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Thursday, May 13, 2010

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 did 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. Had I seen the picture brand new in 1963, let alone in a 70mm palace, there would 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 have to respect all the amazing stunts done 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 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 recall 1941 as 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?


Blogger Mike Cline said...

Reading your comments of the pan-and-scan experience on Hollywood Boulevard brought back memories. Being a member of the group, I recall our mutual friend who accosted the "pirate" in the wheelchair. The guy looked as if he had just debarked a treasure ship just back from Somalia, knife strapped to his side, more jewelry attached to his person than Kitty Carlisle wore on TO TELL THE TRUTH.

And our friend, close to confrontation with the Jolly Roger member, seemed willing to die for a $6.00 movie ticket, a treasure much less than that one buried under a "giant W."

8:36 AM  
Anonymous Kevin K. said...

I saw MMMMW in Cinerama on its original, uncut release. Too long, too loud, too much. I felt sorry for Jonathan Winters' character, hated Jim Backus' drunk pilot, was afraid of Berle, loathed Merman. Does the current print still have the "hilarious" scene with the black sharecroppers in their Model-T (accompanied by a banjo playing "The Old Folks at Home") getting driven off a cliff? Funny how Stanley Kramer put that in there.

I'd read that Cinerama had to burn the negative during its bankruptcy proceedings. In a way, it's a shame, since I'm all for the restoration of movies. But I'm willing to make an exception...

9:39 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

The black sharecropper run off the road was none other than NICK STUART, probably best-remembered as "Lightnin'" on TV's THE AMOS 'n' ANDY SHOW.

Had the pleasure to meet him.

10:27 AM  
Anonymous KING OF JAZZ said...

Okay, okay, a big fan of MAD MAD WORLD here. Others can leave the room. I saw it during its original release and the theater absolutely rocked with laughter--it was a heady, astounding experience for an eight year old. I saw it when it was reissued in 1969, and have seen it countless times since on laser and DVD.

The script is an absolute marvel of construction and characterization over a three hour span; go ahead, try and duplicate it. The non-CGI stunts are incredible (you think a real plane will ever fly through a billboard again?).

And Merman was absolutely brilliant. Her best movie role ever.

I'm always interested in hearing about any new developments regarding possible restoration, but for me it works just fine the way it is.

1:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few months ago, I had the privilege of taking my little girl to see this at the Carolina in Durham. It was the standard length and little beat up.

It was really great to hear her laugh at stuff I laughed at when I was her age. And she was so excited to see the Three Stooges standing there at the airport!

A great father-daughter outing.

1:35 PM  
Blogger Doug Gray said...

One thing has always puzzled me, and it concerns the Three Stooges cameo. They only appear for a few seconds dressed as firemen. I suppose the idea was that the audience would instantly recognize them, laugh and say "uh oh!" But then they are gone. Everybody else who has a cameo (Don Knotts, Jack Benny, Jerry Lewis etc) actually get to do or say something. Was there originally some Stooge slapstick that got cut and lost?

2:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My wife and I saw MMMMW back in 1964 in Cinerama, in New York. We were there for the World's Fair. I remember laughing so hard (there was a full house) I was almost sick at intermission time! King of Jazz is correct, MERMAN made this film work, by far her best role on film. She was something else on stage though! And Terry-Thomas!
You can enjoy this at home, but in Cinerama, in New York, in a full house, way to duplicate!

2:35 PM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

As funny as many of the big set pieces are, my favorite scenes are Dick Shawn and his dance gyrations. I crack up just thinking about them.

2:50 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

That's an interesting question about the Stooges. We are led to believe that they're going to participate in the comedy, and then ... nothing. Does anyone know if footage of them was shot and eventually cut?

3:47 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

I have a tremendous weakness for the bigger-is- funnier school of sixties super comedies (THE GREAT RACE is still one of my guiltiest pleasures.) Alas, I never saw this one on the big screen which may explain why I make it the most notable exception. The kicking the bucket gag is funny. Virtually nothing else really is. Every few years a low rent rip-off pops up (SCAVENGER HUNT, THE RAT RACE, etc.) and the critics tear it up. Yet they all seem to have more genuine laughs than the original! Now it's been years since I could stay put through any version at one sitting, so I'm hardly being fair. Still, I remember those ghastly late night specials with Stanley Krammer in the 70's as providing more chuckles than this pup.

4:57 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson writes in about outsized 60's comedies, including MMMMW and "The Great Race" ...

Mark Evanier over at has written a lot about this film -- including a speculation that Keaton and Jimmy Durante were originally intended to play each other's parts.

Myself, on revisiting a few years back I felt the size and spectacle was most of the joke. Stunts and effects were often jaw-dropping, but it was more like laughing at a magician who does something alarmingly impossible than seeing humor. In fact, you felt sorry for a lot of the secondary characters who had random slapstick visited upon them. Somewhere under all that froth is darker and more bitter comedy, but they're pretending it's not there. Hollywood of early 60s was really Hollywood of the 50s with more Technicolor and slightly racier jokes.

"The Great Race" is a fascinating misfire, loaded with good stuff that gets lost in the bigness. Blake Edwards & Co. created deliberately paper-thin characters, then tried to sustain them for two and a half hours of outsized set pieces. I think it could have been a genuine classic if he shortened it to a cross-country race, keeping the focus on the arch Curtis and raging Lemmon (Curtis later said the movie didn't put them together enough). As it stands, it's a lot of fun until it literally freezes in its tracks and get bogged down in mainstream-60s-movie sexual banter; and while the Prisoner of Zenda stuff is fun it's really a different movie, or at least a sequel. Still, Natalie Wood is pretty as heck and Peter Falk finds ways to get his laughs with the over-the-top Lemmon.

The end of the race pretty much sums up the whole production. There they are, under the real Eiffel Tower with acres of extras in period dress. Watching now, the realization of what had to be involved upstages the actual climax.

5:08 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

and don't forget the Hal Needham "Cannonball" pictures of the 70s...I miss this kinda crap... :o(

6:24 PM  
Blogger Paul Penna said...

I wonder if there's ever been such a YMMV film as MMMMW? My personal variations:

Ethel Merman shouldn't be taken on her own - she's actually one half of a comedy team, the other half being Milton Berle, and what's hilarious is the way they play off each other so perfectly. For me, their scenes together are among the funniest in the film.

The whole opening sequence, stunt-wise, gag-wise, character-wise, is like a perfect short comedy film. If only the rest of the film had kept up to that level.

Sid Caesar is a scream, likewise Winters and Terry-Thomas; none of them have anything to apologize for in this film.

Everything grinds to a halt when Tracy comes on. Granted any comedy film, especially a 3-hour one, needs pacing, but either Tracy's performance, or the character as written, or both, just don't seem to fit, much less be entertaining.

I've never found Dick Shawn amusing, but maybe that's partly because this was the first time I'd ever seen him, and he just plain irritated me.

The ending? With all due respect to Willis O'Brien, the ladder business had my eyes rolling even back then. I wonder if it would have been funny even if it was 100% realistic. There had to be a big big BIG finish, but I wonder if this should have been it? In his blog, comedy writer Mark Rothman says that the ending violates a primary rule of comedy: in cartoon-style violence, people don't actually get injured, and yet here we have the whole cast in... uh, casts. I'm not sure about that, since the very ending makes it plain they're cartoon casts and we're in a cartoon hospital.

Still, a film that gives me a lot of laughs, but thank goodness for the fast-scan button.

7:49 PM  
Blogger Marc J. Hampton said...

I have the "restored" version on laserdisc, and while it was exciting to see the lost footage once, I found that it added very little to the film. In fact, it seemed to kill the comic timing in some scenes (when Merman smacks Caesar with her purse--how dare you!--it was so funny because thats where the movie usually had a the restored version Caesar looks at her and says "I wish you had'nt done that"...which kills the moment).

So, heresy it may be, but I prefer the cut version I grew up with (though please not pan and scanned).

8:12 PM  
Blogger Paul Penna said...

Oh, yeah, the Stooges. I always thought that what they did, or more precisely, what they didn't do was the joke. In the midst of one of the most mayhem-filled sequences in the film, these three guys who spent their entire careers causing mayhem, here just observe it. Somewhere some film academician has probably written a monograph on how deliciously post-modern that was. Elementary joke-writing craftsmanship, really.

8:12 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Count me in the fan club. Seeing it at the Cinerama Dome on Sunset is one of my earliest movie-going memories.

I, too, love Merman, and can't even imagine what the part would have been like if Groucho had played it.

The absence of the Brothers is about the only thing wrong with the picture.

8:44 PM  
Blogger JoeM said...

One thing has bother me since I first saw this (two actually) and that was two performers missing from the film. First was Stan Laurel who I later read was offered a bit but declined and the other was Bob Hope. Does anyone know if Hope was offered a role/part?

10:17 PM  
Anonymous John said...

I also saw the original release of MMMMW at the long-gone RKO Grand Theatre in Columbus, Ohio.
I still have the original program book my parents purchased for me in the lobby with nice portraits of all the stars.
The theatre was packed and we were in the balcony. I remember one woman in front of us getting up and leaving during the climax with all the stars swaying back and forth on the ladder. Either the camera movements made her sick or she'd just had enough.
I can also recall that this was the first time I realized that there was such a thing as "stunt men and women". The huge Cinerama screen made the stuntwork really obvious particularly with Spencer Tracy's stunt double at the conclusion and the big Winters-Stang-Kaplan dust-up at the garage. (To this day, I still laugh remembering Arnold Stang turing to Marvin Kaplan and saying "I think we're gonna have to kill him" in the battle with Jonathan Winters.)

5:36 AM  
Anonymous Ray Faiola said...

It's a great film. And for many reasons. The sheer herculean task of assembling that task is, by itself, worthy of high praise. One thing few people talk about is the script. The dialogue is beautifully written, and it is tailored for each performer. The timing of the dialogue is superb and the film moves like quicksilver. The so-called restoration was a misfire. These scenes were deleted because they killed the scene-to-scene as well as within-scene rhythms. Winters' monologue about his landlady gave his destructive behavior motive - which is very disturbing. His character works much better as being simply bizarre. The action sequences are beautifully choreographed and the musical score is great because it is leitmotif-based and is not "funny". But this is a film for the big screen. It can't possibly be appreciated on television. Laughter is kinetic and contagious and the audience experience is important to the enjoyment of this picture.

8:36 AM  
Blogger MDG14450 said...

I first saw this in a re-release sometime around 1970 (and came in in the middle), and was less than impressed. Seen it a few times on TV (TCM, so not pan and scan) and like it better--'til the end.

"Everything grinds to a halt when Tracy comes on. Granted any comedy film, especially a 3-hour one, needs pacing, but either Tracy's performance, or the character as written, or both, just don't seem to fit, much less be entertaining."

Yeah--this is the real problem for me. The other leads play very broad; Tracy, not so much, and if you start to think of his character as a "real" person, it's hard to laugh--it becomes a nightmare.

Two other notes: I wish the final laugh was something less mean-spirited than Merman's pratfall, and (sorry to say it so soon after Miss Provine's passing), I would've liked to have seen a stronger personality in the "conscious" role.

As for the Stooges--they don't have to do anything; they're their own punchline.

9:30 AM  
Anonymous KING OF JAZZ said...

I'm glad the musical score was mentioned here since that reminds me just how essential it is to the film--what film, much less an epic comedy, has been blessed with such a perfect score? Just hearing its main theme makes me very happy.

I don't mind Tracy's scenes at this point; they do provide an essential breather at times. As a kid I didn't appreciate the rather dark undertone to his own scheming, but now it enriches the film for me all the more.

If there's any justice, a mad, mad mad mad Blu-ray killer edition will happen on its 50th anniversary in 2013.

11:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there any listing of how many comics were filmed for this movie but had their roles left on the cutting room floor? I know Stan Freberg filmed a short segment. Has that been found and restored? All I've ever seen is a still photo of him from the filming. I think he discusses this briefly in his autobiography.

I've only seen bits of this on TCM. I guess I'll make it a priority to watch the full version (whatever that means) sometime soon.


11:53 AM  
Anonymous Kevin K. said...

Stan Freberg can be seen in the background during the early scenes with Spencer Tracy.

1:21 PM  
Blogger Dugan said...

OK I'm going to chime in on Spielberg's 1941, a film I have watched way to many times. It's the anti MMMMW, it has almost no comedians in it. The two prominent so called comedians who are in it are not are their best. The models and special effects are amazing but the whole film seems very flat and forced. I am not a big fan of MMMMW but at least all the comedians in it know how to milk a line or situation which makes it relatively fun to watch

1:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I work in the cartoon bizz...many of us are big fans of MMMMW. It's as close to a live action cartoon as any movie from the 60's.

I think my favorite character in the whole thing is Phil Silvers. He's perfect. Jonathan Winters is also wonderful.

The first time I saw this movie was on "NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies." Pretty sure it spilled into Sunday night as well.

I seem to recall the Three Stooges actually doing a bit of nonsensical running around as fireman, but I could be wrong.

When in college, back in the 70's, our film society had access to a secret stash of movies owned by a collector (Bob Gitt of UCLA film preservation fame). Mr. Gitt possessed a Cinemascope print of the original uncut MMMMW. We ran this beautiful print during finals week as an option for students who needed a break from cramming. The problem was, the film went on forever! Students arrived to take a quick break from studying, and wound up with a four hour movie on their hands!

Does Mr. Gitt still own this rare uncut print? I don't know, but as a major player at the UCLA Film Archive, he sure knows a lot about movies, prints, and long-lost footage.

Tom Ruegger

2:32 PM  
Blogger MDG14450 said...

I'm a big 1941 fan as well--not as much as I was, but I always loved the look of it--the photography, by william fraker is great. Ned Beatty gives the best comic performance, maybe. Some other old pros (Lionel Stander, Lucille Benson, Elisha Cook) get laughs from knowing how to play it straight.

ABC broadcast it in a 3-hour block one Sunday with additional footage that was cut from the theatrical release (they did this with Donner's Superman as well).

2:47 PM  
Blogger Paul Castiglia said...

Hi John - I shared a link to this article on the Abbott & Costello message board (as there's a lot of "Mad World" fans there) and one of the regular posters offered an answer to the Three Stooges question: he says that in an interview in the magazine "The World of Tomorrow" Curly Joe DeRita revealed that Stanley Kramer directed the trio to do just what they did - stand there. That was the joke. Considering how over-the-top and blatant many of the other jokes in the film are, I'd say it was a pretty brilliant counterpoint/change of pace - you'd expect the most raucous, violent slapstick and ineptitude from the Stooges but instead of seeing it, you just fill in the blanks with your brain and laugh. Of course, the folks at would probably be the ones to go to to verify that magazine statement from DeRita or to provide the full details, but this poster did ask that I share this with you, so I have.

2:52 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Thanks a lot for providing the Stooges background, Paul. I figured someone would come up with an answer to that question. I'd not heard of "The World of Tomorrow" magazine before, or that Joe De Rita was interviewed about "Mad World." Glad to learn here about both.

3:23 PM  
Anonymous KING OF JAZZ said...

Stan Freberg is seen in the background with Andy Devine in the foreground (at some police outpost)during a brief phonecall sequence.

4:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, after reading John's post again, then all these comments, guess what I'll be doing this weekend?

5:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did anyone mention the ultra-rare laserdisc that has a bunch of the deleted footage edited back in?

I own this, and it is one of about 200 laserdiscs that are essential to any library.
Someone should do an article on how many superior transfers and versions that are on lasedisc that may never see DVD!
(Everything from the re-edited GODFATHER SAGA, to the Kevin Brownlow HOLLYWOOD series, to the Australian full cut of THE LIGHTHORSEMAN, to the British cut of ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. for starters!)

7:24 PM  
Blogger Paul Castiglia said...

Hey John - no problem, but I can't take credit for that DeRita info - that came from Kevin Butler over on the Abbott & Costello board. He also reviewed "Mad World" for the site at

I'm hoping someone from the site and/or the fine historians at the Stoogeum also weigh in - I'm sure they have even more details. So if you're reading this Stoogephiles please comment - thanks!

7:45 PM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

Say, John, how long has it been since one of your posts got this many comments? Mad, Mad World just seems to be one of those movies. I saw it in spring '64 at Sacramento's Esquire Cinerama, after it had chased How the West Was Won out. The place was so jam-packed that my date and I had to sit on the stairs in the loge section. Haven't seen it from that day to this, so I guess I should refresh, but my recollection is that while nobody I knew thought it was all that hilarious, exactly, everyone agreed that it certainly gave you your money's worth in size and spectacle. Part of the reason I haven't been back to see it again is that Stanley Kramer has always struck me as utterly and absolutely humorless.

I remember seeing two of the stars -- Jonathan Winters and Sid Caesar, if memory serves -- on Johnny Carson at the time; they said Kramer should have junked the script and just filmed what happened around the set between shots.

And finally, about the stop-motion fire-ladder stuff. It's my understanding that Willis O'Brien was really a sentimental hire on that picture and didn't contribute all that much. I'm in the process of transcribing my 1970 interview with Marcel Delgado for posting at Cinedrome, and he makes some mildly snarky comments about IAMMMMW; he animated the scene himself, but his work was discarded. He said (not in my interview, but in another I read with him) that the final work was done by Jim Danforth.

2:04 AM  
Anonymous KING OF JAZZ said...

Going to look for "the big W?"

7:46 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon sent along some terrific observations about "Mad World," which I'm posting here in multiple parts ...

Dear John,

Enjoyed the hell out of reading all the comments elicited by your welcome article (blog?----me no speakee computerese) about one of my most-favorite films, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World". I should credit him but I forget who said it, but I agree with the assessment that it is a work of pop cultural lower-case 'genius', and as he said, "Try matching it." Crappy unofficial remakes (like "Rat Race"----which I worked on behind the scenes) don't cut it. The easy "why" is furnished by looking at the cast. You could easily and fairly say, "Case closed!", right after that. But, Kramer and Company didn't stop there. They scouted some marvelous locations, and cleverly intercut them to create towns and environments which are a clever patchwork and really represent no actual place except an impressionistic Southwest and a make believe West coast city called Santa Rosa (which is usually portrayed by Long Beach!) I am especially pleased that, in alphabetical order of course, the first "community" the film "apologizes to" [sic] in the credits is "Agoura". That was its name in 1962. Ever since 1977 it's been the city of Agoura Hills, and I've lived here since 1987. I like to try to figure out which cuts of the film were made here. There's only one shot I can absolutely associate with the local landscape [it's where the car supposedly bearing Phil Silvers & Don Knotts veers off a highway; this is actually the same exit I've taken on my way home from various jobs and errands for 27 years. the Chesebro Drive exit] Other scenes just fairly 'taste' like Agoura must have been almost 50 years ago: dry, weedy, dusty, with native oak trees and rustic roads. I am convinced that the hilarious nonsense at the wooden bridge took place in Agoura's wash, which has long since been converted to another boring squared-off concrete channel (much as the L.A. River was, years and years ago.) "Are you English?!! Just answer me: are you English?!" "Uh, why yes, I am...", and he throws the guy bodily off the bridge, upside down! I LOVE this movie. It's a living MAD Magazine skit that didn't need MAD to satirize it.

12:53 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Craig Reardon ...

The cast is sensational, and as I say, nearly 50 years later we can identify greater and lesser personalities----but EACH of them a DEFINITE personality!-----who populated our world in those years on TV and in the movies. Even the beautiful Madelyn Rhue as one of the staffers in the police station, who earns the admiring discrete glances of her coworkers...just for example. A sidebar on Madelyn Rhue: she had a progressive nervous disease that eventually terminated her career and sent her to the nearby Calabasas-based Motion Picture Hospital for the last years of her life, where her longtime pal Suzanne Pleshette, another Jewish princess of my dreams, would visit her.) Rhue died there, and there is today a bench outside with a plaque affectionately dedicated to her memory by the staff who delighted in her spirit. Just 'shows to go you': she appeared rather aloof in her role, but apparently in life she was full of vivacity and hope. And that's just one! I am a reflexive fan of all the comic actors in this picture, so I don't understand how the naysayers can remain unmoved by this cast! For example, the comedic genius of Sid Caesar, whether reacting with stunned disbelief and exasperation to his wife's obtuse comments as they drive in that uneasy cortege at the beginning, or his increasingly frenzied attempts to escape the hardware store basement, or as he finally delivers that priceless, "Oh, the hell with it...!!" look before plunging a couple stories down BETWEEN the stairs in the abandoned building. His performance as much or more than anyone's sums up the arc from complacent, drive-by chump at the beginning to dishevelled, maddened psychopath at the end, before Murphy's Law finally finishes them all off in an operatic masterpiece of ludicrous come-uppances. I once met Caesar (on a Merv Griffin show, where I was doing makeup for the day), who was polite and low-key in person, but that's really beside the point. He was a master performer, and I guess I'm just a permanent fan. And, only one of an endless array of unique masters assembled for this film-----where do you stop? Berle was always least, I think so....but also a great dramatic actor in his own right, and in this picture he splits the difference to delightful effect. The great Tracy looks sadly fragile, but he's giving a full perfomance, too. However, surprisingly little of "Colonel Culpepper" (Tracy) in the film is actually Spencer Tracy. And thereby hangs another tale...

12:55 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Three from Craig Reardon ...

I'll give you a little sidelight on the final stunts and scene on the hook & ladder. Those are indeed stunt men, and the production cared enough about 'selling' it to realize that they could not just rely on doubles, stunt men or not, to resemble these world-famous comics. So, the Universal Studios makeup department under Bud Westmore was contracted to produce overhead masks which would, as closely as possible, resemble the leads, and would be worn by stunt men for the more strenuous or difficult or dangerous shots. Westmore's entire department, however, was deeply immersed in turning out elaborate and multiple disguise makeups for the Joel/John Huston film, "The List of Adrian Messenger". So, Westmore, who had very much admired the work of East coast NBC television makeup artist Dick Smith, contacted him (this was in 1962, years before Smith was to make a big name for himself in largely '70s films like "The Godfather" and "The Exorcist"), and got him to come out to California to handle the creation of these masks all on his own, but under the Universal makeup department umbrella. He did so, and most of the masks are quite effective. The one for Tracy was effective enough that Sterling Holloway, who had a part as a fireman (as you'll recall) shyly approaced 'Tracy' during a lull in filming----except it was his stunt double, still wearing Dick Smith's overhead mask!-----and poured out his heart to him, telling him how much he had always admired him and his work! The stunt man, according to Dick, 'played' it out gruffly, not answering the stricken Holloway, but just grumbling and grunting a couple times!

William Rose, who wrote the inventive screenplay with his wife Tania, was apparently a semi-expatriot from the East coast who'd lived in England for many years, and had written the screenplays for many outstanding English comedies, including the iconic "The Ladykillers". I think "...Mad World" is his little masterpiece. I also think it's the best work of composer Ernest Gold, and quite possibly the best work of Stanley Kramer, too. It can convincingly be argued that it's too long, too much, all the things many of your readers feel and claim, but I think its relentless excess is all part of the fun and can even be interpreted as a send-up, in itself, of Americans and their ravenous appetite for experience and sensation and, of course, money---which is the main theme of the whole movie: greed. Not to mention the American genius for denial: if Americans want something, they don't need a reason; if pressed, they'll invent one, or an excuse anyway.

And, what about Saul Bass----perhaps the single most brilliant guy associated with the movie, if you compare the lifework of everyone involved in this thing? It's easy to say something like the titles are "O.K.", because we're used to them now. They're NOT "O.K."----they're brilliant! Bass could not come up with anything much less than brilliant his entire career.

Based on seeing a portion of the HD airing on MGMHD, based on a quite recent film restoration, I not only hope for a Blu-ray, I honestly feel its inevitable. I think it's necessary, too, if only as a memorial to these unique, all-American comic actors, some of the best in our history, and some of the best in all history.


12:55 PM  
Anonymous KING OF JAZZ said...

What Craig said.

7:51 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I hadn't seen it in 20+ years, so I recorded it off MGM HD yesterday and started watching it with my kids. I have to say, I'm surprised how much I've laughed (we stopped at the halfway point so they wouldn't be up till 10 pm). I've always thought of it as the world's biggest comedy made by somebody without a sense of humor, but some of the bits of slapstick are so beautifully timed you can't help but produce the intended neurological response.

One thing, my kids were actually kind of appalled during the destruction of the gas station, feeling sorry for the guys who owned it, and I said "It's like Laurel and Hardy in Big Business," which is recognized in our house as The Funniest Movie Ever, and then they were okay with it. I think they weren't ready to handle destructive comedy in widescreen 60s color, until I helped them see that it was like comedy, which to them, is usually black and white and square.

9:43 PM  
Blogger Doug Gray said...

Thanks Paul (and everyone else who addressed this) for clearing up that bit of trivia about the Stooges. I had long suspected their sudden appearance was the whole gag, but it is abrupt enough that I still wondered if there was something clipped out. So, thanks!

I guess it would have been hard to have them play "real" characters in this film; they're always the Stooges no matter what they do. Hard to suspend your disbelief that they were just firemen. The same would probably apply to the Marx Brothers, Stan Laurel, or any other iconic comedian that spent their whole career perfecting a persona that they wore everywhere.

10:28 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

By the way, one comedian whose presence in the film has apparently gone unnoticed: George O'Hanlon (of Joe McDoakes and George Jetson fame). I'm pretty sure that's his voice on the radio as the policeman who reports that he just saw Culpepper/Tracy driving away at 90 mph.

On the other hand, I'm fairly astonished Paul Frees isn't in there anywhere.

9:23 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Michael, I love George O'Hanlon, but did not catch his voice in MMMMW (I am learning so much from all the comments posted here, by the way ---Thanks to everyone for sharing so much knowledge).

6:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always wondered about the brevity of the appearance of Bowery Boy Leo Gorcey (as the cabbie who takes Sid & Edie to the hardware store). Unlike the Stooges, there is no real close-up to establish his identity or to register his cameo. Then, when Sid & Edie re-emerge from the store, it's as if his role as Brooklyn cabbie-type has been handed over to Peter Falk.

6:55 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Gorcey's successor in the Bowery Boys series, Stanley Clements, is seen even more fleetingly (and if memory serves, not at all in the pan-and-scan prints).

Personally I have a hard time watching MAD, MAD WORLD because I can't relax with it. There's too much anger and desperation in it and much of the comedy is strenuous and unsympathetic. (Arnold Stang and Marvin Kaplan don't deserve the destruction of their gas station; Milton Berle and Terry-Thomas almost kill each other as the camera lingers too long on their agonies; Spencer Tracy can't escape his hellish home life, etc.) I admire the performances but not the comedy. To me, it's the world's longest Columbia two-reeler, directed by an insistent Jules White on the worst day of his life. I'd rather watch it piecemeal and enjoy the individual sequences.

But that's just me, John. I may be way off-base because I didn't see it under ideal conditions, with a responsive audience and a giant screen. I envy you the experience!

9:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I first saw IAMMMMW around 1970, I was fascinated as I assumed It to have been a genuine Cinerama film (Not just advertised as such).I was only 10 or 11, so It already looked like a kind of museum piece for me-I noticed a NIXON FOR GOVERNOR campaign banner.I loved seeing so many stars in the same film and recognizing Zazu Pitts from the Maltin MOVIE COMEDY TEAMS book.But I missed Buster Keaton, expecting to see him in his flat hat and vest.(I actually assumed Keaton was still living in 1970).And I hated that all the characters wound up in jail-what crime had they committed(!!!!????).Then, after I dragged my Dad to It-HE HATED IT!!-Pretty much for the same reasons Mr. Mcgillivray has a hard time with It.But I thought the film was funny and I didn't understand. And on revisiting the film at a more mature age, I didn't like It either.My favorite thing in It is actually the chemistry between Tracy and William Demerest(Two craggy old pros together).And if anybody really did the things that these characters did in real life, you'd WANT them to be in jail!

4:46 PM  
Anonymous r.j. said...


The first -- and last -- time I ever saw this was on its' initial release in Hollywood, when my parents took me, a very-willing and eager attendee, to see it, at the old (then new) Cinerama Dome. I am only responding because in all the time I've been reading your postings I don't think I ever saw such passion aroused -- pro and con -- by your faithful followers. I've reached an age where I feel if people like this sort of thing, it's fine by me, just so long as I don't have to be around while it's happening.

I just remember feeling kind-of whoozy as a child, at the finish, like I'd just downed a whole fifth of scotch at one-time (which come to think of it would have proabably been a better alternative). Your story about the theatre manager was I thought infinitly funnier than anything I can remember from this, however, in closing, I would like to remind you of the words of H.L. Menken: "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American Public." This film could almost stand as a living-monument to that thought.


8:13 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

RJ, the Mad World post has generated the largest number of comments so far for a Greenbriar post, breaking the record of "Marxes Out Of Metro", which was published 1/12/09 and got 39 comments. I guess like you say, MMMMW is one film that inspires passion on the part of its adherents ... and detractors.

Scott, I really liked your reference to "Mad World" as "the world's longest Columbia two-reeler." I had no idea Stanley Clements was in the film! ... and I missed Leo Gorcey altogether when I watched.

8:29 AM  
Anonymous KING OF JAZZ said...

Not sure if this is the last word on the matter, but I really like the intense reactions posted here, pro or con. I'd like to ideally leave it though on an upbeat note since I'm a staunch defender of this film--it is soooooo well constructed, written and executed that it makes so many comedies nowadays look feeble--and where are the ambitious comedies today? Reheated SNL skits? Disney marketing products?

MAD WORLD is an undeniable classic, but comedy being what it is, it ain't for everyone, but there are more than enough of us to welcome the release of a sterling Blu-ray edition someday.

"It went sailing right out there!"

10:51 AM  
Anonymous Bob Gassel said...

Just to clarify about the Laserdisc "restored" version that has been mentioned in some of the posts...

Much of the cut footage remains missing, though 20 minutes of material (much of it from the roadshow release, but including some scenes never before seen in any release version) was found in the late 1980s in an abandoned warehouse slated for demolition. While not officially referring to it as a "director's cut", Stanley Kramer helped oversee the re-incorporation of this missing footage into a 182-minute "restored" video version for VHS and LaserDisc.

2:39 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Bob, do you recall the name of the guy who embarked on a 90's mission to restore MMMMW? He had a newsletter, I think, and devoted tremendous effort toward putting the picture back complete. I just don't remember his name offhand.

10:13 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

This really interesting (and unsigned) e-mail just arrived concerning Mad World cuts:

Hi John,

The conversation for this probably inactive now (I just saw it), but I
found another huuuuge thread on an attempted restoration here:

The most interesting post is a listing of rumored footage that didn't
even make onto the restored Laserdisc version back in the 90's:

"A split screen phone conversation between Culpeper (calling from the
ice cream shop) and Jimmy the crook (Buster Keaton). The content of
the conversation would be a spoiler for anybody who hasn´t seen the
movie. This was Keaton´s only other scene in the film.

Another scene showed Sylvester stealing a car from Barrie Chase´s
husband. The car was outside Sylvester´s house. A deleted police radio
voiceover told the audience that Sylvester´s dance partner was
married. That´s why Barrie Chase used to be credited as Mrs.
Halliburton on the Imdb and in various Sixties cast lists.

A biography of Don Knotts reported a cut (or never publicly shown)
scene of Knotts and Barbara Pepper fighting over a pay phone in a
diner (after Knotts leaves Otto Meyer´s car).

On the airfield, Ding and Benjy absentmindedly put tanning oil on a
six foot tall showgirl.

During intermission, 10-15 mins. of police radio dialogue was played
over speakers in the cinema lobby and rest room. The dialogue told
what the characters were up to during the intermission. These police
calls were part of the first few showings only.

Short bits of dialogue, as well as police dialogue/voiceovers at the
beginning and end of scenes, were cut all through the movie.

Detailed info here:

Robert Karnes part as Officer Simmy and Stanley Clements part as the
detective in the squad room were cut or at least shortened (Clements).
Cameos by Chick Chandler, Cliff Norton, Stan Freberg, Edward Everett
Horton, Phil Foster (gas station attendant), and Allen Jenkins were
cut or shortened. Howard Da Silva´s cameo (Airport Manager) was cut or
never publicly shown.

Kramer said in his autobiography that Jack Benny´s cameo was shortened
before release. The scene in the film follows the screenplay.

Sometimes there is mention of a filmed but deleted dance sequence
sung by The Shirelles. The group is heard singing as Sylvester and
Mrs. Halliburton dances. The dance scenes were shortened for later

All of this is written into the screenplay. Check eBay for sales
offers. It´s a good read. The screenplay is my source for most of the
info above. I´ve compared the screenplay and the film on the DVD."

8:51 AM  

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