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MGM Studios DVD presents
"There's only one way to figure it. And that is every man, including the old bag, for himself."
DVD ReviewWhen it comes to big, broad ensemble comedies, there aren't many that can come close to Stanley Kramer's 1963 gem It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (known for the duration of this review as IAMMMMW). What made this film such a departure for Kramer was the fact that he was known primarily as a "message film" director, with such serious films as Inherit The Wind, On The Beach, and Judgement At Nuremburg. To make an epic slapstick comedy, featuring virtually everyone who was anyone in comedy at that time, Kramer came under close scrutiny during production. Did he really have it in him to direct comedy?
The story is simple. On a desolate California desert highway, a speeding car, driven by mobster Smiler Grogan (Jimmy Durante) sails off the road and crashes. The occupants of four cars rush down to see if they can help the injured driver. J. Russell Finch (Milton Berle), Melville Crump (Sid Caesar), Benjy Benjamin (Buddy Hackett), Ding Bell (Mickey Rooney), and Lennie Pike (Jonathan Winters) all arrive just as Grogan is about to literally kick the bucket. Before he dies, he tell the strangers about $350,000 hidden in Santa Rosita State Park, some two hundred miles to the south, buried under a big "W." Comical greed soon binds these strangers together, as they cannot agree on a proper manner in which to split the money—if they should even find it. Should Finch, his wife Emily (Dorothy Provine) and his bitch-on-wheels mother-in-law (Ethel Merman) get three shares or only one? Should Crump and his wife Monica (Edie Adams) get two shares? Why should truck driver Pike get only one share? Just because he's not married? The remainder of IAMMMMW is a slapstick race by the Finchs, Crumps, Benjamin, Bell and Pike, as well as a mixed assortment of wacky characters, as they all try to be the first one to the hidden loot.
The twist in IAMMMMW is the presence of the Santa Rosita police, who had been tracking Grogan prior to his spectacular death. Convinced that Grogan must have leaked the secret location of the money to the people at the accident site, Captain Culpepper (Spencer Tracy) orders police units to simply track the strangers, but not to interfere. Eventually one of them will get to the money, and at that point Culpepper and the police will move in.
Kramer never rests too long on one particular character, rather he stages an endless series of manic, intercut sequences, each one more slapsticky than the next. To be sure, this type of broad, cartoony humor may not appeal to everyone, but it's an effortless experience to watch Kramer avoid the comedic pitfalls open to a film of this length. In my opinion, the story never slows down, and Kramer keeps increasing the laugh factor with the introduction of a handful of secondary characters, most noticeably Phil Silvers, Terry-Thomas and Dick Shawn. By loading the cast with an endless parade of big-name stars, some with nothing more than a quick cameo, IAMMMMW is a constant stream of familiar faces.
As for the production values, the opening sequences through the California desert, as each vehicle attempts to out maneuver the others on the curvy roads, looks as realistic as any chase scene shot today, especially for a comedy. IAMMMMW was shot in the pre-digital effects days, and with the exception of some standard process shots featuring the actors in front a screen, the chase sequences are actual stunts. I liked how Kramer utilized the full scope of a 70mm production to allow for some beautiful visuals as he shot the chase sequences.
It would take a small book to mention every star that appeared in IAMMMMW, so I will politely refrain from doing so. There isn't much that I can say negatively about the primary cast, either. These were the really big, legendary stars of comedy in 1963 (Berle, Caesar, Rooney, Silvers, Winters, to name a few),and damn if they're not funny. It's that simple. Merman is perfect as the shrill in-law, and Shawn is a hoot as her spaced out son Sylvester. I never got the impression that IAMMMMW was a collection of stars assembled together, hollowly reading lines. Everyone hams it up perfectly, and it's great to see so many comedy biggies together at one time.
I imagine it's obvious by now that I'm a fan of this film. I saw it a few times when I was a kid, and it really made a lasting impression on me. I can easily overlook some of the silly plot holes, and the absurd scenarios. It's a large, slapstick comedy, and it works for me. There are many purists that would only consider the full 192 minute "road show" version the true IAMMMMW experience, but I beg to differ. While I'll always prefer the original director's version, with this DVD release of the edited 161 minute version, the final product is still funny. As far as I'm concerned, that's all that matters.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: MGM has released IAMMMMW in a 2.55:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. When released in 1963 in superwide 70mm, the film was ushered around the country in what was termed a "road show" version, and it was screened in special venues under the Cinerama moniker, with a runtime of nearly 200 minutes. This was big, big film on all levels. For this release, MGM has done an excellent job of presenting a consistently appealing image transfer of IAMMMMW. As expected on a film this old, some of the colors come across a bit muted, but in general the image looks good. Flesh tones vary slightly from scene to scene, but not to an overwhelming degree. There are minimal nicks and scratches, and despite some occasional graining, there is nothing glaringly distracting.
IAMMMMW may not have been on the receiving end of significant image restoration by MGM, but this disc should not disappoint anyone but the most finicky videophile.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: MGM has decked out this release of IAMMMMW with a pair of 5.1 audio tracks, in English and French. While not as impressive as the 5.1 track on a modern-day action movie, the new audio sounds very loud and full, with virtually no hiss. The memorable Ernest Gold score sounds resonant, and all of the dialogue is especially distinct.
I was most impressed by the fact that IAMMMMW incorporates a surprising amount of spatial imaging. Characters voices come out of the speaker nearest their side of the television screen, and this greatly enhanced the chaotic vistas created by Stanley Kramer. In general, rear channels contain minimal effects other than occasional music cues.
This is not an awe-inspiring audio transfer by any means, but it works well.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
66 Deleted Scenes
Extras Review: IAMMMMW is a double-sided disc, with the supplementals appearing on the flip side of the feature.
"Something A Little Less Serious" (01h:01m:10s)
The only thing that would have made this DVD release of IAMMMMW truly spectacular would have been a Stanley Kramer commentary. In it's place, however, is a 60-minute documentary entitled "Something A Little Less Serious." Shot around 1991, this nicely done piece features interviews with Stanley Kramer, Milton Berle, Mickey Rooney, Buddy Hackett, Edie Adams, Jerry Lewis, Arnold Stang, Marvin Kaplan, Sid Caesar, Norman Fell, Carl Reiner, Jonathan Winters, effects artist Linwood Dunn, and stunt supervisor Carey Loftin. Primarily snippets of interviews strung together with the help of an anonymous announcer, the cast and crew teeter precariously on the edge between maudlin platitudes and humorous anecdotes. Don't get me wrong, I liked this documentary. It was great to see so many surviving members of the cast reminisce about their involvement in the wackiness that was IAMMMMW. Carl Reiner's story about his scene is hilarious, and Jonathan Winters is always funny.
Extended Scenes (59m)
Clocking in at almost an hour, this disc includes over 60 deleted, or extended scenes. As mentioned in the image review, IAMMMMW was originally presented as part of a traveling "road show", and it's original incarnation ran nearly 200 minutes. When the film was re-cut for 35mm and released, it had been trimmed down to the 161 minute version that is present on this disc. These recovered scenes, transferred from a 70mm work print, are combined with the 35mm footage for the extended sequences presented here. As such, there is inconsistent quality from scene to scene, and a couple of the sequences have no audio whatsoever. Some of the scenes are only a few seconds, and some are almost duplicates of each other, with only minor differences. My personal favorite was a scene with Jonathan Winters telling Dorothy Provine how he was going to spend his share of the money. A couple of extra sequences with Phil Silvers, as well as the first time Sid Caesar and Edie Adams see the decrepit plane they have rented are good for some quick laughs. Two more scenes with Dick Shawn and cutie Barrie Chase also merit mention as being worthwhile. Overall, it's almost too much information, though, and it isn't presented sequentially, either. As a plus, each of the extended scenes have their own chapter selection.
There are two trailers here, one from 1963 and one from the re-issue in 1970. Of the two, the original 1963 trailer is better, as it is presented in anamorphic widescreen. The re-issue trailer, aside from being excessively nicked, practically uses the entire hook-and-ladder sequence, which basically deflates the ending.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsThis movie is funny. It's really funny. Not only that, it's rated "G." Go figure. It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is the kind of larger-than-life comedy that isn't hampered too much by it's age. Funny stuff.
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