making me drool and crave Junior Mints! If you're reading this you probably are a rabid fan like me, so I don't think I have to go into a plot description, but since this film features a cornucopia of classic comics (and a couple of ringers like Spencer Tracy) I'm inclined to list them all, in alphabetical order......
Eddie "Rochester" Anderson
Joe E. Brown
Selma Diamond (voice only)
Edward Everett Horton
The Three Stooges
I probably missed a couple of silent film stars that I'm not familiar with, but you have to agree, WOW! What a cast! The film also doubles as a historical document, since all but less than a handful of the actors are no longer with us. If there is a God and Heaven, I wouldn't doubt that they all sit down and watch this once a year themselves......
POSTSCRIPT: Thank you for all your kind comments. There's no doubt there's A LOT of people out their that hold this movie in high esteem, many with a touch of nostalgia. I received it yesterday and was pleasantly surprised because I thought it was coming out on the 28th. There are two complete versions of the film included, a 2 3/4 hour "standard" version, which is basically equal to last years single disc movie-only release, and an extended version running over 3 1/4 hours that includes even more rediscovered footage than on the old LaserDisc set. The extended restoration is really something to see, but if you already own the movie-only Blu-Ray, are happy with the picture and don't have a lot of interest in all the addition features, you need not buy this. It seems that all the extras from the old LaserDisc set were carried over, and there's a bunch of new ones to boot. It's great that you get the Blu-Ray (2 discs) and the regular DVD (3 discs) which come in a five panel foldout. Now my mother will be able to watch it since she only has a DVD player. To maintain continuity, they have inserted still photographs for the scenes that exist only on audio, and have subtitles on the video where the audio is missing, like they did with the A Star Is Born and Lost Horizon restorations. While some of the damaged footage from the LaserDisc set has been restored, some of the recently discovered footage is sometimes briefly in rough shape. Some reviewers are complaining that the additional footage (some of which was saved at the last minute from the garbage!) should have been COMPLETELY restored. Before making any judgements though, watch the Restoration Featurette first, after seeing the actual film sections they had to work with and you'll agree they did their best with what they had. There's a nice (as always) Criterion booklet with an essay, and as a crowning touch, they've included a treasure map!
Among the plethora of extras, there's a great gallery of TV and radio ads hosted by creator and cast member, the 87 year old Stan Freberg. The neat black and white television commercials feature most of the first tier cast, including Merman, Caesar, Hackett, Rooney, Silvers and Winters. The film's premiere is shown via a two-part Canadian TV show, "Telescope," unfortunately one viewing of this is enough. There's a great 35 minute segment of a talk show hosted by Stanley Kramer where his guests, Hackett, Winters and Caesar (in their wide-collared 70's finery) reminisce about the shoot. Their humorous camaraderie is infectious, especially when Hackett gets on a roll. A 'IAMMMMW' section from the 2000 AFI "100 Years...100 Laughs" program (with a strange overly-saturated orange tint) features some of the cast and contemporary comics talking about the film's influence. A 2012 reunion of surviving cast (Chase, Freberg, Kaplan, Reiner & Winters) and crew members gathered for a showcase of the restored film as part of "The Last 70 mm Film Festival." Hosted by Billy Crystal, it's bittersweet seeing Kaplan, Rooney, and especially Winters (with the back of his hand completely bruised from hospital needles) in wheelchairs. A new 36min. documentary on the film's special effects (visual & sound) is fascinating, featuring rare behind-the-scenes film footage. I have to agree with other reviewers that the older "Something A Little Less Serious" documentary from previous editions is missed. It's absense, like Smiler's buried loot, a mystery. After I have time to devour everything, including the DVDs, I can compare them to the Blu-Ray, which is just fantastic. You'll be amazed at the new lossless soundtrack as well. And for all the expected haters who will probably complain about this or that, get a life!
POSTSCRIPT #2: I'm happy to report that the DVD quality is superb as well. Even if you only have a DVD system, buy this. When you get around to upgrading you'll already have the Blu-Ray. As I previously noted, the excellent hour-long documentary "Something A Little Less Serious: A Tribute to 'It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World'" that was included on the deluxe VHS, LaserDIsc and initial Blu-Ray release is not included here. It's really a shame, when I bought the Criterion set I sold my copy of the first Blu-Ray...my bad. I missed the documentary so much I re-purchased the older release! Otherwise, the Criterion set is STELLAR, and with licensing may go out-of-print in the future, so don't delay.......
on January 14, 2014
Though I don't classify it as the funniest film ever made, IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD is undoubtedly one of the biggest cinematic comedies ever mounted in terms of scale - offering a veritable who's who of classic Golden Age comedians in a picture that has long generated a love/hate relationship among viewers. While the movie's artistic merits are debatable, there's no denying that Criterion has produced one of the most praiseworthy restorations we've seen on home video in years with their new Blu-Ray/DVD edition of Stanley Kramer's gargantuan 1963 release.
The screenplay by William Rose and his wife, Tania (who had previously written the British car rally comedy "Genevieve"), opens with a group of motorists watching in awe as Smiler Grogan (Jimmy Durante) speeds off a highway overpass, crashing into a ravine where he reveals (prior to literally kicking the bucket) that a treasure is buried under a "Big W" in Palm Springs, California. With this hot tip, the motorists stage a frantic mad dash for the coast, splitting up into different groups and getting into every kind of predicament imaginable. Their progress is tracked by Captain T.G. Culpeper (Spencer Tracy), ready for retirement after spending years as an honest cop, wanting only to bring the situation to a close in order to round out his distinguished career.
The crazies he's after include J. Russell Finch (Milton Berle), his wife Emmeline (Dorothy Provine), her mother (Ethel Merman) and, eventually, brother (a funny Dick Shawn); Melville Crump (Sid Caesar) and his wife (Edie Adams); botanist J. Algernon Hawthorne (Terry-Thomas); Ding Bell (Mickey Rooney) and Benjy Benjamin (Buddy Hackett); and the irascible Lennie Pike (Jonathan Winters). However, if that wasn't enough, Kramer filled his supporting roles a wealth of talented and formidable performers, many of whom had already achieved fame or would later to go onto find it - names like Jim Backus, Joe E. Brown, William Demarest, Andy Devine, Selma Diamond, Peter Falk, Norman Fell, Stan Freberg, Sterling Holloway, Don Knotts, and Carl Reiner, plus cameos from Jerry Lewis, Jack Benny, Buster Keaton and the Three Stooges for good measure.
Having not lived through its era, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" is a tough nut to crack. The movie means a good deal more to nostalgic viewers than anyone else, especially since its comedy is seldom more than gently amusing. The big laughs one would expect from the assembled cast seldom materialize throughout the course of its three hours, and yet as I've come to find out over the years, the movie grows on you. It's not hilarious, but it's likeable, and serves as a time capsule of its day - and where else in the history of cinema have so many legends come together for one motion picture? Even if the film is less than the sum of its parts, seeing these performers working together alone is worthwhile, and Kramer's use of the wide scope frame also makes his comic odyssey visually stimulating. It's not a classic, but it is a one-of-a-kind motion picture experience whose place in history is stamped by the talent who worked on it.
While the film was heavily promoted as a Cinerama feature, Kramer actually shot the film in the 70mm Ultra Panavision process, and the movie originally opened in Roadshow release at 192 minutes in November of 1963. United Artists, however, quickly pared the film down to 163 minutes (later 154 mins. minus overture/intermission/exit music) -- some have claimed to accommodate more screenings in theaters -- and for many years the longer Roadshow version of the movie was thought to be lost forever. MGM/UA attempted to restore what they could salvage of the lost footage in the early `90s for a laserdisc release that ran 20 minutes longer, but was hampered by sequences that were inserted in the wrong order and also transferred at varying aspect ratios.
Working with restoration authority Robert A. Harris, Criterion has produced a spectacular new, 197-minute presentation exclusively for their new Blu-Ray/DVD release. The care that went into this production is evident throughout, and it is truly remarkable what Criterion and Harris were able to find. This new restoration offers footage added back into the film for the first time, as well as newly remastered deleted scenes that are an enhancement from the prior attempt at restoring the full Roadshow version - scenes are here inserted back in their proper place, others that were "warped" for Cinerama exhibition have been corrected, sequences with Japanese subtitles that were zoomed-in and cropped have been fixed as best they can, and others lacking visuals have been carefully matched with stills from the movie (several audio drop-outs have also been rectified with subtitles). Given that none of the original film elements exist - and that the added scenes come from a myriad of sources that have been ravaged by time, sticking out visually from the rest of the picture - it's amazing how much of the "lost footage" has been resurrected here on Blu-Ray, and how well it plays together.
Another notable aspect of the restoration was the decision to lift the color off the laserdisc master for some of the excised material - a necessity given that those sequences have faded even further over the 20 years since their previous exhibition, and offer virtually no color when viewed today. By using the same process that converts 2D movies to 3D, Harris and Criterion were able to add color to newly rescanned in HD - but now-monochrome - material. It's fascinating to see their cutting-edge efforts in action, even if the end result carries B&W borders along the image (since the laserdisc didn't transfer the full aspect ratio of the film, no color guide existed for that part of the image).
The 1080p image itself otherwise is just brilliant -- working from the same gorgeous master MGM produced for their earlier Blu-Ray release, which offered pinpoint detail. This is what every catalog release ought to look like on Blu-Ray but seldom does, and if the 197-minute version offers too much "Mad World" for you (even the movie's Intermission "police calls" have been reinstated) ,the "Shorter Roadshow" 163-minute version is also included here on its own disc, with both pictures offering a robust 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack that does justice to Ernest Gold's raucous, infectious - and admittedly repetitive - score.
Extras, as you'd anticipate, are in abundance, though fans may lament the loss of the older laserdisc documentary, which made its way onto MGM's prior DVD and Blu-Ray releases. A group commentary track with fans Mark Evanier, Mike Schlesinger, and Paul Scrabo offers as much trivia on the extended version as you'd ever want to hear; excerpts from a 1974 Kramer-hosted talk show include recollections from Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett and Jonathan Winters; a press interview from `63 and two episodes from the TV program "Telescope" offer priceless, vintage footage of the cast behind the scenes; a 10 minute extract from the 2000 AFI TV special "100 Years...100 Laughs" features comments from admirers like David Alan Grier and Whoopi Goldberg (who starred in the unfortunate semi-remake "Rat Race"); Sten Freberg's original TV and radio ads with his introduction; trailers and radio spots; and footage from a 2012 event, "The Last 70mm Film Festival," hosted by Billy Crystal and offering appearances from surviving cast and crew members. It's a shame the program ends at the 38 minute mark - one wishes the conversation had lasted longer, particularly considering half of the featurette is spent introducing the various participants.
The package is housed in a cardboard foldout case with Jack Davis' original artwork and a three-disc DVD copy that offers a standard-def version of the same presentation. For fans, this is as much as one could hope for - "Mad" indeed!
on February 15, 2002
I was pleased to see the release of this movie as it has always been a favorite. Upon viewing the DVD I was rather dissappointed. The Laserdisc Deluxe Box set was in the correct 2:55 screen ratio and had a run time close to the original. This DVD is cropped at 2:35 and is missing many of the scenes that were included in the LD set. Shame, shame MGM - you did it right for the LD and then dropped the ball on DVD...
on August 22, 2003
If you love this movie, as I do, don't buy this DVD. Years ago a restored version with added sequences was released on VHS. Great effort was put into the restoration and the added scenes were funny and they greatly improved the flow of the movie. The restoration was released with great fanfare and has appeared on TV several times. Now for some reason MGM has released the pre-restoration version on DVD. After years of seeing the restored version, watching this DVD is wrenching. Scenes I've become accustomed to seeing are missing (relegated to a collection of deleted scenes on the DVD's flipside) and the whole experiece is like watchng a movie edited for comercial television (and we all know how annoying that is). I have only myself to blame for getting stuck with this DVD. It never occured to me that MGM would pull something like this. I think it's obvious that they intend to put out a better version in the future. Even the packaging of this DVD is lame, they don't even make use of the famous cast caricature painting by Jack Davis. MGM put this version out knowing that later when they put out a decent version people like me will buy it again. Don't get played like that; avoid this DVD and wait for the real thing.
on September 26, 2001
...what is this with MGM DVD? I have a tape of this wonderful movie that is the restored version, about 20 minutes longer. Why was this version not used for the DVD? Why not a 65mm copy? I guess we'll see this come out later as a "Special Edition." MGM has been doing this lately, the most recent example was "The Greatest Story Ever Told." Although created from a beautiful 65mm interpositive, it was advertised as "restored" but turned out to be the same old cut version with some additional music. I would think twice about purchasing any more of these classics from MGM. This film is excellent and we play it on a regular basis. I would have rated it five stars if it was not the cut version.