Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ernest Gold, composer--"It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" (USA, 1963)

This comic movie--with a title appropriate for this sad anniversary for Americans and others of many nations-- was one of the first I remember seeing at a drive-in theater--and have enjoyed on television from time to time since. It was an overhyped extravaganza of a film, more popular with the general public than with most critics.

It affords not only a worthy and multitudinous cast of mainly American comedians in their prime, but also reaffirms that humanity's lust for money can make mild-mannered grown-ups into badly-behaved children.

The plot, from screenwriter William Rose ("The LadyKillers") is simple. A older hoodlum just one step ahead of the cops a serious accident with his car flying off the road on a desert highway. Before he literally "kicks the bucket", he tells eight good samaritans in four separate parties gathered around him that there is a cache of 350,000 bucks hidden "under a big W" in a near-by coastal California town---all they have to do is get there and dig it up!

The "samaritans" soon fall out and a two-and-a-half hour melee ensues for control of the treasure, all the while Police Captain Culpepper tracks the would-be criminals while his personal and professional world crashes and burns all around him. Will his own deep-seeded avarice get the better of him?

Stanley Kramer produced and directed, and Ernest Gold did the excellent score.

Spencer Tracy ... Capt. C. G. Culpepper

Milton Berle ... J. Russell Finch

Sid Caesar ... Melville Crump

Buddy Hackett ... Benjy Benjamin
Ethel Merman ... Mrs. Marcus

Mickey Rooney ... Ding Bell
Dick Shawn ... Sylvester Marcus

Phil Silvers ... Otto Meyer
Terry-Thomas ... J. Algernon Hawthorne

Jonathan Winters ... Lennie Pike

Edie Adams ... Monica Crump

Dorothy Provine ... Emeline Marcus-Finch


  1. It's been a very long time since I saw this one Doug, wonder how well it's stood the test of time?

  2. Hahahaha, the times I've seen this film. If you can't win in the usual way there's only one thing for it, skulduggery!

  3. This is a fun film which has stood the test of time very well - it's a madcap-farce; if farce isn't one's cup o' tea, then this one won't entertain, but for my money, it's a slice-of-life of 60's mores which is more-charming as it gets older.

    The Gold score compliments the film well, as a good score does, rather than detract from it.

    (This one finds its way onto cable in rotation every now and again, so others must feel the same way. Watch this one in conjunction with another film like "After The Fox" for a double-feature of '60's hilarity!)

  4. It's a movie that brings a smile just at its mention to me.

  5. I think time has been kinder to this film then many others of its day, Jim, including most of the Rock Hudson /Doris Day style of romantic comedy.

    The humor is broad, of course, but there are also a lot more good banter between the characters as well I hadn't appreciated as much until this last viewing.

  6. I agree heartily Will. I think "charm" is what this film has in droves. Released in November of 1963, it is really a look back at a less edgy and ironic style in American culture.
    If one is in the mood for dark humor or biting satire, one might want to put "Mad World" off a bit.

  7. Yes, Cassandra, I love the premise that one incident turns so many disparate and ordinary people practically into brigands! And its all in fun.

  8. It was truly a classic. You could not make a movie with this many stars now a days. Their egos would be too big to take second or third stage.

  9. I agree Fred. This is a true ensemble film.

  10. I saw this film at the Art Deco Gaumont Cinema in Birmingham (which sadly closed in 1983) shortly after it was released in England and loved every minute of it. The Gaumont was busy shaking the world with 'Cinerama' and surround sound... big concave screen, which meant if you sat at the front as I did you had to keeps turning your head to se what was happening, which ultimately meant you had to see the film again to catch the bits you missed the first time. But I laughed a lot at this film when I was about 12 and haven't seen it since....until this evening, so thanks for the reminder takes me back to a time when going to the flicks was like magic, because the TV was only in monochrome and it ended at 11 pm.

  11. So that's how much the emancipation of women cost in 1963 is it? well spent I'd say

  12. Glad I could bring good memories back there, AA. I first saw this film around 1964-65 at the Monte Vista Drive-In. My older brother was back on leave from the Air Force. Bob and his fiancee wanted to neck in the front seat but I was a wet blanket, acting up like a five year old kid does. If he had just tied me to the speaker pole and driven away and told my mom I had been taken by a circus troop, I couldn't blame him. I did remember enjoying the film and seeing adults acting up.

    Seen this several times since, but not on a big screen. I saw "2001" in Cinerama style and that was amazing! We had color tv at our house around 1968 I think but the screen was small and the over the air signal fuzzy. Going to an actual movie and seeing larger-than-life images was great fun in those days. I think seeing a movie was like magic in those days--you got to look forward to it as kid, go out and take it all in with other people, and if you went to an indoor theater you might dress up a bit. It was a different time.

    I'd love to see this film in its original "roadshow" format, on a big screen. There is buzz on the Internet of some missing footage--some of which might feature an expanded role for the great Buster Keaton, who's barely in the version available on Turner Classics and DVD. His work was some of the half-hour or so of film taken out after the film was cut to increase showings in suburban locales.
    The excised footage was left to decompose basically--this was a problem for all movies of that time, even big hits like "Lawrence of Arabia" and "My Fair Lady", which have been restored to a degree.

    Film restoration before the 1970's was criminally lax, so I'm not holding my breath to ever see what you saw in Birmingham back then, but it would be nice to see this film on a trip to San Francisco at any of the one or two big theaters still left to show a film screened in the original format.

  13. Haha! Even adjusted for inflation it is a price well worth paying, AA.