IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD
Before dying from injuries in a car accident, the thief Smiler Grogan (Jimmy Durante) reveals to a number of drivers who have pulled over by the roadside that he has buried a fortune in stolen money "under the big W". Realising that their fortunes could be made, the survivors engage in a furious race to be the first to find the money, unaware that their every move is being monitored by a squadron of police directed by Captain T.G. Culpepper (Spencer Tracy).
Review by Jake Wilson:
As a child, I was haunted by regular matinee reruns of this film, its three-hour running time extended by ad breaks to the point where I feared it might never end; at night, after the TV was switched off, the same witless scenarios would keep running in my dreams. Hour after hour of grinding fairground music and screeching actors chasing each other through the Californian desert: an interminable arid nightmare that might as well be taking place on the surface of the moon.
What impelled Stanley Kramer to produce and direct this "comedy to end all comedies" as a follow-up to his dismal, star-studded dramas on topics like nuclear war and the Holocaust? It's not just a terrible movie, it's an impossibly, systematically terrible movie, to the point where I'm forced to wonder if Kramer was not after all some kind of evil genius. The opening gag where the dying Jimmy Durante literally "kicks the bucket" is obviously painfully unfunny, but there's something more deeply and almost defiantly un-cinematic about its insistence on equating words with images. It's the same stupidity or perversity that led Kramer to hire dozens of comic legends to appear in cameos where they do little or nothing - as if there were no difference between merely stating an idea and bringing it to life on screen.
The early 60s, no doubt, were a time when all kinds of collapse seemed imminent - the breakdown of traditional forms of cinematic storytelling as well as literal nuclear apocalypse. In this sense Mad World is very much a film of its era, incidentally acknowledging the threat posed to cinema by television (many of the lead roles are played by television actors). While its hysteria seems largely fuelled by 50s misogyny and Cold War panic, it may also be that Kramer's own awareness of failure as an artist inspired the notion of a deliberately cynical, commercial project that explicitly declares the impossibility of integrity in the modern world.
Like a contemporary exercise in bad faith such as Bad Boys 2, Mad World implicitly denounces itself as a spectacle of conspicuous waste - the waste of time, energy, talent, and above all, money. But while Kramer's folly may stand up as some kind of anti-masterpiece, as an epic comedy it's a far cry from its obvious rival, Blake Edwards' equally perverse but infinitely funnier, sexier and more anarchic The Great Race. Any chance of seeing that one in 70mm? Just a thought...
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IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (G)
CAST: Spencer Tracey, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, Phil Silvers, Terry-Thomas, Jonathan Winters, Edie Adams, Dorothy Provine and many, many, many, many more.
PRODUCER: Stanley Kramer
DIRECTOR: Stanley Kramer
SCRIPT: Tania Rose, William Rose
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ernest Laszlo
EDITOR: Gene Fowler jnr, Robert C. Jones, Frederic Knudtson
MUSIC: Ernest Gold
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Rudolph Sternad
RUNNING TIME: 188 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Chapel
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: 40th Anniversary season: Melbourne: July 4, 2004; (new 70 mm print); Sydney season cancelled.