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It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World(1963)
On a winding desert highway, eight vacation-bound motorists share an experience that alters their plans -- and their lives! After a mysterious stranger divulges the location of a stolen fortune, they each speed off in a mind-bending, car-bashing race for the loot -- and the most side-splitting laughfest in history. Spencer Tracy heads a hilariously zany cast that stars Hollywood's greatest comedians and features cameo appearances by every joker and jester in the business, from Don Knotts and Jerry Lewis to The Three Stooges. Filmed in UltraPanavision.
For more about It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and the It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World Blu-ray release, see It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on July 9, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney
Director: Stanley Kramer
» See full cast & crew
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World Blu-ray Review
Stanley Kramer's epic comedy debuts on Blu.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, July 9, 2011
As unintentionally hilarious as it may sound, evidently producer-director Stanley Kramer rejected It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (that's fiveŚcount 'emŚfive "mads") for the title of his epic 1963 all-star comedy, fearing a quintet of adjectives was overkill. Why four "mads" was deemed acceptable is anyone's guess, but some wags may argue that whether four or five, the many "mads" may actually refer to the different versions of the film which have at least been purported to exist. It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World has an incredibly loyal legion of fans, many of whom saw the film (or at least they claim to have) on its original release. Part of the confusion is that over the many years since the film's release, preview showings have gotten conflated with roadshow showings, and even general release showings. The simple fact is that, generally speaking (you anal-retentive types can skip the next part, thanks very much), It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World has only been seen by the public at large (as opposed to preview screening audiences) in two versions, an approximately 192 minute version which played for a short while at the film's initial roadshow Cinerama engagements, and then, more familiarly, an edited approximately 154 to 163 minute version (depending on how much extra-curricular music, a la Overture and Entr'Acte, was used), which was the general release version and the one that by far the most people have seen and which has become seared on the collective memory. Several home video releases have restored various "lost" elements, and that has only added to the confusion, as for example the laserdisc and Special Edition DVD versions have different footage included, either interpolated into the feature itself or included as supplemental footage, editions which have variously been termed "Special Extended Edition" or "Restored Edition," not always correctly. And so let's just cut to the chase (no pun intended, considering the plot of this film) and state outright that this Blu-ray is the general release version, sans complete Entr'Acte music, and therefore runs 159 minutes (and 29 seconds, but who's counting?). OK, with that out of the way, can we actually talk about the film now?
All-star epics in 1963 weren't quite the rage they would soon become (for better or worse) with everything from George Stevens' mammoth The Greatest Story Ever Told to a slew of (actual, as opposed to unintentional, and yes, I am talking about the Stevens film) disaster flicks like Airport and The Towering Inferno. More importantly and to the point, however, is that all-star comedy epics were simply unheard of, and the cast list of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World may have indeed been what lured audiences in droves to the film. This was a film that quite simply featured virtually every big name comedy star of its day, either in starring roles or in any number of funny (and sometimes odd) cameos. While the putative stars of the film might be regarded as either B-listers or at least past their A-list prime, they include such indisputable comic geniuses as Milton Berle, Sid Caesar and Jonathan Winters (in what is perhaps his best film showcase). But dig a little deeper into the supporting cast and cameos, and the riches soon become apparent. A brief listing includes such legendary names as Mickey Rooney, Phil Silvers, Terry-Thomas, Buddy Hackett, Jimmy Durante, Jack Benny, Jerry Lewis, Stan Freberg, Sterling Holloway, Edward Everett Horton, Buster Keaton, Don Knotts, ZaSu Pitts, Carl Reiner, Jesse White and, just for good measure, The Three Stooges. Wow.
For anyone who has never seen It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, the plot couldn't be simpler, and in fact it's been ripped off by any number of lesser "comedies" through the years. A thief (Jimmy Durante) mortally injured in a precipitous car accident reveals to a gaggle of other passing motorists that he has stashed hundreds of thousands of dollars in stolen loot in Santa Rosita State Park under a "giant W." That of course leads to a madcap chase as each group of passing motorist wants to be the first to the Park in order to find this mysterious "W" and dig up the moolah. That's it, pure and simple, and it's that very simplicity that works so brilliantly in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, as little extraneous things like "character arcs" and "three act structure" are thankfully left by the wayside in favor of one delirious bit after another, an escalading Rube Goldberg contraption of screw ups, mishaps and general chaos, explodes across the screen in a carnival of insanity and ludicrous merriment.
In a film this stuffed to the gills with priceless comic bits, it almost seems churlish to single out even a few to give some indication of the manic craziness in store for the viewer. My personal favorites happen to be Ethel Merman, in one of her very few film roles, as the harridan mother-in-law of a hapless Milton Berle, but I also have great fondness for the Tex Avery-esque destruction of a desert gas station at the hands of an out of control Jonathan Winters (and note the wonderful contributions from Marvin Kaplan and Arnold Stang as the hapless attendants victimized by Winters' increasing rage). It's also incredible fun to see Spencer Tracy's button down detective suddenly go completely batty in the last act of the film and start acting just as desperately looney-tunes as the rest of the motley crew has been for the preceding two hours.
It's a testament to producer-director Stanley Kramer and scenarist William Rose that despite the film's gargantuan length (even in its general release form), It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World rarely feels bloated or padded. This is largely due to the creators' brilliant decision to never stay with any given group for very long, giving us one great set up and punch line (visual or otherwise) and then moving right along to the next. And despite the fact that so much of the humor here is based on the outright destruction of virtually everything these characters come into contact with, the gags are so ingeniously staged that despite a certain repetitiveness nothing ever seems overly stale.
It's easy to say "they don't make 'em like this anymore," but the simple fact is, they really hadn't made 'em like this at the time of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World's initial release. It was Kramer's particular genius to be able to envision a big budget, all-star comedy, something that had probably never even entered the minds of very many Hollywood bigwigs, let alone made it to the greenlighting stage. This is a film which captures a certain screwball ethos and radically reimagines it for the jet set age of the early 1960's. It is in fact something akin to screwball on steroids, and Kramer's firm and technically near perfect directorial hand guides the incredible cast through their paces with what seems like complete and utter ease.
This is one of those films which may not be the overt masterpiece its most ardent aficionados insist it is, but which is so distinctive and downright lovable that it becomes easy to overlook its occasional flaws. It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is very like a live action cartoon and now close to 50 years after its original release is still able, like the best cartoons, to delight children of all ages. This stunning new Blu-ray should help continue that propensity for at least another generation.
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World Blu-ray, Video Quality
If there's rampant confusion about the different versions of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, chances are they'll pale in comparison to what may be coming with regard to the source elements used for this new Blu-ray release. Encoded via AVC in 1080p and in its widest ever home video aspect ratio of 2.76:1, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World looks, in a word, spectacular. The text based prelude to the Something a Little Less Serious featurette claims this release is based on the "35mm version," by which I assume they mean the general release version which was released to theaters in that format. It seems obvious to me this was sourced from a 65mm element for a number of reasons. The wider than ever aspect ratio argues against a 35mm source element from a technical standpoint, but there is also online information indicating a new high-res scan of a 65mm source element was made of this film some time ago, and I personally believe that is what must have been used for this transfer, so solid and at times mind bogglingly detailed is this new Blu-ray. (If I'm proven wrong about this, I will happily post an update to the review). This is quite simply one of the best looking catalog releases in recent memory, all the more remarkable for being a budget priced Walmart exclusive (at least as of the writing of this review). This is easily the best, sharpest and clearest we've ever seen It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in any of its home video presentations. Colors pop splendidly and are lusciously saturated throughout the film. Dimensionality and depth of field in the many outdoor shots is stupendous. Fine detail is often staggering, offering clearer resolution on everything from the mundane (at last the credits are readable) to somewhat more meaningful (Jimmy Durante's wisps of white hair are now clearly visible against the rocky desert background early in the film). Best of all, typical bugaboos like close cropped costume patterns and foliage never devolve into shimmering aliasing. In fact about the only negatives with regard to this transfer are endemic to the source elements and lie mostly with the opening titles, which reveal a fair amount of fading, especially on the left side of the frame (and to a lesser extent on the right). There are a few (as in a very few) blemishes sprinkled throughout the film, but they are so minor as to almost warrant no comment. Eagle eyed viewers may notice some very minor edge enhancement in a few shots, but it's not troubling.
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World Blu-ray, Audio Quality
While things aren't quite as spectacular in the audio department (and, really, how could they be?), It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World sounds fine with its lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. Though this is far from an immersive mix, some discrete channelization has been applied, with individual moments of effects and even dialogue discretely placed in the soundfield. There have been some reports of audio synch problems, but my feeling is this must be player related, as I experienced no synch issues whatsoever on my PS3 with either my Sony or my Onkyo receivers (both obviously connected via HDMI). While this isn't the most robust track ever offered, and is sometimes sadly lacking on the low end, overall it retains a certain spryness, especially considering its age, and Ernest Gold's underrated score sounds especially fine. There is no egregious hiss apparent here, and dialogue is clear if not especially forcefully mixed.
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The naysayers are already out in force complaining about the supposed "incompleteness" of this new Blu-ray, but if I may be permitted to quote the ever lovely and demure Ethel Merman in this film, "Shut up!" (And I mean that in only the nicest way possible). There is already a lot of speculation that the film's looming 50th anniversary may well occasion a new Blu-ray release which may (may) get the film as close to its original Roadshow length as we're ever going to see. Be that as it may, why throw out the baby with the bathwater, especially when this budget priced Blu-ray looks so spectacular? I'm all for restoring vintage films to their original lengths (I still hope for a complete restoration of Frank Capra's Lost Horizon, something that will probably never happen in my lifetime), so I'm not immune to the allure of "getting back to the original version." But this general release version is a wonderful treat just the way it is and with a release which looks this solid, I personally can't see any reason to complain about anything. Highly recommended.
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• Making It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World - February 6, 2012
One of the funniest star-studded comedies of all time, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World comes to Blu-ray with a wide release and The Silver Screen goes behind the scenes of the film with a history of the complete production and the story of how the film became famous ...
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