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Blu-ray Review: ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World’ – The Criterion Collection

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In Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, the character of Gordon Gekko states, “greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.” What he fails to mention is that greed can also be funny as proven by producer/director Stanley Kramer’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, which has been released in grand style by The Criterion Collection with two-Blu-ray/three-DVD set.

After an overture and Saul Bass’ tone-setting animated credits, the story is set into motion by Smiler Grogan (Jimmy Durante), whose reckless driving causes him to drive off a mountain road. Before he kicks the bucket, literally as emphasized by a physical gag, he reveals to a group of people who witnessed the accident that he stashed $350,000 in stolen money under a big ‘W’ in Santa Rosita State Park 15 years ago. After failing to tell the police detectives who arrive on scene what Smiler said and failing to work out a fair division of the money, it’s everyone for themselves in a series of madcap adventures.

Melville Crump (Sid Caesar) and his wife Monica (Edie Adams) race to a local airport and charter a plane to Santa Rosita, although they soon learn it, and they, might not arrive in one piece. Dingy (Mickey Rooney) and Benjy (Buddy Hackett) also take a plane, but they have to learn how to fly it when the pilot gets incapacitated mid-flight. J. Russell Finch (Milton Berle), with his wife Emmeline (Dorothy Provine) and his abrasive mother-in-law, Mrs. Marcus (Ethel Merman), get into a car accident with Lennie Pike (Jonathan Winters), which leads to more people getting involved for the hunt for the money.

After Pike rides off on a bike for help, Finch and his family are picked up by J. Algernon Hawthorne (Terry-Thomas). Mrs. Marcus calls her dim-witted son Sylvester (Dick Shawn) for help because he lives near the beach, but he mistakenly rushes to her. Pike flags down Otto Meyer (Phil Silvers), but after explaining why he needs a ride, Meyer ditches him. A couple of cab drivers, (Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Peter Falk), made use of also get in on the action.

What no one realizes is that they are all being trailed by the police, under the supervision of Captain T. G. Culpeper (Spencer Tracy), who wants to finally close this case and retire. But after learning how measly his pension is going to be and hearing what awaits him at home during a phone call his wife and daughter, it’s no surprise for viewers that Culpepper has plans for the recovered money that don’t involve returning it.

The film has some great sequences that combine humor and action. Two standouts are Pike destroying a gas station while battling its two attendants (Arnold Stang, Marvin Kaplan) and the climax where the men prove to be too heavy for a fire-engine’s ladder. It is also a great showcase for some of the era’s most well-known comedians. Aside from the aforementioned cast members, the film is jam-packed with familiar faces in small roles, like Don Knotts and Buster Keaton, to non-speaking cameos so short if you blink you might miss them, such as Jerry Lewis and The Three Stooges.

In their collection, Criterion presents the 163-minute general release version and a new 197-minute extended verison that expands upon the 1991 LaserDisc version with more rediscovered footage. Some scenes include still photographs with audio while others feature subtitles where there is no audio.

The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at 2.76:1. The liner notes in the booklet reveal the general release “digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on an Imagica 65mm film scanner from the 65mm original camera negative and the 65mm interpositive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS…the [extended version] additional footage was transferred from 70mm print trims, which were scanned in high definition on a Millennium scanner specifically equipped for large-screen formats. Whenever possible, 3D warping technology was used by FotoKem in Burbank to blend the trims with a standard-definition transfer to compensate for color fading.”

The general release offers bold colors and rich blacks on display. The image delivers great depth and fine details. There is a natural amount of grain and the film looks free of defect from age and wear. The extended material is noticably different. Colors are frequently faded and the image clarity isn’t as sharp, but better to have them included than not.

Both version have DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks. “The original 5.1 surround soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit at Chase Audio by Deluxe in Burbank, California, from the 35mm 6-track magnetic tracks [and] the audio for the additional footage was transferred from original full-coat magnetic tracks of the road-show version and 70mm trims.” The dialogue is clear and the voices are well positioned in the surrounds. Ernest Gold’s robust score shows a balanced dynamic range and is mixed well with the other elements. The action effects come through with strong emphasis.

Criterion delivers an assortment of extras that should please the film’s fans. There’s a look at the Promotional Spots for the 1963 release and the 1970 rerelease. The former presents an Introduction (HD, 4 min) by Stan Freberg, who ran the ad campaign. There are six Radio Ads featuring Freberg in three different spots, each with a 1-minute and 30-second version, four TV Ads (HD, 4 min) with cast members, the Original Road Show Teaser (HD, 2 min), and the General Release Trailer (HD, 4 min). I wish there was a play-all feature. For the latter, there are three radio ads and a trailer.

Telescope is a CBC program from 1963 shown in two parts (1080i, 24 min, 26 min) that show’s the film’s press junket and LA premiere. Winters is a prominent figure in both. Press Interview, 1963 (1080p, 35 min) is a publicity piece where Kramer and cast members answer questions that a local reporter can ask and be edited into the piece. Stanley Kramer’s Reunion with the Great Comedy Artists of Our Time (1080i, 37 min) is a 1974 TV show with Kramer and cast members Caesar, Hackett, and Winters discuss working together.

The extended version has a commentary track with aficionados Mark Evanier, Michael Schlesinger, and Paul Scarbo. They offer a great deal of insight about the film and its production. They dispell rumors and create some from their theories. It’s a treat to hear, but at times, Evanier sounds a bit stiff while while reading information. AFI’s 100 years…100 Laughs (1080i, 11 min) is TV special from 2000 and this film came in at #40. Cast members and famous fans talk about it. On opening night of The Last 70 mm Film Festival (HD, 38 min), the AMPAS celebrated the film with a screening and reunion of the cast and crew hosted by Billy Crystal. Just getting them all on stage takes a bit of time and Crystal, understandably, has trouble keeping things on track, but it’s great to see.

Sound and Vision (HD, 36 min) brings together VFX expert Craig Barron and sound designer Ben Burtt to discuss how the effects were created, Restoration Demonstration (HD, 5 min) looks at what went into to bringing the film to its current glory on the disc. The set also comes with a booklet, featuring Lou Lumenick’s essay “Nothing Succeeds Like Excess” and a map that reveals where locations were shot at it Southern California.

Regardless of what the film says about greed, Criterion has created such an outstanding release for It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World that I highly recommend getting one as soon as you can.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS