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It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World

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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
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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. It 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. The various people compete to be the first to the location.   And those people the funniest comedians and film clowns of their time. 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

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)

Edie Adams almost didn’t accept the role of Monica. Her husband, Ernie Kovacs, was killed in an auto accident a few months earlier.

Cameos galore

The cameo by Leo Gorcey marked his first appearance on film since he left the Bowery Boys series in 1956.

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.

Anything that can go wrong …

Phil Silvers, while filming the scene where he drives his car into the river, nearly drowned because he couldn’t swim.

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 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.

During the filming of the infamous “gas station” destruction, Jonathan Winters was accidentally left on stage. He was 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.

Funny stories

Phil Silvers held regular crap games on the set.

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.

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?”

Marvin Kaplan said that he and Arnold Stang were given the job of “entertaining” Jonathan Winters during the periods in between his scenes.

Peter Falk improvised much of his dialog in the cab scene.

Things that never happened

Ethel Merman’s role was originally written as the father-in-law, and Groucho Marx was one of the choices to play it.

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.

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.

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