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. The ensemble comedy 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.
The film marked the first time that Kramer had 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 a comedy film paid off immensely, as It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World became a critical and commercial success in 1963 and went on to be 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. The lost footage seriously deteriorated through the decades and was once thought impossible to restore. 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 (Jimmy Durante), an ex-convict wanted by police in a tuna factory robbery fifteen years ago and currently on the run, careens his car off twisting, mountainous State Highway 74 near Palm Desert, California and crashes. Five motorists stop to help him: Melville Crump (Sid Caesar), a dentist; Lennie Pike (Jonathan Winters), a furniture mover; Dingy Bell (Mickey Rooney) and Benjy Benjamin (Buddy Hackett), two friends on their way to Las Vegas; and J. Russell Finch (Milton Berle), an entrepreneur who owns Pacific Edible Seaweed Company in Fresno. Just before he dies (literally kicking a bucket), Grogan tells the five men about $350,000 buried in Santa Rosita State Park near the Mexican border under "… a big W".
Initially, the motorists try to reason with one another to share the money, but it soon becomes an all-out race to get the money first. Unbeknownst to them all, Captain T.G. Culpeper (Spencer Tracy), Chief of Detectives of the Santa Rosita Police Department, has been patiently working on the Smiler Grogan case for years, hoping to someday solve it and retire. When he learns of the fatal crash, he suspects that Grogan may have tipped off the passersby, so he has them tracked by various police units. His suspicions are confirmed by their behavior.
Everyone experiences multiple setbacks on their way to the money. Crump and his wife Monica (Edie Adams) charter an old WWI-era biplane and eventually make it to Santa Rosita, but are soon unknowingly locked in the basement of a hardware store by its owner (Edward Everett Horton). They eventually free themselves with dynamite.
Bell and Benjamin charter a modern plane at an aviation club, but when their wealthy alcoholic pilot (Jim Backus) knocks himself out drunk, the two are forced to fly and land the plane themselves.
Finch, his wife Emmeline (Dorothy Provine), and his loud and obnoxious mother-in-law, Mrs. Marcus (Ethel Merman), are involved in a car accident with Pike's furniture van. The three flag down British Army Officer Lt. Col. J. Algernon Hawthorne (Terry-Thomas) in his car and convince him to drive them to Santa Rosita. After many arguments, most caused by Mrs. Marcus, she and Emmeline refuse to go any farther, and Finch and Hawthorne leave them by the side of the road in Yucca Valley.
Pike tries to get motorist Otto Meyer (Phil Silvers) to take him to Santa Rosita, but the greedy Meyer betrays him and races for the money on his own, leaving Pike stranded with only a little girl's bike from his furniture van. An enraged Pike catches up with Meyer at a gas station and assaults him as the gas station owners (Arnold Stang and Marvin Kaplan) try to stop him. Meyer escapes in his car while Pike literally destroys the gas station. He then steals the station's tow truck and takes off after Meyer. Pike meets up with Mrs. Marcus and Emmeline and picks them up. While in a town called Plaster City, Mrs. Marcus calls her devoted and powerfully built, but impulsive and dim-witted, son Sylvester (Dick Shawn), who lives on Silver Strand Beach near Santa Rosita, to get the money for them, but misunderstanding and believing his mother is in trouble, he instead races to her in his car.
Meyer experiences his own setbacks, including sinking his car while trying to cross the Kern River and nearly drowning. He manages to steal a car belonging to a passing motorist (Don Knotts) by telling him he's with the CIA and re-joins the hunt. All the while, Culpeper and the police department observe their activities from afar. Around this time, two taxi drivers (Peter Falk and Eddie "Rochester" Anderson) get in on the chase in their Yellow Cabs.
Eventually all of the characters arrive at Santa Rosita State Park at about the same time and search for the big W. Culpeper orders all policemen to leave the area and goes in solo to retrieve the money. Emmeline, who wants no part of the money and doesn't take part in the search, is the first one to spot the big W, composed of four palm trees growing in the shape of the letter "W". Pike finds it next and informs everyone else. After everyone digs up the money, Culpeper identifies himself and talks them into turning themselves in, promising a jury will be more lenient if they do.
However, presumably disillusioned by the greed and reckless behavior of so many supposedly law-abiding people during the course of the day, Culpeper now plans to take the money for himself and leave for Mexico to escape his own dysfunctional family and an apparently unappreciated career as an honest cop with a very small pension. The group sees Culpeper fleeing with the money, realize what's happening and give chase in the two cabs. When the chase becomes a foot pursuit, Chief Aloysius (William Demarest), who had (unbeknownst to Culpeper) blackmailed the mayor (Lloyd Corrigan) to triple Culpeper's pension, reluctantly tears up the pension papers and orders Culpeper's arrest.
After a long chase sequence, all eleven men end up stranded on the fire escape of a condemned office building. The suitcase of money opens, and the money falls into the streets below, where passersby near the building scoop it up. The men all try to climb down a fire truck's extension ladder, even though the fireman (Sterling Holloway) tells them "one at a time". Their combined weight causes the firemen to lose control of the ladder, whereupon it swings around wildly and flings them into various locations, causing many injuries and landing all of the men in the prison hospital wing.
The group, in various stages of traction, criticizes Culpeper for taking the money, and he replies that his life has become even worse than before due to his attempted theft. Mrs. Marcus, flanked by Emmeline and Monica, enters, begins to berate everyone, and promptly slips on a banana peel. All men, except Sylvester, start laughing hysterically.
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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 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, that 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 was originally intended for Buster Keaton.
According to Paul Scrabo, Paul Picerni was originally 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 was ultimately not filmed. An early cast list indicated that Jerry Lewis' role was originally 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 was originally 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 was then cast in the role of Irwin, but had to bow out because of his night club 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 respectively played by Elliott Reid and Morey Amsterdam.
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 eventually 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 at Rancho Conejo. Both actors' scenes were cut but were credited. According to Mark Evanier, Howard Morris was booked to appear in Mad World and never appeared in the film, although he was paid for two days work. 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. The sequence was not used in the finished film.
In the early 1960s, screenwriter William Rose, then living in the UK, 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 subsequently 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 that it would be 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 first single-camera Cinerama features produced), Mad World also had an all-star cast, with dozens of major comedy stars from all eras of cinema appearing in the film. 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.
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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, Camarillo, and Orange County. 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 his business partner and fellow flier on Mad World, Paul Mantz, would eventually die in separate air crashes over a decade apart.)
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 also 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 was originally planned for three camera Cinerama and some reports say 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.
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 only earned a profit of $1.25 million.
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 Gold and also co-written by William Rose). The movie was re-released in 1970 and earned an additional $2 million in rentals.
The film holds a 75% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. 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.
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 American Film Institute in the following lists:
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 legendary 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 ques were included in the documentary ToryBoy The Movie.
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