director Stanley Kramer
For a sprawling, epic comedy starring a multitude of Hollywood greats, Stanley Kramer’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is high on the sprawl and the epicness (clocking in at 161 minutes, down from an even longer original), but the heights of hilarity are more in the amusing level than that of epic humor.
We were going to go see it at the Castro Theatre a week or so ago but the timing didn’t work for us. But Felix got fixated on it and wanted to see it so we queued it up.
From the main group of five guys that witness a car go flying over a cliff and huddle to watch “Smiler” Grogan (Jimmy Durante) give up the ghost and the location of his stolen bundle of bucks, I was struck that both Mickey Rooney and Sid Caesar had both just died earlier this year and that Jonathan Winters had passed just a year prior. Heck, when you come down to it, everybody in this movie is probably dead. It was made over 50 years ago.
The wild antics of the crazy people who go on a road (and plane) race to get from the hills of Kern County down to the lowest end of Southern California in pursuit of $350,000 of buried loot is madcap and antic. Along with those above, we’ve got Buddy Hackett, Milton Berle, Ethel Merman, Terry-Thomas, Phil Silvers, Edie Adams, and Peter Falk. And in addition lots of super cameos from Jerry Lewis, Jim Backus, Buster Keaton, Jack Benny, Paul Ford, Joe E. Brown and Don Knotts. Jesus, just about everybody you can think of (that is, til you read all the people who were “almost” in the movie.)
The kids actually really enjoyed it, both of them. Clara commented early on during the title sequence (designed by the inimitable Saul Bass) that even the title sequence was long (4 minutes). And they groaned when the Intermission came on. But they liked it. I had to point out to them who everybody was.
One sort of negative thing is how obnoxious all the women are. I guess all of the men are greedy, selfish jerks too, but Ethel Merman’s performance is both great and massively strident. At least some of the men have some element of pathos to soften their coarseness. It wouldn’t be out of step in 1963 Hollywood for a little patriarchal misogyny.