With fan interest of Stallone’s Action Ensemble The Expendables making it one of the more anticipated films last summer and now the new rumors of Bruce Campbell’s proposed ultimate Horror film starring every horror star you can think of, I started thinking about – The Ultimate Comedy.
I haphazardly (there really isn’t another word to describe it) stumbled onto the epic comedy – It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. You’ve got to love Turner Classic Movies.
Stanley Kramer’s 1963 ambitious comedy is in a class all of its own. It’s certainly not the funniest movie ever, but just for the sheer size, scope and number of stars in it, it automatically became a classic.
There are plenty of gags that fall flat, but there’s always another one right behind it that delivers. It certainly throws everything it can at the audience. From huge slapstick scenes to slipping on a banana peel, the film has it all.
Plus, the fact that this wasn’t any kind of a revisiting love letter project, that dug up all these comedy stars of yesteryear for a reunion project. This was made while most of the cast were still incredibly popular and at the top of their games.
Sure there are a few shout outs to some elder statesman of comedy in cameo appearances, but the majority of the cast were still as funny and relevant as they ever were at the time.
The story is simple – a random group of motorists encounter a dying man off the side of the road in the desert (Jimmy Durante), who in his final breaths reveals there is $350,000 buried under a giant “W’ in Santa Rosita State Park under a “big W”. He then literally kicks the bucket and it sets our cast on a mad dash to be the first to the park and find the money.
What ends up happening is comedy mayhem at every turn. As our stars depart on their own, we witness an ever-escalating series of misadventures resulting in huge set pieces of destruction, comedic bickering and countless cameos by other notable comedy stars.
As I’ve said some work, some don’t. My personal favorite parts are Sid Caesar and Edie Adams trapped in a hardware store. Caesar’s getting increasingly frustrated by his failed attempts of getting out are pretty funny and I’ve always thought Edie was incredibly cute too.
Buddy Hackett and Mickey Rooney trying to manage flying a plane. Some of the plane stunts are pretty impressive. Phil Silvers, who can play the most unlikable, greedy guy better than anyone and is more than willing to lie and show his frustration to anyone he comes across.
Jonathan Winters, whose anger ends up leaving a gas station in spectacular ruins and who continually vows to get even with Silvers. Dick Shawn’s groovy, over the top performance gets me everytime.
Along with a parade of cameos that are fun to see, there’s plenty in the film to keep me entertained. And that’s not even half of what’s in it! So it’s likely that at least a few segments in this mammoth film will strike you.
It’s certainly lives up to the description of an “epic comedy”. Everything about it is on a grand scale. The length of the film alone might have some viewers find staggering. Kramer’s original cut ran close to five hours long!
Since then I’ve seen versions that have been cut everywhere from 2½ to 3½ hours, including the inclusions or exclusions of the overture and intermission. I’ve heard there is still twenty minutes of footage that has been “lost” and still are missing . I’m not sure if there is a definitive final cut of the film.
Obviously, just looking at the length there is plenty of filmed material. Plus, due to the nature of the films crosscutting structure – showing one set of money hungry motorists madcap mishaps then cutting right to the next – inserting or removing a few doesn’t disrupt the film that much. All the characters are all basically wrapped up in their own misfortunes and are on their own, until they meet up at the climax.
The cast list is incredibly long, so I’m not even going to try to list them (just google it), but it is a very impressive lineup of stars and there is sure that at least a few will catch your attention and make you perk up your ears. Younger audiences might not be familiar with these old time great stars. They’re idea of a huge cast in a comedy is probably Grown Ups.
I can’t say it’s my favorite comedy – it’s not. And I can’t recommend it with unwavering enthusiasm. The film is certainly not for everyone. If you prefer your comedy a bit more on the highbrow end, well this might not be for you. But if you’re a hardcore film fan or comedy lover, you might want to check out one of the “biggest” comedies ever. This is a film that will never be repeated.
It might not be the funniest comedy ever, but you have to appreciate it for really trying.