It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is probably my favorite movie. I don't think it's the best movie I've ever seen. I don't even
think it's the funniest. But, like a piece of art that grabs your eye and won't let go, I find it fascinating.
I am well aware the film has its detractors; recently, when a "restored" (not really) Laserdisc set was issued of it, the high-tech
video mags erupted in vitriol, complete with character assassination of anyone who did/didn't find the film funny. One critic was aghast that anyone,
anywhere didn't despise the film, let alone loved it. (Also one of its stars: When I told Mickey Rooney he'd appeared in my favorite movie and what
it was, he looked at me like I'd just spit up on his shoes.)
I refuse to defend the film to those who don't "get" it: Then don't watch it. Go away. Leave us who enjoy it alone. We're enjoying
something here that you will never enjoy. Too bad for you.
I also refuse to hide behind the wimpy abrogation of calling it a "Guilty Pleasure." (In the world of film buffs, if you own up to
liking Russ Meyer movies or cheesy horror films, you are apt to disgrace yourself in some eyes. But, somehow, if you say the same films are "Guilty
Pleasures," that's okay...they don't count against you.) I won't plea-bargain about Mad World; I simply love the movie.
There are a lot of us out there who love this movie and we all seem to be fascinated by all the behind-the-scenes stuff that went into
making it, as much as the incredible history of motion picture comedy represented by its cast — everyone from its stars to players with one
line or less.
(The biggest laugh in the movie, for me, comes with a single shot of the Three Stooges just standing there in fireman's gear; they
don't do anything, they don't spray seltzer or poke one another in the eyes...they just stand there. And they were never funnier.)
It is also fascinating that it was written by William and Tania Rose, directed and produced by Stanley Kramer — a parlay more
suitable for and versed in serious, "message" dramas. Kramer directed in a straight-ahead style and the Roses wrote lines that allowed our finest
comic actors to live up to the old maxim, usually attributed to Ed Wynn: "A comedian is not someone who says funny things...a comedian is someone who
says things funny."
The story, in case you've never seen it, involves a crazed chase through the streets and deserts of California. The scenery is a much a
star of this film as...well, let's see how many of the cast members I can list from memory, shall we?
Spencer Tracy, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Terry-Thomas, Phil Silvers, Ethel Merman, Edie Adams, Dorothy Provine, Dick Shawn, Jonathan
Winters, Mickey Rooney, Buddy Hackett, Jimmy Durante, Peter Falk, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Buster Keaton, Edward Everett Horton, Jesse White, Paul
Ford, Carl Reiner, Norman Fell, Don Knotts, Sterling Holloway, Barrie Chase, Andy Devine, Stan Freberg, Marvin Kaplan, Arnold Stang, Doodles Weaver,
Ben Blue, Jim Backus, Ben Lessy, Selma Diamond, Jerry Lewis, Jack Benny, Mike Mazurki, Madlyn Rhue, Zasu Pitts, William Demarest, Joe E. Brown,
Sammee Tong, Charles Lane and the Three Stooges.
There. I did all that from memory. Honest.
It's obviously an incredible assemblage of talent: That's one thing that makes the movie wonderful. The stunt work and camera work are
two more, along with state-of-the-art special effects that are often so well done, you are unaware you are watching "trick photography." The
geography is another; so is the incredible pace. The movie is very long (and when I first saw it, it was longer) and it zips along like an oversized
When I first saw it: This film is also a precious childhood memory for some of us. It debuted in November, 1963, a few days before
everyone's world was changed by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. For days, we all sat stunned before non-stop television coverage,
wondering if the world would ever be the same again. Of course, it wouldn't.
As respectful as we were regarding the death of our President, there came a time when we simply couldn't stand to watch anymore; one
can tolerate only so much grief before becoming numb.
Some family friends called us. They had tickets for this new comedy movie — some sort of benefit, I think — but were in no
emotional shape to leave the house. Would we like their seats? My father said, "I have to get out of the house" and took them. I do not recall my
father ever turning down anything that was free.
We saw it at the Pacific Cinerama Dome on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. It was the debut attraction at that igloo-like theater, built
to feature the ultra-widescreen Cinerama format. The audience that filed in was very solemn and very tired and I'm sure some of them felt no few
tinges of guilt about not being home and watching news coverage. That was all forgotten once the film got going. For a few hours, the tragedy was out
of our minds and hearts and everyone remembered what it felt like to smile.
We will be expanding this section in the months to come but for now, we have these pages that might answer some of your questions about