It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
In 1963, Stanley Kramer set out to make the ultimate epic comedy, and he succeeded with the movie It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Like Kramer’s previous movies, Inherit the Wind and Judgment at Nuremburg, this movie is not without its share of movie stars, this movie features practically every big name in comedy film history. To go along with its grand scale, Kramer filmed It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in Ultra Panavision 70 and presented it in Cinerama. And what makes this a bona-fide epic film, is it has an intermission! Epic films became a staple in 1960’s cinema as a way for Hollywood to draw patrons away from their television sets and into movie theaters. What’s ironic, when you review the cast list for It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, many of its stars had become big names on television.
The movie begins with conman “Smiler” Grogan (Jimmy Durante) recklessly driving on a mountainous road in Southern California. He speedily passes our main characters driving in their various vehicles before careening his car off a cliff. The drivers (Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Mickey Rooney, & Phil Silvers) who witnessed a horrific accident rush to Grogan’s body. Just before he “kicks the bucket” conman Grogan revels to all of them about $350,000 of hidden money and clue as to where cash buried. Now the race begins, as each character with their companions heads out to find the treasure through a series of hilarious hijinks. Along the way others join in for the crazy, wild search.
This movie features what is an undoubtedly hilarious cast featuring Hollywood comedians from the early days of cinema to the early 60’s. There are major and minor appearances by Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, Phil Silvers, Terry-Thomas, Jonathan Winters, Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson, William Demarest, Jimmy Durante, Peter Falk, Jim Backus, Jack Benny, Buster Keaton, Don Knotts, Jerry Lewis, The Three Stooges and many others. Spencer Tracy plays a sympathetic role as Captain T. G. Culpeper who is being forced into retirement from the police force, but wants to end his career by solving the Grogan case and finding the money. This performance marked his 74th starring performance in a feature film within his 37 year career. After this movie, due to health reasons, it would be four years until Tracy would star in his next and final film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Another notable production story is that of compulsive gambler Phil Silvers, who had a running crap game going during production. Jerry Lewis, who has a small cameo in the film, claims he stopped by the set and let $500 poorer.
The movie has themes of, loyalty, deceitfulness, persistence, and greed. This movie is an exploration through the consequences of what each of us is capable of for a small fortune. Only one character, Emmeline (Dorothy Provine), who has wanted no part of the scheme from the beginning, sees how the series of events has affected everyone involved including her own family. All other characters seem oblivious to the harm being done to themselves, others, and public and private property through their pursuits.
After the movie stay tuned to TCM at 11 PM (ET) for another recommended mad, crazy caper starring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Natalie Wood, The Great Race.
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