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It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World

Review of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World starring Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Phil Silvers, Jonathan Winters,

It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World is a manic, hilarious, slapstick movie that starred some of the greatest movie clowns of their time — and more cameos than you can shake a stick at.   The basic plot involves a dying thief (Jimmy Durante) who tells a small group of bystanders where to find the hidden money from his last bank job.   These individuals then embark on a treasure hunt of sorts, and the madcap fun begins!   The initially small group grows, until nearly a dozen people are looking for the treasure, The movie quickly turns into a slapstick farce, as the various people (the funniest comedians and film clowns of their time) are competing to be the first to the location.   In addition, virtually every other major comedian or clown puts in a cameo appearance in the film.

Editorial review of It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, courtesy of Amazon.com

Stanley Kramer’s sprawling 1963 comedy about a search for buried treasure by at least a dozen people–all played by well-known entertainers of their day–is the kind of mass comedy that Hollywood hasn’t made in many years. (Another example from around the same time is Blake Edwards’s The Great Race.) After a number of strangers (including Milton Berle, Jonathan Winters, Sid Caesar, Phil Silvers, and others) witness a dying stranger (Jimmy Durante) identify the location of hidden money, a conflict-ridden hunt begins, watched over carefully by a suspicious cop (Spencer Tracy). The ensuing two and a half hours of mayhem has its ups and downs–some bits and performers are certainly funnier than others. But Kramer, who is better known for socially conscious, serious cinema (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?), is in a mood for broad comic characterization, and some of his jokes are so intentionally obvious (Durante literally kicks a bucket when he dies), they’d have a place in Airplane! Watch for lots of cameo appearances, including Jerry Lewis (who had called Kramer and asked him why he hadn’t been invited to participate). —Tom Keogh


Trivia for It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)

  • The cameo by Leo Gorcey marked his first appearance on film since he left the Bowery Boys series in 1956.
  • Arnold Stang broke his arm just days before his scenes were shot; in all shots his arm is forever crooked and held in place by a cast under his uniform.
  • Melville Crump was originally to be played by Ernie Kovacs, but he died in a one-car accident before principal shooting. In real life he was married to Edie Adams, who played Monica Crump.
  • Phil Silvers held regular crap games on the set.
  • Peter Falk improvised much of his dialog in the cab scene.
  • The billboard that the twin-engine Beechcraft flies through was made of thin balsa wood, except for a thicker frame for support. Stunt pilot Frank Tallman had to fly the aircraft directly through the center of the billboard or the thicker frame would shear off a wing. Since the shattered wood would clog and stop both engines, the billboard was built just off the end of the runway at the Chino (CA) airport. After flying through the billboard, Tallman simply lowered the landing gear and safely touched down on the runway.
  • The actors were given two huge scripts, one with all the dialogue, the other with the action.
  • The car that Jack Benny drives in his cameo is a Maxwell, the same defunct brand of automobile as his famous jalopy on his radio show.
  • Buster Keaton had a longer, earlier scene (cut after premiere). In it, Culpepper discusses his plans to use Jimmy’s boat to escape.
  • The following famous people have small roles: Jimmy Durante, The Three Stooges (Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Joe DeRita, Joe E. Brown, Buster Keaton, — €˜Eddie — €˜Rochester’ Anderson’ , Alan Carney, Barrie Chase, William Demarest, Andy Devine, Norman Fell, Paul Ford, Sterling Holloway, Edward Everett Horton, Marvin Kaplan, Don Knotts , Zasu Pitts, Carl Reiner, Madlyn Rhue, Arnold Stang, Jesse White, Peter Falk, Stan Freberg, Chick Chandler, Lloyd Corrigan, Louise Glenn, Leo Gorcey, Charles Lane, Mike Mazurki, Roy Roberts, Cliff Norton, Sammee Tong, Nick Stewart, Selma Diamond, Minta Durfee.
  • Cameo: Jerry Lewis deliberately drives over Culpepper’s hat.
  • Cameo: Jack Benny stops to offer help.
  • Jack Benny’s cameo at the wheel of a Maxwell was considered inaccurate by his fans because it was missing one thing: Mel Blanc. Blanc supplied the sound of Benny’s antique car on radio.
  • The scene where Melville knocks the blowtorch into the stairs with the sledgehammer took 86 tries to get it just right.
  • In the opening title animation, when the figure blows up the world and the actors’ names scatter on the screen, there is a very brief moment – only three frames, in fact – when the letters form the names of the animators, including Bill Melendez, Bernie Gruver, and other animators.
  • Phil Silvers injured himself in one of the later scenes of the movie and was replaced by a stunt double. In those later scenes, his face is always away from the camera.
  • In the scene where Jonathan Winters backed the truck into the water tower, it actually fell too soon, before the truck actually hit it. To compensate, special effects split the screen and slowed down the side with the water tower so that the fall would coincide with the hit.
  • Phil Silvers, while filming the scene where he drives his car into the river, nearly drowned because he couldn’t swim.
  • The fictional Santa Rosita State Park was located at Portuguese Bend in Rancho Palos Verdes. It was landscaped for the movie and is off limits to the general public today.
  • Besides supervising all stunts, Carey Loftin was the stunt double for Terry-Thomas.
  • It became well known that Stanley Kramer was casting nearly every comedy performer he could think of. Some famous stars actually contacted Kramer to volunteer for the project or to inquire as to why they had not been contacted.
  • When the cast first assembled for a meeting with the director, they were shown the stunts and second unit footage that had already been shot. One of the performers was so impressed they asked, “Why do you need us?”
  • The main part of the film was shot during the summer because many cast members were on hiatus from television series.
  • Stan Laurel turned down an invitation to appear in this film. When his partner Oliver Hardy died in 1957, Laurel pledged never to perform again. He never did.
  • Edie Adams almost didn’t accept the role of Monica because her husband Ernie Kovacs was killed in an auto accident a few months earlier.
  • During the filming of the infamous “gas station” destruction, Jonathan Winters was accidentally left on stage and completely bound in thick tape. Hours later, when the cast returned from lunch, they found that he had not even been able to free his arms from the chair. In retaliation, Winters gave a three-hour lecture to Arnold Stang and Marvin Kaplan on forced potty training.
  • Milton Berle said in an interview that in the scene where Ethel Merman hit him with her purse, it left him with a bump that lasted six months.
  • Marvin Kaplan said that he and Arnold Stang were given the job of “entertaining” Jonathan Winters during the periods in between his scenes.
  • Ethel Merman’s role was originally written as the father-in-law, and Groucho Marx was one of the choices to play it.
  • Judy Garland, Bob Hope , Jackie Mason, George Burns, and Red Skelton were all offered roles, but all declined their roles.
  • Don Rickles reportedly wanted to be in the movie but was never asked. He never let Stanley Kramer live it down, either, even heckling him about it from the stage whenever Kramer came to see Rickles’ show.
  • A dance sequence featuring the Shirelles was filmed but never used and appears to no longer survive. However, their uncredited performances of the title song and “31 Flavours” can still be heard on the soundtrack album.