It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

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They definitely don’t make movies like this any more (it’s sad to say but true), and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend watching It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World as soon as possible because in this depressing age we live in, it will absolutely make you laugh! This movie is epic comedy in the purest sense of the word (from the opening credits until the screen goes black at the end of the film, every moment will have you giggling), with a dream cast of comedians that couldn’t be matched in a million years (no offense to today’s comedians).

The plot revolves around the whereabouts of $350,000 dollars that was stolen years ago by an ex-convict (Jimmy Durante) who dies in a car crash near Palm Springs, but not before revealing to a group of people who stopped to help that he buried the money in Santa Rosita State Park under “a big W.” From this point on, the film quickly devolves into one giant chase that continues for the rest of the film.

The primary group chasing the money consists of:

  • Melville Crump (Sid Caesar) and his wife Monica (Edie Adams)
  • J. Russell Finch (Milton Berle), his wife Emmeline (Dorothy Provine) and HER loud, obnoxious mother Mrs. Marcus (Ethel Merman in a hysterical role)
  • “Benjy” Benjamin (Buddy Hackett) and Ding Bell (Mickey Rooney)
  • Lennie Pike (Jonathan Winters)

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This group is quickly joined by Otto Meyer (Phil Silvers) and Lt. Col. J. Algernon Hawthorne (Terry-Thomas) who are let in on the secret of the money by various members of the original group and decide they want it for themselves. This group is further supplemented by two cabbies (Peter Falk and Eddie “Rochester” Anderson) and EVERYONE is being observed by an aged police officer, Captain T.G. Culpeper (Spencer Tracy), who has been attempting to track down this stolen money for the last fifteen years.

Opening titles for It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

After a series of wild chase sequences (including a crazy plane ride and an incident with some dynamite and fireworks) all paths converge at Santa Rosita State Park, where there is indeed a “giant W” in the form of four intersecting palm trees though, funnily enough, no one sees it at first. But at last, it is spotted and after much digging, the suitcase full of money is found! But then Captain Culpeper chooses this moment to make himself known and advises the entire group to turn themselves in (after all, he knows from listening to the police radio that they’ve all broken a plethora of laws) and forget about the money, since it IS stolen after all. Reluctantly, the group agrees, but no sooner do they leave in the two cabs then they begin to wonder…WHY is Culpeper so eager to see them off to the police station? Sure enough, the jaded Culpeper (who has been griping most of the film about his small pension) has decided that he’s just going to take the money for himself and run for the Mexican border. Well after everything they’ve been through, the others aren’t going to stand for this, so the chase is back on! In a zany sequence that had me howling with laughter, the men in the group chase Culpeper to the top of an abandoned apartment building, where, after much struggle, the aged suitcase falls open…pouring out the money to the crowd below. But it isn’t over yet…the men are all trapped by the collapsing fire escape, so when the fire engine sends up a ladder to get them down, all ELEVEN of them climb on at once, leading to a funny scene where the ladder is whipping them all around, crashing them little by little into windows, trees and fountains.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World “Fire Engine Finale” (1963)

By the last scene, all of the men are in the prison hospital in varying degrees of traction. In marches Mrs. Marcus to give all the men a piece of her mind (and this time they can’t get away because they’re in traction) but just as she gets wound up, she slips on a banana peel that Benjy had discarded on the floor and is taken away as the men begin to laugh hysterically at the absurdity of it all.

Another brilliant part of this film is the innumerable cameo appearances from other comedians throughout the film. Examples include (but are by no means limited to):

  • The Three Stooges
  • Buster Keaton
  • Jack Benny
  • Don Knotts
  • Sterling Holloway
  • Jerry Lewis

A restored edition of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is available via The Criterion Collection and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes comedy, especially old-school comedy.

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