It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

Fifty-eight years ago today, the film It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World premiered. It is a beautiful, star-studded fast-paced chase road comedy. There are so many people in this movie, has it’s opening credits animated by Saul Bass, and became the inspiration for all search for money ensemble cast comedies that came after. You should watch this movie.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World featured at number 40 in the American Film Institute’s list 100 Years…100 Laughs.

Title: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
Directed by: Stanley Kramer
Screenplay by: William Rose and Tania Rose
Story by: Tania Rose
Produced by: Stanley Kramer
Starring: Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, Phil Silvers, Terry-Thomas, Jonathan Winters, Edie Adams, Dorothy Provine, Jimmy Durante
Cinematography: Ernest Laszlo
Edited by: Frederic Knudtson, Robert C. Jones, and Gene Fowler Jr.
Music by: Ernest Gold
Production Company: Casey Productions
Distributed by: United Artists
Release date: November 7, 1963
Running time: 202 minutes (original cut), 192 minutes (premiere cut), 161 minutes (theatrical cut)
Country: United States
Language: English

“Smiler” Grogan, a just-released convict jailed for robbery 15 years earlier, escapes police surveillance and drives his car off a mountainous highway in California. Five motorists stop to help him: Melville Crump, a dentist on a second honeymoon with his wife Monica; Lennie Pike, a furniture mover; Ding Bell and Benjy Benjamin, two friends on their way to Las Vegas; and J. Russell Finch, a seaweed-business owner, traveling with his wife Emmeline and his loud, obnoxious mother-in-law Mrs. Marcus. Just before he dies, Grogan tells them about $350,000 buried in Santa Rosita State Park under “a big W.” After failing to come up with a satisfactory way to split the money, a race begins to find it. Unbeknownst to all, Captain Culpeper, chief of detectives of the Santa Rosita Police Department, who had been working the Grogan case for years and hoped to solve it and retire, has everyone tracked.

All the motorists experience setbacks on the way to the park. The Crumps charter a rickety biplane to Santa Rosita. When they stop in a hardware store for supplies, they are inadvertently locked in the store’s basement. After several failed attempts to break out, they blow out the wall of the basement with dynamite and hire a cab to get to the park. Bell and Benjamin charter a modern plane but, when their alcoholic pilot knocks himself out, they have to land the plane themselves, causing chaos among the air traffic controllers and the plane flying wildly out of control. After bringing the plane to the ground, they also hire a cab to drive them to the park. The Finches’ car collides with Pike’s furniture van, and Russell persuades British Army Lieutenant Colonel J. Algernon Hawthorne to drive them to Santa Rosita. After a nasty argument, Hawthorn and Russell leave Emmeline and Mrs. Marcus behind.

Pike stops motorist Otto Meyer for a ride, but after he tells Meyer about the money, Meyer abandons him. Pike eventually steals a gas station tow truck (after destroying the gas station in an enraged attack on Meyer) and picks up Mrs. Marcus and Emmeline. Mrs. Marcus calls her dimwitted son Sylvester, who lives near Santa Rosita, ordering him to go after the money, but after Mrs. Marcus tells Sylvester that Russell assaulted her, Sylvester drives in her direction instead. Meyer picks up a stranded motorist who he drives to his home in the mountains. Trying to get back to the highway, Meyer fails at crossing a deep river and his car is swept away, forcing him to steal another motorist’s car.

Meanwhile, after Culpeper is told his pension increase has been denied and he has an argument with his wife and daughter, he has a mental breakdown. He instructs all law enforcement following the motorists to back off on his signal — because none of the motorists know him — and heads for the park. After many mishaps, everyone reaches the Park and begins searching for the “big W.” Culpeper gives the pre-arranged signal and goes in alone. Emmeline finds the “big W” first, quickly followed by Pike, who tells the others. After the money is dug up, Culpeper identifies himself but does not arrest them. He convinces the motorists to turn themselves in. Chief Aloysius successfully blackmails the mayor into tripling Culpeper’s pension. He tries to get word of this to Culpeper, but fails because Culpeper has already gone after the stolen money. Figuring out Culpeper’s real motivation, the police chief sadly orders his friend’s arrest. Suspicious about why Culpeper let them go, the motorists follow him and notice he is not returning to the police station. They chase him to a condemned building, where the men corner him on a rickety fire escape. In the struggle, Culpeper drops the briefcase containing the money, scattering the cash to a crowd of people in the street below. When they all pile onto a fire department ladder sent to rescue them, their combined weight causes it to spin uncontrollably and toss them wildly in different directions, leaving most of them heavily injured.

In the police hospital, the men bemoan the loss of the money and blame their injuries on Culpeper. Culpeper responds that because of his lost pension, the ruined relationship with his family, and the likelihood that the judge will probably be lenient with them but throw the book at him, it will be a long time before he laughs again. Mrs. Marcus, flanked by Emmeline and Monica — in detention uniforms — enters and begins loudly berating the men, only to slip on Benjamin’s dropped banana peel, causing the men (except Sylvester) to roar with laughter. After a brief hesitation, Culpeper joins in.

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