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CRITERION

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Stanley Kramer
Cast:
Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Jimmy Durante, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, Phil Silvers, Terry-Thomas, Jonathan Winters
Writing Credits:
William Rose, Tania Rose

Tagline:
Everybody who's ever been funny is in it!

Synopsis:
Brilliantly simple, the plot concerns a caravan of motorists who witness a terrible accident on a dangerously windy California highway. The auto-crash victim (Jimmy Durante) reveals in his dying words that he has hidden a fortune of stolen cash, sending the drivers on a rambunctious race to see who can claim the loot first!

Box Office:
Budget
$9.4 million.

MPAA:
Rated G

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 2.76:1
Audio:
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 163 min. (General Release Version) / 197 min. (Extended Cut)
Price: $49.95
Release Date: 1/21/2014

Supplements:
• Both General Release and Extended Cuts of the Film
• Audio Commentary with Film Aficionados Mark Evanier, Michael Schlesinger and Paul Scrabo
• Promotional Spots
• “Telescope” 1963 TV Episode
• 1963 Press Interview
• “Stanley Kramer’s Reunion with the Great Comedy Artists of Our Time”
• “AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Laughs” Program
• “The Last 70mm Film Festival” Featurette
• “Sound and Vision” Featurette
• Restoration Demonstration
• DVD Copy
• Booklet
• Location Map


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1963)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 13, 2014)

Though probably best known for more socially-conscious flicks like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Judgment at Nuremberg, Stanley Kramer went wacky with 1963’s rollicking comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. This star-studded affair follows a treasure hunt. After an old man named Smiler Grogan (Jimmy Durante) crashes his car, he tells the strangers who attempt to help him about $350,000 hidden in a state park.

When Grogan dies, the guys (Mickey Rooney, Buddy Hackett, Sid Caesar, Jonathan Winters and Milton Berle) attempt to discuss the situation rationally and come up with a plan fair for all to share the money. Greed gets the best of them, though, so they adopt an “every man for himself” mindset. We follow their attempts to retrieve the money, law enforcement surveillance, and many, many story complications.

If you want a film packed with subtlety, World isn’t the place to go. It quickly sets its tone when Smiler dies and literally kicks a bucket. World doesn’t present plenty of cheap gags like that, and when it uses them, it does so in a winking way that makes them amusing and not insufferable.

Nonetheless, a viewer must understand the kind of comedy on display here; this isn’t going to be a low-key piece. It comes packed with slapstick and broad overacting. Neither harms the flick, since they embrace the spirit of the story. It wants to give us a wild ride packed with wacky shenanigans. Does it care if any of it makes sense? Of course not – that’s not the point. The film intends to entertain the audience with a non-stop romp.

In that spirit, World packs probably the most astonishing cast ever assembled in one place. The names listed in my synopsis would be enough to create a good group, but they’re literally just the tip of the iceberg. One star after another pops up here; we find so many notables that if I listed them all, this would immediately become my longest-ever review. Some of them don’t pack much of a punch for modern audiences, but we find more than enough famous folks to fill out 10 movies.

To my amazement, the cast works. I worried that Mad would offer nothing more than an unending parade of cameos with no real purpose. Some of that does happen, but most of the big names serve the film well. I don’t see many examples of famous folks here just for the sake of their notoriety.

Is Mad the funniest movie I’ve ever seen? No – not by a long shot, actually. It can be hit or miss, and with a running time that edges toward three hours – or zooms past three hours, depending on which cut you watch - it’s probably too long. However, it moves at a good pace and fills out that length well. This becomes a consistently fun, clever romp.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A/ Audio B+/ Bonus B+

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.76:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was a stunning visual presentation.

Sharpness was solid. Virtually no softness cropped up here, as the movie looked amazingly tight and concise. Even with its super-broad aspect ratio and many wide shots, the picture showed consistently excellent definition. No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects arose, and I witnessed no edge haloes. A handful of tiny specks popped up but the vast majority of the movie lacked source flaws.

Colors seemed terrific. The movie went with a natural palette that showed fine vivacity, as the hues always seemed lively and dynamic. Blacks were dark and dense, while shadows showed nice clarity and delineation. It may only be January, but this may go down as the best transfer of 2014.

As for the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of World, it held up very well after all these years. The forward soundfield offered a very broad setting for the action. Lots of localized speech appeared, and the dialogue was well-placed. Effects also demonstrated good breadth, as those elements popped up in the correct spots and blended together well. Music featured positive stereo imaging.

Surround usage was limited. On a few occasions, I heard vehicles from the rear, and music also spread to the back speakers at times. Otherwise, a smattering of elements – like the bucket kicked early in the film – moved to the rear channels, but these moments remained rare. Nonetheless, since the front channels worked so well, I didn’t mind the absence of strong surround information.

Audio quality appeared good for its age. Speech was consistently concise and natural, with only a little edginess on a few rare occasions. Music offered nice life; the score was pretty bright and full. Effects sounded reasonably full and tight; we didn’t get the most impressive range, but those components showed better than average heft. I really liked this track, as I thought it worked nicely for a 50-year-old flick.

How did this Blu-ray compare to the 2008 DVD? Audio came across as more natural and dynamic, while visuals were a tremendous improvement. The image seemed radically better defined and also looked cleaner with superior colors. I thought the DVD looked pretty good, but it couldn’t remotely compare to this demo-quality image.

While the DVD included no extras, the Criterion edition packs a bunch of components. Of greatest significance, the package provides both the film’s general release version (2:43:27) and an extended version (3:17:35). A lot of the added material extends existing scenes, which can be good and bad.

On the positive side, the extended cut includes a fair amount of amusing material. In the negative vein, a much of this can seem a bit redundant, as many of the moments simply reinforce areas already related to us.

So which do I think works better? I prefer the general release version, as it moves faster and provides a more concise film. That said, I like the longer one as well and think it makes for an enjoyable experience. I suspect it’ll appeal more to the film’s biggest fans, though, and less enthusiastic viewers will probably prefer the shorter cut.

Note that the extended version doesn’t come as a seamless experience. According to the disc’s notes, the film’s original roadshow edition ran 202 minutes but much of that footage got lost when it was edited down to 163 minutes for general release. This version brings back as much material as the producers could find, but it occasionally uses stills and audio to reassemble some scenes.

This means inconsistency in terms of the extended cut’s visuals. I noticed color fluctuations, occasional loss of audio, specks, jumps, and flickering in addition to those stills. Heck, some foreign subtitles even pop up as part of the permanent image at one point!

These changes can become semi-jarring because the rest of the film looks so awesome, but I think it’s worth the effort. It’s a delight to be able to see the much longer cut of the film, so I can forgive the flaws; they’re not subtle but they don’t take me out of the story. Actually, I got used to the variations pretty quickly, so after a little while, I barely noticed them.

Alongside the extended cut, we find an audio commentary from film aficionados Mark Evanier, Michael Schlesinger and Paul Scrabo. All three sit together to discuss the project's roots and development, cast and performances, story/character areas, different versions of the film, sets and locations, music and audio, cinematography, stunts, trivia and a few other domains.

Criterion's description of the participants simply as "aficionados" seems misleading, as I think it implies this will be a basic "fan commentary" chock full of praise for the movie. Sure, the guys clearly love Mad and they do speak highly of it, but they do much more than that. This becomes more like a track from film historians, as we learn a ton about the production's ins and outs. The piece moves well and delivers a great deal of useful material. I like this commentary a lot and think it serves the movie nicely.

Within Promotional Spots, we get a few components. Under “1963 Original Release”, we find six radio ads, four TV ads, the “original road show teaser” and the general release trailer. As noted in his four-minute, 20-second intro, comedian Stan Freberg worked on these promos, so they took a different slant than they otherwise might.

Indeed, the various ads seem much more creative than we might expect. Actually, the two trailers seem ordinary, but the radio and TV ads are a hoot. I especially like the TV promos because they include unique footage with many of the movie’s stars.

Within “1970 Re-Release”, we locate three radio ads and one trailer. Surprisingly, the radio clips don’t just reuse the 1963 Freberg elements, so they’re entertaining in their own right. The trailer isn’t bad but it’s still not as clever as the Freberg stuff from 1963.

The next few pieces come from the era in which the movie hit screens. Telescope offers a 1963 TV program aired in Canada. Across two parts, we get 50 minutes, 18 seconds of material. Part one includes press junkets, while part two concentrates on the film’s premiere. Both are interesting, though they can get a bit tedious after a while. Still, the producers have the good sense to spotlight Jonathan Winters, so he makes much of it entertaining.

During a 35-minute, eight-second 1963 Press Interview, we hear from director Stanley Kramer and actors Jonathan Winters, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar and Mickey Rooney. This provides an “open-ended interview”, which means it originally came without recorded questions; this allowed local TV reporters to pretend that they chatted with the participants. Don’t expect a lot of content here, as the piece revolves mostly around comedy, much of which comes from Winters again. While the piece lacks much real information, it offers another fun archival reel.

From 1974 comes Stanley Kramer’s Reunion with the Great Comedy Artists of Our Time. In this 35-minute, 46-second show, Kramer chats with Caesar, Winters and actor Buddy Hackett. The show discusses aspects of the World shoot and delivers a bit more information than its predecessors, but it still emphasizes comedy. As a twist, though, Hackett works the hardest to garner laughs; Winters still does some shtick but he seems subdued next to Hackett’s broad personality.

With 2000’s AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Laughs, we find something more modern. The 11-minute, 10-second piece features World cast members Carl Reiner, Milton Berle, and Mickey Rooney as well as celebrity fans Janeane Garofolo, Whoopi Goldberg, David Alan Grier, Charles Grodin and Alan King. This tends toward an appreciation of the film, though the World veterans offer some decent notes about their experiences.

The Last 70mm Film Festival occupies 37 minutes, 38 seconds and focuses on a 2012 screening of World by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Hosted by Billy Crystal, it offers a panel with script supervisor Marshall Schlom, casting director Lynn Stalmaster, Kramer’s widow Karen, and actors Barrie Chase, Stan Freberg, Marvin Kaplan, Carl Reiner, Mickey Rooney and Jonathan Winters. They discuss the project’s origins, casting, and various experiences. You probably won’t learn much here, but it’s enjoyable to see these folks together and this becomes an entertaining piece.

After this we locate a featurette entitled Sound and Vision. It fills 36 minutes, 28 seconds and gives us notes from visual effects expert Craig Barron and sound designer Ben Burtt. As one would expect, they chat about the movie’s effects and its audio. One of the set’s meatier programs, this show offers a good examination of the related issues.

The Blu-ray ends with a five-minute, 19-second Restoration Demonstration. This shows/tells us the challenges that went into the creation of the Blu-ray. It gets technical, of course, but it offers an interesting view of the difficulties involved in the presentation.

Three additional discs give us DVD copies of all the Blu-ray content. That means both cuts of the film and all the bonus materials.

A booklet offers an essay from film critic Lou Lumenick, art and credits. We also get a location map that shows many of the spots used in the film and explains their significance. Both add value to the set.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World boasts an astonishing cast and actually manages to use them well. Though the wacky romp sputters on occasion, it usually delights and amuses. The Blu-ray delivers excellent visuals, very good audio and a nice set of bonus materials. Fans will feel exceedingly pleased by this terrific package.

To rate this film, visit the original review of IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD

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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main