47 Years Late To The Mad World Party
How much It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is enough? For me, it was the three or so hours MGM-HD recently showed (I'm not so mad about Mad as to run a stopwatch). For some, there cannot be enough Mad-ness short of every inch that passed through Ultra Panavision cameras in 1963. I tried catching up on restoration efforts fans/archivists/historians have made and gave up. Too complicated. There must be half a dozen lengths of Mad World out there. Devotees have made it life's mission to reassemble the epic comedy to an exalted five hours said to have been its original running time (is that just myth?). I've considered picking out a 70mm orphan and making that my obsession, but which one? Mad World was from first release a jinx in my life. The Liberty was late getting it. By then, prints were probably Super 8 and whittled down to 90 minutes. Well, it was fifth grade and there was a girl I'd asked to go with me for a matinee after school. She wound up accompanying a rival suitor and I blamed Mad World's comedic allure (at least in part) for love's debacle. The film for me was thus tainted and for that, I would not go see it at all.
Decades later, we were in Los Angeles and noted a revival theatre on Hollywood Boulevard running Mad World. Three of us, including a lifelong MMMMW follower, attended. A few minutes in, I had a stunning realization. This is panned-and-scanned was my shout-out to no one in particular, which indeed it was ... a 35mm print made for television broadcast that somehow wound up in this auditorium. My Mad friend immediately bolted for the lobby where he angrily demanded refund of our admission. The manager was wheelchair bound but appeared plenty able to quick-shot or knife throw us into submission. I sought refuge in the street rather than pursue a confrontation, for what if blankets in the man's lap did conceal things lethal? Mad World's pall seemed to be as much about missed opportunity as belief I'd formed that existing versions were less than ideal for viewing. What at long last played on MGM-HD still lacks at least an hour's footage, but what's there sparkles like diamonds and I'm glad to have experienced a first Mad Mad experience before such a spotless image.
As for the movie ... well, there it is. Spectacular at all times, funny in parts. Watching alone wasn't the best idea, but who do I find willing to share those three hours? Young people wouldn't recognize these comedians anymore. A few listed on IMDB eluded me. Much time passed taking stock of personalities I like versus ones that get on the nerves. Phil Silvers and Jonathan Winters go to the former, Ethel Merman very much with the latter (and I'd like to have given Sid Caesar and Edie Adams a key out of that basement). When Don Knotts turned up briefly, I found myself preferring him over most of the leads. Lifelong dedication to Buster Keaton makes me wish he had taken Spencer Tracy's role. Perfect casting that would have been. As it is, I enjoy and was astonished that Tracy entered so gamely into frenzied slapstick. Someone might tell me how much of that exertion toward the end was really him. Stuff with the fire ladders was my favorite, so for sure Mad World had a sock finish. If I'd seen the picture brand new in 1963, let alone in a 70mm palace, there'd undoubtedly be candles lit to it every night here at Greenbriar. Fans are voracious and that I can well appreciate. For preteens in the sixties, Mad World must have been a dream not walking, but running.
I know it's a point others have made, but you gotta respect all the amazing stunts pulled off here. Some of them I couldn't believe. Did they bring Ray Harryhausen in to animate guys flying off ladders through windows? Wait a minute, I just remembered. Willis O' Brien did provide stop-motion for parts of Mad World (per Google confirmation). Packed 1963 theatres must have been like madhouses watching all this. Other comedies tried topping Mad World, but couldn't. The Great Race I watched recently and had about the same reaction to. It soars or it drags, but what soars reaches heights movies don't get near anymore. I respect these films, which would also include Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines, for faking so little. That's a distinction they wouldn't have had when new. No matter now if their comedy occasionally thuds, so long as we're spared CGI shortcuts. Did Hollywood attempt such laugh-getting bigness after the sixties? I do recall 1941 as being one that tried. We went to that in 1979 and it was like clocks were turned back toward roadshow rollicking (seeing MMMMW at last makes me curious to watch 1941 again --- should I?). Spielberg's was surely a conscious tribute to Mad World-ness. Could my life's summit be achieved joining other Mad-mavens in the chase for still missing remnants of MMMMW --- or is that footage buried under a Big W of unknown location?