It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
1963 action comedy
Plot: Witnesses to a horrific automobile accident where a guy just went sailing right off there are told of thousands of dollars buried under a giant W in a park. They decide to go hunt for the cash, double-crossing each other along the way.
The final action sequence, one involving a very long ladder and some clay figures, is so ridiculously fake looking that it's almost impossible not to love. This comedy, which for better or worse probably laid the groundwork for The Cannonball Run II, seems to go on forever, but there are so many characters drifting in and out and such a flighty pace that it doesn't matter. This is really all about the cameos, a who's who of funny people who sometimes do a great job of letting the situations be funny and at other times seemingly try to out-perform each other. Not that there's anything wrong with the latter because I could probably watch Ethel Merman, who released the greatest disco album in the history of the genre (by the way), as this mother-in-law character chew up the scenery all day. At times, the cameos start to turn into this "Hey, look at who we put in the movie now!" situation. For example, the Three Stooges appear on the screen for about three seconds to pretty much just wave at the audience. But if you can find me another movie with both Three's Company landlords, the great Buddy Hackett, Andy Devine with that voice of his, Jerry Lewis (don't blink), and my main man Buster Keaton, I'll go ahead and be less impressed. Watching all of these familiar faces pop into the story just keeps this fun.
Keaton was about three years from his death when this came out, but he's still Buster. He's in the film briefly and in a completely inconsequential scene. But I had to watch that couple minutes a second time because I enjoyed watching him move exactly like he did in the 1920s, that goofy lean as if he's looking around something that only he can see, those panicky gesticulations. It's always good to see Buster Keaton.
Here's a question: Why do you think they settled on four mads in the title? Do you think there was a conversation like the following?
Producer: Well, I say we go with It's a Mad, Mad World. Two mads sounds perfect to me.
Another producer: Why stop at two mads? Why not three? Or even more?
Another producer (because they probably had a thousand producers, one for every actor and actress in the movie): Let's go with thirty mads!
That second producer: Hell yeah! It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World! That's perfection!
Producer: Umm, no. That's ridiculous. That's way too many mads. Nobody wants to ask for a ticket to It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. They'd miss the previews.
Lurking producer: How about this, gentlemen? How about four mads? It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
First producer: Hey, that's an idea.
Another producer: Yeah, I like it. It's one more than three.
Yet another producer: And it's one less than five! It's perfect!
There are all kinds of funny moments in this, but I think my favorite few minutes is right before the intermission, a feverishly-edited montage where our characters are in various perils--crashing in planes, exploding in basements, and so on. You're on the edge of your seat even though you know none of these characters' lives are actually threatened at all. I loved it. I also loved Ben Blue, an actor not nearly as well known as most of the others in this, the guy who played the biplane pilot who gives the most perfect OK sign I think I've ever seen. Dick Shawn, playing Ethel Merman's other offspring, is also fun to watch as he dances in his domicile with Barrie Chase.
Seriously, that's how I want to live. You just get the sense that Dick Shawn's character does nothing but dance around his pad, interrupted only by his mother's phone calls. That's the life, people! I'd take that right now even with an 82-year-old Barrie Chase. I bet she could still rock that bikini.
I'd like to see some figures on how much damage these characters caused. Completely-leveled gas stations, heavily-damaged hardware stores, lots of vehicular damage. It's got to be in the millions.
Anyway, this is a fun movie although it really is too long. I would have liked to see more Don Knotts, of course, preferably in a sex scene with Buddy Hackett's character, but I guess that would have been far too risky at the time.