Seen that!

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It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World

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A gangster has a car crash, and just before (literally) kicking the bucket, tells people in the four vehicles that stopped to help where a large sum of money is. Do they co-operate? Ha! Before long, it's everyone for themselves as they hunt out the 'big W' it is buried beneath. More and more people get involved in the race, which is being monitored by the police throughout.

What makes this film is its cast, which includes half of the middle-aged and older comedians in the US at the time. If they were breathing, and available for a day's shooting, they're probably in it somewhere. There are people who love this film, but they're a dying breed because many of them saw it when it was released in 1963, usually just after President Kennedy was assassinated and the country needed both a laugh and a sense of its (comedic) history. They recognise even the minor cameos.

The problem is that the cast size contributes to the length – here, it's 160 minutes, but as originally released, it ran for 192. The difference was edited out by the studio after they realised they had a hit on their hands and wanted to be able to fit in an extra showing per day to maximise their revenue – the version most people will have seen was cut down to 154 minutes! Much of the cut footage is believed to be irretrievably lost.

Its fans will hate me for saying this, but it could do with a bit more trimming. To a modern UK audience, many of the faces will not be recognisable, and without that knowledge significant bits are not funny. So at the airport, there's a lingering take of three firemen, waiting for the plane to land. If you don't know it's the Three Stooges, it's a 'huh?' moment – they just stand there. If you do, then you can go 'ho ho, anyone relying on them is doomed'. I did know, and I know who Jack Benny was (I've even heard some of his radio shows) but I had to go back to view his short appearance – he's the one who stops his car and offers to help before being told to go away by Ethel Murman as the mother-in-law – after looking up where it was. (If you know his character, the humour is in the way that he would be too mean to offer to help anyone. If you don't, it's just Ethel Murman being rude to yet another person.) So the best bits are with those people who are still recognisable: Phil Silvers could be his Sgt Bilko character out of uniform, for example. We know what's going to happen when one of the original helpers tells him what's happening, and it's all the better when indeed it does.

Perhaps the best comparison is with The Blues Brothers. The humour is similar – in both cases, the makers took the view that if crashing one car can be funny, crashing more must be funnier, right? – and both feature extended chase sequences. But while it adds something if you recognise the musicians who have roles in BB, it works perfectly well if you don't.

TL;DR It could do with a trim, but it's pleasant enough and the more 1950s American comedians you recognise, the better.

Film: 3/5
DVD: 3/5

You get the film and sound and vision are ok. That's about it. There's a US edition with a documentary and some of the missing scenes.

Written by Ian

May 16th, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Posted in Cinema,DVDs

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