It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

If you’re looking for something to occupy your time, a movie about which you don’t have to think very much, you might want to give this 1963 comedy a whirl. Don’t let the date fool you; the madcap hilarity is just as relevant today. Remember the movie Rat Race from a few years back? It was somewhat based on this movie, so if you enjoyed the newer one, there’s no question you’d love the original.

It starts out quite auspiciously. Jimmy Durante drives his car off a cliff in California, and as he’s dying among the rocks he imparts some words to passersby. He tells the gathered gang – which includes such comic greats as Milton Berele, Sid Caeser, Jonathan Winters, Buddy Hackett, and Mickey Rooney – that there’s $350,000 buried under a “big W” in (fictional) Santa Rosita. All they gotta do, see, is go there – several hundred miles away – and dig it up.

If only it’s that simple! Every comic actor, going back to the twenties, seems to show up in this movie. Some are in cahoots with the original passersby. Some are impedences. Some are cops, some are cabbies. Can you name another movie in which Mr. Furley (Don Knotts, as a nervous motorist) and Mr. Roper (Norman Fell, as a cop at the accident scene) both appear? I think not!

Fantastic comic scenes abound. Jim Backus passes out drunk while flying Hackett and Rooney, so Buddy has to take over. Caesar and his wife Edie Adams (Ernie Kovacs’ wife; he died a few months before filming began) find themselves locked in hardware store’s basement. Winters singlehandedly destroys a service station (Arnold Stang is one of the attendants).

It is, as the cool kids now say, comedy gold. It’s long – about 3 hours – but don’t worry, there’s an intermission on the DVD! No, seriously, there is. Pretty wacky. They don’t put intermissions in films anymore, even for long ones.

You might have fun trying to pick out who’s who – even the Three Stooges show up, as firemen. Andy Devine, Charles Lane, Charles McGraw, William Demarest, Ethel Merman, Terry-Thomas, Dick Shawn, and the voice of Selma Diamond (Night Court, anyone?) all appear. And they ain’t the half of it.

Anyway, it’s a huge amount of fun, and it’s clean enough for even your favorite nun to enjoy. Fantastic entertainment. Among the many highlights is the now-famous extended opening credits sequence. Oh, and a spot of trivia for you: At one point during those credits, the animated world explodes, unleashing for a moment the names of the animators. One of the names is that of Bill Melendez, who two years later would direct A Charlie Brown Christmas – and later scores of other Charlie Brown specials.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: ****


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