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Click above to purchase "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" at amazon.com

 

It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

review by Zach B. and Anthony D.

 

Rated G

Studio: MGM

Running Time: 161 minutes

Starring Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Ceaser, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, Phil Silvers, Terry Thomas, Jonathan Winters... and a cast of thousands!

Story and Screenplay by William and Tania Rose

Directed by Stanley Kramer

Retail Price: $19.98

Features: "Something A Little Less Serious" Documentary, Extended Scenes, Theatrical Trailer, Reissue Trailer

Specs: 2.55:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, French 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround, English Closed Captions, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Scene Selections

Even when cinema was silent, "Greed" has been thematically explored on celluloid. Erich von Strohiem's MEGA-masterpiece of the silent age, before drastic studio editing, was to have been an EIGHT HOUR (!) endeavor (based on a best selling novel by Frank Norris) called, appropriately enough: "Greed." Though "Greed" now only exists in a reconstructed 242 minute, the film features one of the finest performances ever captured on film; that of ZaSu Pitts as a wife who drives her husband mad with her obsession for money.

In nearly every decade following the 1925 release of "Greed" one can find films, major and minor, with avarice as its main theme. Think of all of the heist films, the gangster epics, even screwball comedies such as "My Man Godfrey" concern the rise from rags to riches. As the popular song goes, "the rich get rich, and the poor get poorer," so greed comes in all shapes and sizes, but no film has been bigger than Stanley Kramer's splashy 1963 comedy of epic proportions "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World." (Hereafter "4 x Mad World"). Harkening back to Stroheim's former glory, "4 x Mad World" initially ran for a buttocks-trying three hour plus length of time. Not only was its timing big, but it was scheduled to be shown on Cine-a-Rama screens, with a possibility for a 2.8:1 aspect ratio! Ultimately, however, "4 x Mad World" was screened in Ultra Panavision 70, a 70mm process usually screened at 2.76:1 - - still, an awesome aspect ratio! As befitting its screen size, Kramer chose to populate the Tania and William Rose screenplay with virtually every living comedic talent from Broadway and Hollywood; and in a sublime tribute to von Stroheim's "Greed," the still-feisty ZaSu Pitts!

Unfortunately, the cast is far better than the material. If the thought of someone literally kicking the bucket as they die (as Jimmy Durante's Smiler Grogan does) doesn't make you laugh, then read no further, " 4 x Mad World" is not gonna be your kind of movie. The material calls for broadly played slapstick, no subtlety whatsoever and anything for a laugh; very extreme, if not downright subversive comedy. One's appreciation of "4 x Mad World" depends entirely on one's tolerance level for the likes, or the unlikely pairings, of Ethel Merman at her braying best, Buddy Hackett at his most obnoxious, Milton Berle mugging helplessly, Sid Caesar somehow proving that less is more, Dick Shawn showing more than he should, Mickey Rooney (whom, even when paired with Judy Garland, I personally had no tolerance for), a befuddled Phil Silvers and a very much out-of-place Spencer Tracy.

Setting out to make a supercomedy to end all comedies, Kramer indulges in overkill, proving once and for all that "bigger isn't better." One really wants to like "4 x Mad World," honestly, one does, but more often than not, it manages to become a true test of the patience and the nerves. The film has a brilliant set-up: four vehicles traveling the same highway, witness the fiery crash of a fifth vehicle. Five passengers rush to the aid of the injured driver, who before kicking the bucket, reveals the location of seemingly lost bank loot ($350,000) to be under a "big W" somewhere in Los Angeles. Trying first to reason things out logically, greed gets the better of the witnesses who now must race each other to claim the loot as their own. Their exploits are being carefully monitored by an about-to-retire police captain, with a personal stake in the recovery of the loot. Okay, the set-up is great, the actors are all game, but somewhere along the circuitous route to that "big W," someone forgot to add real comedy. Comedy isn't pretty, and it is the most difficult genre to make work, since nearly everyone has a very different perspective on what is funny. Yes, there are a few chuckles, even a few guffaws, but when faced with a steady stream of gags which more often than not miss the mark, "4 x Mad World" comes off more as a laborious experiment than a true labor of love.

 

It's obvious that Kramer loves the comedians, but it's painfully evident that he does not love "comedy." The best things about "4 x Mad World" are its cameo performances, and spotting the actors in those cameos. With the possible exception of the best known comedian of the time (that would be Lucille Ball), anyone who had ever earned a laugh on the stage, screen or television is readily identifiable from a list that goes from Edie Adams to Doodles Weaver. (And if you have to ask WHO they are/were, then this really is NOT gonna be a movie you love)! With at the very least, sixty-five recognizable faces, "4 x Mad World" bombards the viewer at every turn. In the end, with it's slap-dash, slapstick fire-truck and ladder scene, "4 x Mad World" is very much ado about nothing. The characters haven't grown, and the director has chosen only to present that which his characters will do for money; there's no pay-off, so to speak, and no real comeuppance.

I know that there are some strong supporters out there of this so-called classic comedy, and that my words may be fighting words, but I'd rather have the introspective, star-laden Kramer film of "Judgement at Nuremberg," also featuring the great Spencer Tracy, than the too loud, too noisy and just plain too, too everything antics of "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World."

Presented in the wide glory of 2.55:1 widescreen, this new anamorphic widescreem is the best I've seen the film in. While it's the best shape I've seen the film in, it's really far from perfect. While there's a limited amount of blemishes, pieces of dirt and scratches, that are never distracting, contrast on the image is way too high. Shimmering and noise is present, and the effect is overall annoying making it look too digital. Add in some digital artifacting and this can be almost disturbing at some points. It looks unnatural. Black levels and detail are good, but the oversaturation can also be quite annoying. Hues and fleshtones look off, and the reds become too oranges. The bleeding here is not good. While the print is cleaned up and that is appreciated, more careful care into the transfer could have make this something extradoinary and probably the best restoration for a live-action film I would see. Alas, it is not.

Despite the old age of the film, MGM has sevrved up 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes in English and French. There's a lot of sounds in this movie... being a an action film of sorts, cars zooming and all sorts of crazy action and crashes bring good activity, but not good surround use. Dialogue is clear and easy to hear, and no other sounds overpower it. Fidelity is good, but surrounds really could have been better and pack more of a punch here. It's really disappointing. The memorable Ernest Gold music could have been mixed better too, while .1 LFE extension is decent. Still, it could have been worse. It's more or less mono against all the channels. And there is no mono option either. English subtitles, French subtiles, Spanish subtitles and English closed captions are included.

No special edition, but there is some worthwhile features here on the other side of the disc. "Something A Little Less Serious" is a documentary in full frame with clips and stills from the film. This "tribute" to the movie has a promotional feel of sorts, but in all, really interesting and entertaining, considering the amount of perspective you get from the writing and the film. Milton Berle, Stanley Kramer, Carl Reiner, Jonathan Winters, Arnold Stang and all sorts of cast and crew from the film talk about it all. It seems to be archival footage plus some new interviews, but this one hour feature is quite a fun watch and really has a great amount of thoughts and information to absorb. A great look back, and while it's no commentary, it does the film justice and fans will love it.

This is where things get interesting... the Extended Scenes section is a valuable addition but downright annoying as far as interface. A great text into explains cuts the film faced and that the scenes put together from surviving film footage. Some of it looks good, other parts of it looks shoddy. In either case, what makes this annoying is not the fact they are in non-anamorphic widescreen (okay that isn't cool with me), but how the scenes are not in order as far as the film. They are just randomly put together. While you can advance through chapters, you can only play all and not jump right to a certain extended scene. This is tedious, consdering there are fifty-six chapters to experience. They last fifty-nine minutes and twenty-four seconds in total. Still, a nice addition.

Finally, we get the Theatrical Trailer and Reissue Trailer from 1970. The original is in anamorphic widescreen, the reissue is not anamorphic. And once again, MGM has no provided a keep case insert, but the back of the box provides another fun fact!

A classic film comedy caper who's influence, acting and hijinks still stand today, "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" has finally made its way to DVD. While more extras would have been appreciated, and a better transfer and mix, fans of the movie should pick this up, especially since the price is low!

(4/5 - NOT included in final score)

(3/5)

(2.5/5)

(2/5)

(3/5, NOT an average)

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