It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)

<strong class="MovieTitle">It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World</strong> (1963)

(In French, On TV, January 2019) The 1960s were a strange time for movies, with studios chasing epic films in a decades-long fight to convince TV viewers to make the trip to theatres. It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World is special in that it (along with The Great Race) was a rare attempt to make an epic comedy rather than rely on oh-so-very-serious biblical or historical source material. The result is, indeed a spectacle: As a few strangers hear a dying thief give them the location of a hidden treasure, the rest of the film is a madcap, multi-character chase through the southwestern United States in an attempt to get to the treasure before everyone else. The ensemble cast is a collection of early 1960s comedy stars, even though most of them are now unfamiliar to contemporary audiences. Still, what has not gone out of style is the succession of action set-pieces, impressive stunt work, breakneck editing and far-fetched comic situations in which the characters find themselves. Where else can you witness a plane flying (for real!) through a billboard; a man destroying a service station; or characters stuck on an out-of-control fireman ladder? It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World is admittedly very long—at nearly three hours (with half an hour cut from the first showings!), it would be a test of anyone’s patience, except that the laughs and the fast pacing do keep things hopping quickly: director Stanley Kramer may not have the deftest touch with comedy and specifically verbal comedy, but the result speaks for itself. While the film is easy to like, there are a few things that hold it back from unconditional love—namely, that the point of the film is a greedy chase, and so nearly every character (even the one played by the normally likable Spencer Tracy) eventually succumbs to pure old-fashioned backstabbing greed. The ending does the most of what it can with the cards it’s given, but there’s still an absence of a pure happy ending for anyone that stings a bit. Still, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World is a classic for a reason, and its sheer lengths and density of comic set-pieces make it a decent prospect for a rewatch.

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