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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)



Reviews and Comments

With this film, Stanley Kramer and William Rose set out to make the biggest, broadest comedy to end all comedies. Well, it didn't end comedies, but it accomplished the other goals: this is a huge movie, in multiple senses of the term: it's big because it's three hours long, big because it has one of the largest all-star casts ever assembled, and big because it was filmed in 70mm for Cinerama (giant, wide, and curved) screens. The film is essentially one humongous chase: several characters find out about a buried treasure somewhere, and they all race off in a mad scramble for the loot. It was remade with the passable Rat Race in 2001, but that film's smaller scale misses the point.

The cast list is almost a who's who of 50 years of comedy. There were stars of film (Mickey Rooney, Ethel Merman), television (Milton Berle, Sid Caesar), silent comedy (Buster Keaton), stand-up (Buddy Hackett), radio (Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Jack Benny), leading men (Spencer Tracy), character actors (William Demarest, Paul Ford), stars of the past (Jimmy Durante), stars of the future (Peter Falk), mostly Americans (Phil Silvers, Jonathan Winters), but a representative across the pond, too (Terry-Thomas). Despite the large main cast, there is still room for a grocery list of celebrity cameos, like Don Knotts, Jerry Lewis, and the Three Stooges.

Celebrity pig piles like this often turned out to be messes, but the mess is the whole point here. This film is so crammed full of every kind of slapstick farce imaginable that the three-hour running time feels rushed. Precious little of it is smart or witty, but it's not trying to be. The film has a kind of purity in having a single, solitary goal -- to make you laugh -- and it chases that goal with as much energy as a dozen other comedies put together.

The anchor that holds it all together -- the one straight man against which all the others play -- is Spencer Tracy, the police captain who's trying to pin all the madness down. It's a remarkably human performance and better than it needed to be. The film as a whole, for that matter, is better than it needed to be.