It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was not only one of the longest comedies on film (at nearly three hours in its original version), it also boasted one of the most impressive casts of comic actors ever assembled: Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Phil Silvers, Buddy Hackett, Dick Shawn, Terry-Thomas, Jonathan Winters and far too many others to mention.
Leading man Spencer Tracy held the monstrous cast together, playing the lone straight man in a line-up of jokers.
The screwball antics are touched off by a freak death on a California mountain pass. Recently freed bank robber ‘Smiler’ Grogan (Jimmy Durante, in one of the film’s countless celebrity cameos) careens off a cliff, crashing onto the desert floor below.
Before he kicks the bucket (literally), Grogan tells a secret to the motorists who have stopped to help: $350,000 in stolen loot is buried beneath ‘the big W’ at a not-too-distant park.
The motorists’ henpecked hubby J. Russell Finch (Berle), his wife (Dorothy Provine) and mother-in-law (Merman), dentist Melville Crump (Caesar) and his wife (Edie Adams), comedy writers Benjy Benjamin (Hackett) and Ding Bell (Rooney), dim-witted moving man Lennie Pike (Winters) and two enterprising cabbies (Peter Falk and Eddie “Rochester” Anderson) all try to decide on a fair way of splitting the cash, but negotiations crumble once greed sets in.
The “every man for himself” race for the big W attracts the attention of the police, and unfailingly honest Captain T.G. Culpepper is soon on the treasure hunters’ trail.
By the time the money madness hits its peak, the hunt has been joined by con man Otto Meyer, drunken millionaire Tyler Fitzgerald and others, as one slapstick sequence follows another until the madcap finale.
Shot in the widescreen Cinerama format, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World still barely had room to fit its enormous cast of characters. In addition to the major roles, the movie had surprising cameos at every turn: Jerry Lewis, Don Knotts, Carl Reiner, ZaSu Pitts, Doodles Weaver, the Three Stooges, and once more, too many others to mention.
An army of stuntmen was called into service as well, as the film tried to match the size of its cast with the size of its slapstick stunts.
The movie’s length was cut to just over two hours for subsequent showings on television and on video, but its full three-hour glory was eventually restored, allowing audiences to recapture the madness as it was meant to be seen.
Capt. C.G. Culpepper
J. Russell Finch
J. Algernon Hawthorne
Jimmy the Crook