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    It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Extended Edition) Blu-ray Review

    Blu-ray Criterion

    Jan 19 2014 03:40 PM | Matt Hough in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
    “Bigger isn’t necessarily better” so the old saying goes, but in the case of Stanley Kramer’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, bigger is just fine and dandy, and in Criterion’s new edition of both the general release and extended versions of the film, the viewer can have his pick of which account of the film he wants to see. In terms of its scale, the number of stars, its epic length (in either cut), and its uncanny ability to sustain the madcap farce for three or more hours, the film outstrips other big budget comedies like The Great Race, Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, and 1941 and leaves them in the dust (though I have always been rather partial to The Great Race in a head-to-head competition for sheer belly laughs). Kramer’s nutty comedy may not be the wittiest or subtlest movie ever made, but it’s a deeply funny, genuinely riotous movie that has easily stood the test of time, and Criterion’s new release offers fans two cuts with a plethora of bonus material that should satisfy most World aficionados.

    Title Info:

    • Studio: Criterion
    • Distributed By: N/A
    • Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
    • Aspect Ratio: 2.76:1
    • Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
    • Subtitles: English SDH
    • Rating: G
    • Run Time: 2 Hrs. 45 Min./ 3 Hrs. 17 Min.
    • Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD
    • Case Type: fold out cover inside a cardboard slipcover
    • Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
    • Region: A
    • Release Date: 01/21/2013
    • MSRP: $49.95

    The Production Rating: 4/5

    Five travelers (Milton Berle, Mickey Rooney, Buddy Hackett, Sid Caesar, and Jonathan Winters) are on hand to hear the dying confession of a shifty bandit (Jimmy Durante) fatally injured in a car crash. He tells them of a $350,000 windfall buried underneath a “big W” in Santa Rosita Beach State Park, and while the group initially agrees to work together and split the money equally, suspicions and greed force them to ditch that plan and instead pit each against the other in a race to find the loot. Meanwhile, their every move is being monitored by Santa Rosita police captain C. G. Culpepper (Spencer Tracy) who listens in awe to reports of these basically law-abiding citizens breaking every law in the book in a mad scramble to get to the money before the others, their greed completely overpowering any semblance of rational thought.

    The script by William and Tania Rose contains only a fair degree of wit but an ample supply of slapstick farce, and the demands for death-defying stunt work especially on the roads and in the skies of California simply defy rational explanation. Among the chaotic highlights of the film are Jonathan Winters’ astounding destruction of a roadside gas station (with a terrified Marvin Kaplan and Arnold Stang helplessly trying to stay alive), Sid Caesar and Edie Adams’ lengthy series of maneuvers (involving fire extinguishers, blow torches, hundreds of cans of paint, and several sticks of dynamite) to escape from the locked basement of a hardware store, Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett’s frantic attempts to land an out-of-control prop plane with no flying experience (cue the billboard they fly through and Paul Ford who goes plummeting head-over-heels from the tower as they buzz past), and the series of pratfalls Ethel Merman (as the champion shrewish mother-in-law of all time) and her body double take throughout the film always to howlingly funny effect. Along the way, the group adds additional antagonists (Phil Silvers, Terry-Thomas, Dick Shawn, Peter Falk, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson), and there are a few surprise guest stars not credited in the main titles (Jerry Lewis, Jack Benny) though fans of great comics of the time like Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, and Bob Hope may be dismayed they didn’t make it into the movie. Still, the very audacity to create a film with the kind of star cast that this film boasts and to serve all of them with a fair degree of effectiveness is still an unparalleled achievement and impossible to imagine the likes of today.

    In Criterion’s restored longer cut (approximating but not completely replicating the longer roadshow version of the film which ran for a couple of weeks in the movie’s premiere engagement), scenes run longer sometimes with gag-filled tags but often not serving any useful purpose, and one understands why Kramer decided to trim them out after the film’s first few engagements. Due to the quality of the elements even after digital tinkering, the additions to the general release version are noticeable (a bonus feature on the disc gives a concise explanation as to why the trims look as they do, why there are occasionally missing pieces of soundtrack or footage, and how they’re dealt with in the restoration) but have been added back in as seamless a way as possible. What emerges is, if not a real revelation, at least an entertaining continuation that allows these famous stars more chances to shine and fans of the film more opportunities to relish their favorite comedy. The restored radio calls for the intermission, three sequences of them, are valuable contributions to the overall effect of the new pseudo-roadshow experience which those who never saw the laserdisc package will be new to.

    Of the top-billed stars, Jonathan Winters steals the show. His ability to mix physical comedy with a stream of verbal jibes (many sound like ad-libs) sets him apart from everyone else, and his every appearance is a tonic. Ethel Merman’s motormouth and short-fused temper make her the only female in the cast to distinguish herself among the otherwise male-heavy star roster. (Edie Adams and Dorothy Provine really aren’t given much of an opportunity to show what they could do.) Phil Silvers’ rascally charlatan doesn’t begin with the others but comes into his own later in a series of comic mishaps his character readily deserves. Spencer Tracy, of course, performs in his customarily low key fashion making the surprises he has to pull off later really connect with the audience. But the real stars of the movie are the incredible stunt crew who pull off one extraordinary moment after another in a seemingly endless array. They are the real unsung heroes of the piece.

    Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA

    Both versions of the movie (one on each of the two Blu-rays in the package) display the film’s Ultra Panavision aspect ratio of 2.76:1 in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is stunning throughout (the restored scenes added back in are not being considered in this video analysis; they are what they are and are remarkable to exist at all), and color is deeply and richly saturated, so much so that everyone seems to be sporting a deep tan (just take a glance at those lush reds in Mickey Rooney’s sweater and VW or Dick Shawn’s swim trunks). Details in facial features have rarely been so keenly delivered to a home theater audience. There is some fading along the edges of the main titles, and there is momentary flashing in some grille work in the cars during the side-by-side chase scene that makes for one of the film’s most memorable sequences. The film has been divided into 19 chapters for the general release version and 21 chapters in the extended version.

    Audio Rating: 4.5/5

    The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix appears to be different from the one used on the MGM/UA Blu-ray released in 2011. The use of the surrounds is much more aggressive in this mix than before with Ernest Gold’s frisky, expressive score getting a wide spread through the fronts and rears and some ambient sound effects panning through the soundstage fairly frequently. Dialogue has been well recorded and has been actively directionalized consistently through the running time of the movie. Additionally, the track isn’t weighed down at all by any age-related artifacts such as hiss or crackle.

    Special Features: 4.5/5

    The making of documentary which was present on the MGM/UA Blu-ray release has not been ported over to this new Criterion release, so those who have that old disc may wish to retain it for this new edition. (It can go into one of the slots holding the three DVDs in this case.)

    Disc One contains the general release version of the movie and contains these bonus features, all in HD:

    Promotional Spots: an introduction by comedian Stan Freberg (4:20) for the 1963 release, six radio ads, four TV ads, the roadshow teaser trailer (1:27) and the general release trailer (3:21). For the 1970 rerelease, there are three radio ads and a theatrical trailer (3:21).

    Telescope (24:56, 25:22): a two-part episode of the CBC series covers the press tour for the film and the movie’s premiere in Hollywood featuring stars from the movie, stars attending the opening, and narrated by host Fletcher Harkle.

    Press Interview (35:08): 1963 interview on the evening before the premiere features stars Jonathan Winters, Milton Berle, Mickey Rooney, director Stanley Kramer, Sid Caesar, Terry-Thomas, and Dick Shawn.

    Stanley Kramer’s Reunion Show (36:46): a 1974 talk show featuring the director who interviews his guests Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, and Jonathan Winters reminiscing about the making of the movie.

    Disc Two contains the new extended edition of the movie with the following bonus features, all in HD:

    Audio Commentary: a new commentary track by Mad World enthusiasts Mark Evanier, Michael Schlesinger, and Paul Scrabo which clearly is a labor of love as the three swap off duties discussing the film’s merits and giving background on its many notable participants and achievements.

    AFI 100 Years…100 Laughs (11:10): excerpts from the TV special celebration of the greatest comedies ever made offers testimonials from members of the cast and stars who are among its most devoted fans.

    The Last 70mm Festival (37:38): Billy Crystal hosts a 2012 panel who talk about the film’s merits. Among the participants are Jonathan Winters, Marvin Kaplan, Mickey Rooney, Stan Freberg, and Carl Reiner.

    Sound and Vision (36:28): visual effects expert Craig Barron and sound effects expert Ben Burtt discuss the variety of special visual and sound effects that give the movie its unusual magic.

    Restoration Video Essay (5:19): a concise discussion of how the restored footage was rescued from oblivion and how the parts of the movie which could still not be located are going to be handled. Viewers should watch this feature before watching the extended version of the movie.

    Eighteen-Page Booklet: contains the cast and crew lists, some novel illustrations, and New York Post film critic Lou Lumenick’s essay on the film.

    It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Map: another enclosure in the case is this illustrated map of the area covered in the film with a legend describing each of the protagonists’ movements during the movie.

    DVDs: three discs enclosed in the fold-out case in this dual-format release.

    Timeline: can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.

    Overall Rating: 4.5/5

    The last word in farcical extravaganzas, Criterion’s deluxe release of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World has just about everything any fan of the movie would ever want. No, even with Robert Harris’ meticulous restoration work, it’s still not quite the complete roadshow version (though it’s undoubtedly the closest we’ll ever have), and the film’s many stunning achievements deserve even more critical appreciation than is offered here. Still, this is the version so many have waited for so long and comes highly recommended!

    Reviewed by: Matt Hough
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    29 Comments

    The reason the credit takes so long to appear is to allow time for the huge Cinerama curtains to fully open

    I've never been more disappointed in a (relatively expensive MSRP) Criterion Blu-ray disk set.  I am intimately familiar with "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World", having run it at least a few hundred times as a projectionist, and more times if you include my 16mm print, my laser disc version, 2 plain DVD versions, the first MGM Blu-ray version....and NOW, this Criterion version.

     

    In 1966 I recall a film booker telling me that when he tried to book the film, the only thing United Artists would say it that it was “out of service".  In 1967, as a projectionist, I had the privilege of meeting Stanley Kramer at the premiere of “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” when it opened at the Victoria Theatre. Both the Astor and Victoria have since been demolished.  While normally, the demolishing of Broadway theatres really upset me (Loew’s Capitol and State, Warner Cinerama, Rivoli, DeMille, etc.), these two theatres weren’t in the same league as the theatres mentioned above. 

     

    I had the opportunity to tell Mr. Kramer how I (and all my friends and everyone I knew) thought It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was, if not THE BEST, the funniest picture ever made.  In the brief time we spoke (Katharine Houghton was also there but I didn't have an opportunity to speak to her.), I finally learned the reason it had been "out of service", Mr. Kramer was in litigation with UA claiming they cheated him (which was probably true).  It would be another three years before Mad World would finally be re-released.  IMO, they did a poor job advertising the re-release of the funniest picture ever made, but that's water under the bridge at this point.  I also asked about the time differences between the Roadshow and final General Theatrical Release versions.  While some film companies would cut a film’s running time to allow for 5 or 6 shows a day plus 10 to 15 minute intermissions between shows, that WAS NOT the case for Mad World.  While the answer wasn’t totally clear to me, he lead me to believe that HE MADE THE CUTS and that they weren’t just hacked by some film company editor purely for time.  My own personal opinion is that whoever made the cuts knew exactly what they were doing.  It IMPROVED the picture and took out some scenes that gave this great comedy a dark feeling.  Some of the trims added were NEVER EVEN IN THE ROADSHOW and should never have seen the light of day (or should I say "light of arc).

     

    While everyone is entitled to their opinion on what version they like best, assuming every scene was perfect and you couldn’t tell the difference from the rest of the film, I would STILL CHOOSE the 156 minute version, it's perfect.

     

    The ONE THING IMHO that is inexcusable by Criterion is leaving improper color on some titles. The first color on the opening main title, the intermission color and the end title color.  I have complained of this since the FIST DVD came out and I can’t understand why they couldn’t find any Technicolor IB reference print for the correct color? It's been run on TV in the past (1.33:1) and they had perfect color, so I can't understand WHO IT IS that thinks "their color choice" is better than THE ORIGINAL COLOR.

     

    The only thing left in the Criterion Collection Mad World that had ANY VALUE for me was a few of the late interviews, which were too new to be on the laser disc version or possibly even the first Blu-ray disc, which Walmart sold for $10.00 and looks either identical or BETTER than the Criterion disc.  However, in the end, it’s STILL one of the greatest pictures ever made, no matter what they do to it!

    I prefer the quality of the Wal-Mart exclusive, but just barely.  I had the laserdisc, and haven't watched it in years, so it was nice to see the additional scenes, again; and fun to hear the police dispatch that I thought was so cool during its roadshow engagement at The Boyd, in Philadelphia.

    Over a year ago I never thought this film would get the Deluxe treatment and yes, from Criterion! Sure there's still a debate and discussion on this film Classic. Thank you Robert Harris first, Team Criterion for the packaging, and special Bonus features.

    This film is a joy still!