It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Blu-ray)
Directed by Stanley Kramer
Aspect Ratio: 2.76:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 159 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French, 2.0 Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, French
MSRP: $ 19.99
Release Date: July 5, 2011
Review Date: July 14, 2011
“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. In terms of its scale, the number of stars, its epic length, and its uncanny ability to sustain the madcap farce for almost three 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.
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.
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 core group of eight 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.
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 of 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.
For the first time, the film’s Ultra Panavision aspect ratio of 2.76:1 seems to have been brought to home video in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. (I didn’t measure it, but there is plenty of breathing room in the main title credits and in scenes where the actors have been lined up across the screen. The disc’s liner notes say the aspect ratio is 2.55:1, but that’s clearly wrong.) Sharpness is stunning throughout, and color is deeply and richly saturated, so much so that everyone seems to be sporting a deep tan (just take a glance as those lush reds in Mickey Rooney’s sweater 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 grill work in the cars during the side-by-side chase scene that makes for one of the film’s most memorable sequences. Otherwise, the film is impressively clean and artifact free. The film has been divided into 32 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix features decent fidelity across the front soundstage, but except for some music cues, the rear channels do not get their due. Dialogue has been well recorded and resides mainly in the center channel, but Ernest Gold’s delightfully frisky theme music and background score don’t envelope the listener as a more modern comedy soundtrack would. Still, it’s very typical for its era, and at least the track isn’t weighed down by age-related artifacts such as hiss or crackle.
The bonus features from the last DVD release have been ported over to this Blu-ray release.
“Something a Little Less Serious” is an entertaining 61 ¼-minute look back on the making of the movie by director Stanley Kramer and actors Carl Reiner, Milton Berle, Jonathan Winters, Edie Adams, Sid Caesar, Arnold Stang, Jerry Lewis, Norman Fell, Buddy Hackett, Marvin Kaplan, and Mickey Rooney. Among topics of discussion are the locations used for filming, the special effects and stunt work, and a discussion of Ernest Gold’s music. It’s in 480i.
A motley collection of fifty-six deleted/extended scenes is offered in a montage that runs 59 ½ minutes. There is no organization to the clips and some are repeated in the collection. They’re presented in 480i.
The theatrical trailer runs for 3 ½ minutes in 1080p. The reissue trailer for a 1970 release runs 3 ¼ minutes in 1080p.
4/5 (not an average)
The last word in farcical extravaganzas, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World comes to Blu-ray in its best-ever home video presentation. No, it’s not the complete roadshow version, and the film’s achievements deserve a more critical appreciation than is offered here. Still, for a low cost upgrade to what has been previously released for home video, this is a no-brainer. Highly recommended!