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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt

DVD Geek: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Befitting the film’s title, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and MGM have released Stanley Kramer’s epic 1963 United Artists comedy, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, on Blu-ray, exclusively through www.  The presentation is excellent.  Running 159 minutes, the feature program is about 10 minutes shorter than the laser disc release, not counting the removal of the Entr’acte music (there is still an Overture, an Intermission and Exit music), but the footage not included has been incorporated with other lost scenes in a 59-minute addendum.  For those who don’t recall, the film’s original Road Show presentation was thought to have been destroyed until some, but not all, of the footage was located in the Eighties.  The biggest narrative jumps in the film were smoothed over with the added footage, although some smaller story advances still remain unsupported.  The film is about a group of people who hear a dying mobster’s confession as to where he has buried his loot, and take off in a frantic chase to retrieve it.

The presentation is letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 2.73:1, providing a little more picture information on the sides than the laser disc offered.  The color transfer is gorgeous and removes the shift of quality between the restored lost scenes and the standard footage.  The sharpness of the picture is captivating and adds consistently to the pleasure of the presentation.  The sound is delivered in DTS format and is listed as 5.1, although there is very little rear channel or sub-woofer activity.  The basic front channel separations, however, are wonderful, with a strong dimensional presence, some marvelous old-fashioned separation effects, and richly detailed clarity. There is a French track in 5.1 Dolby Digital, a Spanish track in mono and English, French and Spanish subtitles.

Spencer Tracy plays the cop who is monitoring the progress of the heroes, and the first time you see him, he’s got his right arm extended into his jacket pocket as if he’s missing the limb, like in Bad Day at Black Rock.  It’s a great, throwaway gag when he suddenly removes his hand from the pocket.  Kramer’s film, which is full of delays and anxiety gags, can seem tiresome to those who are not enthusiastically embracing the free-for-all humor, but it is a veritable encyclopedia of comedy in the early Sixties, seeming to feature every major comedian except Lenny Bruce.  It is the mix of the cast that gives the film a historical resonance and creates the foundation for its comical anarchy.  The movie combines television comics such as Milton Berle, Sid Caesar and Phil Silvers, with standup comedians like Jonathan Winters and Buddy Hackett, film funnymen such as Terry-Thomas and Mickey Rooney, and the stage diva Ethel Merman, whose normal shrillness is put to the exactly correct comedic use as Berle’s mother-in-law.  Filling the supporting parts are a casting agent’s rolodex of classic character actors, including, among many others, Jimmy Durante, Arnold Stang, Paul Ford, Peter Falk, Jim Backus and William Demarest.  Briefer cameos, by Jerry Lewis, Jack Benny, Buster Keaton, The Three Stooges and more, can seem frustrating because they barely last a few seconds, but the instant recognition of each face invigorates the film at every point where the comedy gives way to the story and a new burst of energy is needed.

If there is to be one complaint about the collected deleted scenes, it is that they are not presented in chronological order.  There isn’t actually 59 minutes of new footage, as the offering presents existing scenes—there are only a couple of entirely ‘new’ segments—expanded with footage of gags and dialog that was probably deemed redundant when it came time to get more turnarounds in secondary theatrical venues.  The most significant dialog sequences did appear within the film on the laser disc.  The best ‘new’ scene has Rooney and Hackett in the airplane, flying upside-down.

Also featured are the two trailers and the excellent 61-minute retrospective documentary, Something a Little Less Serious, which corrals a of number stars from the film, including Edie Adams, Berle, Caesar, Hackett, Lewis and others, along with behind-the-scenes personnel.  Kramer also speaks extensively.  There is a consistency in the descriptions of the set by the cast members that, in a good natured way, makes the whole group sound like a bunch of kids having fun.  Although the program does not dive too deeply into the film’s technical complexity, it does emphasize the movie’s chief strength, its glorious population, and gives the viewer an opportunity to savor the performers just a little longer.

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The Ultimate DVD Geek

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon