Tubi Treats: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

This over-the-top extravaganza, with its cast of thousands, goes on way, way, way, way too long, and was lambasted in the press in 1963. But fans loved it. And they still do.

10 May 2023 | James Porteous | Clipper Media News

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Screen: Wild Comedy About the Pursuit of Money:’A Mad, Mad World’ Opens at Warner

19 November 1963 | Bosley Crowther | New York Times |

HERE’S one about which there’s no question! “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” is everything, down to redundant, that its extravagant title suggests.

It’s a wonderfully crazy and colorful collection of “chase” comedy, so crowded with plot and people that it almost splits the seams of its huge Cinerama packing and its 3-hour-and-12-minute length.

It’s mad, as it says, with its profusion of so many stars, so many “names,” playing leading to 5-second bit roles, that it seems to be a celebrities’ parade. And it is also, for all its crackpot clowning and its racing and colliding of automobiles, a pretty severe satirizing of the money madness and motorized momentum of our age.

When its producer-director, Stanley Kramer, started to do this film, which had its official public opening (as distinct from its Sunday benefit showing) last night at the Warner Theater, he said he wanted to make it “a comedy to end all comedies.”

I’m glad to say he hasn’t quite succeeded, but he has certainly made it one to reckon with.For he and his nimble scriptwriter, William Rose, who wrote “Genevieve,” “High and Dry,” “The Lady-killers” and other interesting British comedies, have gleefully gathered virtually all the sure-fire slapstick comedy tricks and chase routines that were patiently developed in silent-film days.

They have put them together in a story that has eruptive energy and speed; and they have got a bunch of actors to perform it with the fervor of demented geniuses.I wouldn’t dare to state a preference as to who is most amusing in this tale of a group of assorted highway travelers racing for a distant pot of gold. It might be Milton Berle as a poor schnook, henpecked by his wife and mother-in-law, who first comes upon a dying motorist in the California desert.

It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) Official Theatrical Trailer

The motorist gives him the fatal clue to where a hoard of money ($350,000) is stashed away. It might be Mickey Rooney or Buddy Hackett or Jonathan Winters or Sid Caesar who arrive just after Mr. Berle, and are present to hear Jimmy Durante as the dying man gasp out the clue before he kicks the bucket, literally as well as figuratively.

Or it might be Ethel Merman as the brass-lunged, bargain-basement-champion mother-in-law, or Edie Adams as the wife of Mr. Caesar, or Dorothy Provine as the wife of Mr. Berle.

They are all richly full of character and comic as the people who chance upon this tip to the whereabouts of money—stolen money, as it soon evolves—and take off at once in four vehicles to try to be the first to get to it.

Or it might be Terry-Thomas as a British botanist, gleeful in the California desert, whom Mr. Berle, Miss Merman and Miss Provine pick up along the way; or Phil Silvers, whom Mr. Winters, in his bumbling innocence, lets in on the tip and thus sends scooting after the treasure as a distinctly avaricious lone wolf.

Or it might be Spencer Tracy as a sheriff who knows all the while about the several frenzied parties racing to the town where the hoard is stashed and is only biding his time and nursing his own aims in radio-informed police headquarters before pouncing on them when they arrive.

But it isn’t that Mr. Tracy is funny, so much as it is that he is cynical and sardonic about this wholesale display of human greed and is able to move from this position into ultimate command of the hoard when the parties converge upon it and he is there to take it away.

In this respect, Mr. Tracy seems the guardian of a sane morality in this wild and extravagant exposition of clumsiness and cupidity. While the mad seekers are tearing toward the money in their various ways—in automobiles that race each other in breathtaking sweeps on hairpin turns in the wide-open California desert, in airplanes that wobble overhead—Mr. Tracy sits there in wise complacence, the rignity of the law.

And then, by a ruse I dare not tell you, he shows how treacherous his morality is.This seems to me to be the essence of this subtly thematic film — this ultimate evidence of the trickery that can happen in the chase after wealth.

The feverish pursuit of tainted money in the fast-speeding automobile, the device by which man most often manifests his recklessness and insanity, leads only to a betrayal by what appears to be the sane authority.

This is the sober message that Mr. Kramer and Mr. Rose are getting across. And the fact that they end their picture with an ironic comedy twist like one in “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” or René Clair’s “A Nous la Liberté,” is only a sop to convention and traditional morality.But the mood is never that serious.

It is wild and hilarious all the way, and action follows action in an excess of energy. High points: when Mr. Hackett and Mr. Rooney are caught aloft in a plane in which they have to fly to an airfield when its pilot, Jim Backus, passes out; when Mr. Caesar and Miss Adams are locked in the basement of a hardware store and have to try various devices, including dynamite, to get out; when Mr. Winters, in a fit of frustration literally tears down a garage.

So many excellent actors and stunt men do so much in this film that it is beyond my space allowance to begin to credit them. Mr. Kramer has cagily directed in a sensible long-view style, in which action is sustained with little cutting within a scene to maintain the pace, and scenic displays are made effective on the really not essential giant screen.

(Since the photography was done with one camera, not the usual Cinerama three, there are no seams dividing the panel and inevitably confusing the eye.)

The only trouble with the whole thing is that it runs too long. There is simply too much wild confusion, too much repetition of similar things.

There comes a time when the senses and the risibilities cry stop. One feels in complete accord with the actors when they and the film end up swathed in bandages, in traction in a hospital, and Miss Merman comes in for one last bombast and slips on a banana peel.

About the Archive

This is a digitized version of an article from The Times’s print archive, before the start of online publication in 1996. To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them.

Occasionally the digitization process introduces transcription errors or other problems; we are continuing to work to improve these archived versions.

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