Meeting The Criterion: Criterion Christmas #6 IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD MAD WORLD
It's a Criterion Christmas! I'll be using Meeting the Criterion as a convenient way of reminding you of many of the Criterion Collection's great releases from the past year. Whether your Criterion Collection is organized by spine number, title or director, there's a good chance you'll see some releases that are bound to end up on your must remember to get list.
Criterion no-box-set release of the year? This. This. In fact I don't even know if it's fair to call this a regular release. Does five freaking discs qualify something as a box set? Directed by the legendary Stanley Kramer, It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) is endlessly fascinating, endlessly fun, a very very funny movie epic for all sorts of reasons beyond its 153 minute theatrical release running time.
Most people have heard of it but its age and broad slapstick set pieces and vaudevillian characters gives it a reputation for being cheesy or dated. WATCH IT. It's joyous, it's full of life, it's grin inducing, it's over the top. In short, it is comedy with so much heart it's been endlessly faulted for its schmaltz. Seldom have so many great talents had such a good time and made that good time visible on the screen.
Talents? The cast includes Jimmy Durante, Ethel Merman, Sid Caeser, Milton Berle, Buddy Hackett, Terry Thomas, Phil Silvers, Jonathan Winters, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, Spencer Tracy, Peter Falk, Jim Backus. There has literally never been another cast like it, even forgetting the cameos by Jerry Lewis, Eddie Rochester Anderson, Buster Keaton, Don Knotts, Jack Benny, and The Three Stooges.You could make a drinking game called "spot the well known character actor" in It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World but it would kill the participants.
Lastly, there's the skill that went into making it. Every aspect of Hollywood craft is on glorious display here: stunts, special effects, innovative camerawork, writing, comedic pacing. In short, calling this one of the most important comedies ever made is absolutely appropriate.
The plot involves a group of people whose road trips are interrupted when they become privy to the whereabouts of a hidden treasure. What they don't know is they are also being pursued by a canny copper who is happy to let them lead him all across America in search of the loot. If that sounds somewhat familiar, it may be because you've seen the all-star road comedy that is essentially one big, largely successful, updating of It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
This edition of the film is stunning, literally jaw dropping. Because I'm running like hell through gift guides and Criterion coverage, I'm just going to copy and paste the list of extras from their site, as follows:
Restored 4K digital film transfer of the general release version of the film, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
New high-definition digital transfer of a 197-minute extended version of the film, reconstructed and restored by Robert A. Harris using visual and audio material from the longer original road-show version--including some scenes that have been returned to the film here for the first time with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
New audio commentary featuring It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World aficionados Mark Evanier, Michael Schlesinger, and Paul Scrabo
New documentary on the film's visual and sound effects, featuring interviews with visual-effects specialist Craig Barron and sound designer Ben Burtt
Excerpt from a 1974 talk show hosted by director Stanley Kramer and featuring Mad World actors Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, and Jonathan Winters
Press interview from 1963 featuring Kramer and cast members
Excerpts about the influence of the film from the 2000 AFI program 100 Years . . . 100 Laughs
Two-part 1963 episode of the TV program Telescope that follows the film's press junket and premiere
The Last 70mm Film Festival, a 2012 program featuring Mad World cast and crew, hosted by actor Billy Crystal
Selection of humorist and voice-over artist Stan Freberg's original TV and radio ads for the film, with a new introduction by Freberg
Trailers and radio spots
PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Lou Lumenick and new illustrations by legendary cartoonist Jack Davis, along with a map of the shooting locations by artist Dave Woodman
As if that weren't enough the packaging features ALL NEW illustrations from the legendary artist JACK DAVIS, a map of the locations the road race takes the cast and a long essay booklet from critic Lou Lemenick
This is a five disc set. 2 Blu-rays and 3 DVDs. All extras on both formats.
IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD Spine number 692 available in dual format Blu-ray and DVD with all extras included on both.