'It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World' is one of my all-time favourite comedies, one of the very few movies I've watched repeatedly. (One reason I've managed to see so many movies is because I very seldom allocate the time to watch any movie I've already seen. "Mad World' is one of the few exceptions that I'll watch over and over.) Roundabout the sixth or seventh time I watched 'Mad World', I twigged that there isn't a single punchline in this very funny comedy: all of the humour comes from physical action and the characters' reactions. The most hilarious scene is the one in which Jonathan Winters wrecks Arnold Stang's and Marvin Kaplan's service garage.
As brilliant as 'Mad World' is, it's a very unwieldy film. It would have worked better with *fewer* comedians making cameo appearances, since many of the ones who get a look-in are given nothing to do. The idea of casting the Three Stooges as firemen is downright hilarious, but in the film they merely make a brief appearance in firemen's gear: they never get to wreak any havoc. Many other comedians in this film are likewise wasted. If 'Mad World' were remade today, the story would never work: most of the characters would have cell phones, and they would behave differently.
I've read the script of 'It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World': it contains many scenes that were never shot at all. Spencer Tracy absolutely refused to work after five p.m. (the time of day when he started drinking), and thus many of his scenes were never filmed. Among the unfilmed is a brief dialogue scene between Tracy and Sid Caesar. More interesting (but also unfilmed) is a touching dialogue sequence between Caesar and Edie Adams aboard Ben Blue's aeroplane, when they think they're going to win the race and get all the money. Adams reminisces about her early days in a demeaning hotel job in Saint Joseph, Missouri, when her co-workers humiliated her: now she plans to return to that hotel as a wealthy guest, and humiliate her former co-workers. (Screenwriter William Rose was from St Joseph, Missouri: I wonder if this scene was autobiographical.)
Maddeningly, many sequences that *were* shot for 'Mad World' were deleted. I especially regret the loss of a poignant telephone scene between Tracy and Buster Keaton as a reformed crook who owns a motorboat that can take Tracy to Mexico. When Tracy goes to the drugstore to eat an ice cream sundae, it's actually a pretext for him to use a coin phone to ring up Keaton. This is the scene that would have informed audiences of Tracy's plan to steal the money. As the movie now stands, Keaton's relationship to Tracy remains unclear, and it's also unclear precisely when Tracy's character turns crooked. For years, I'd hoped to rediscover the excised Buster Keaton footage: I now sadly believe that it no longer exists.
When 'Mad World' was re-released on video in 1991, there was some publicity about 'restored footage'. The only restored footage is during the service garage sequence -- we see highway patrolmen cowering behind their cars while Winters wrecks the garage -- and this added footage makes the movie *less* funny, not more so.
'Something a Little Less Serious' is an informal documentary that was added to the '91 video. Director Stanley Kramer and some of the participants in 'Mad World' have reunited for an informal lunch, in which they share some memories of the movie. Kramer had a reputation for earnest movies about racism and Nazi war crimes, so 'It's a Mad World' was his attempt to create something a little less serious. I learnt a few interesting facts here. Arnold Stang broke his left wrist shortly before production began -- Stang is left-handed -- but he chose to conceal the injury so that he wouldn't be replaced. In the shot when Stang and Kaplan pick up a truck axle and use it as a battering ram, Stang is holding the axle with only his right hand.
We also learn that Winters was mentally unstable throughout the shoot, channelling weird personalities ... such as the Tuesday Bear, who only comes out on the Tuesdays. At the climax of the film, Winters and Dick Shawn are in the money pit together, respectively wielding a pickaxe and a shovel. This documentary reveals that Shawn was unwilling to stand in a pit alongside Winters while Winters was brandishing a pickaxe, due to Winters's erratic behaviour.
I wish that Sid Caesar had shared here a memory which he previously divulged in a magazine interview, concerning his scenes in 'Mad World' with Edie Adams, who played his wife. In real life, Adams's husband Ernie Kovacs had recently died in a road accident; she was despondent, but had to keep working in order to pay off Kovacs's debts. It fell to Caesar to keep her spirits upbeat during the production of this movie. (Sid Caesar's role in this film had originally been written for Kovacs; Caesar got the role only due to Kovacs's death.)
This documentary also includes clips from 'Mad World', but they seem to be chosen at random and don't illustrate what the 'talking heads' are saying. I'll rate this documentary 8 out of 10, for giving me an opportunity to revisit one of my favourite comedies from a fresh angle.
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