Milton Berle, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
Credit: Mad, Mad World: Everett Collection

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

  • Movie

No disrespect intended to this summer’s surprisingly decent chase comedy ”Rat Race,” but there’s really no comparing it to the movie that clearly inspired it. The original, grand-scale laff riot — about a bunch of greed-stoked strangers who set off on a cross-country race for a crook’s buried loot — It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World isn’t the comic masterpiece it might have been: It’s too broad, too sprawling, too overstuffed with shtick. Still, it’s hard not to be dazzled by its who’s who of comic luminaries, headlined by Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Phil Silvers, and Jonathan Winters, and featuring cameos by everyone from Buster Keaton to Jack Benny to Jerry Lewis to the Three Stooges. True, some of those famous names do little more than show their funny faces. Even so, they represent an unparalleled casting coup.

But while ”Mad, Mad World” harkens back to the golden age of all-star casts (the early ’60s also brought us ”The Longest Day” and ”How the West Was Won”), it also recalls a more innocent, less deafening time, when highway mayhem didn’t have to end in 50-car pileups to be funny. In fact, this film pretty much pioneered the concept of vehicular slapstick; its team of stunt drivers were experts in the art of synchronized careening. And as they bob, weave, fishtail, and occasionally even fly from one side of the Panavision picture to the other, you’re struck by just how much of the action this wide-screen restoration has preserved.

Alas, the disc’s extras aren’t, well, up to speed. Neither the gushy making-of documentary nor the extraneous found footage contributes much to our appreciation of the film. You’d have thought such a meeting of comic minds would have produced more juicy behind-the-scenes anecdotes. As it is, we’ll have to be satisfied with what they put up there on the screen. Four decades later, that’s still more than enough.

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
  • Movie
  • G
  • 161 minutes
  • Stanley Kramer