It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

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It appeared to be the world's worst idea. Stanley Kramer, who had never before directed a comedy, used over nine million dollars, over three hours' running time, over two dozen veteran comic actors, and the wide, wide Cinerama image to create a "comedy to end all comedies" (it wasn't clear whether he meant to perfect the genre or to polish it off). But against all odds and all apprehensions, he makes it work. Purists to the contrary, there are certain advantages to such an enlargement of Twenties-style slapstick, and Kramer and his cameraman, Ernest Laszlo, are not blind to them. The Cinerama image gives the moviemakers unprecedented leeway to unite action and reaction inside a single shot, and allows them to affect an extremely cold, neutral, scornful point of view (it also, of course, permits some awesome panorama shots, as in the flight over winding Wild West highways at the start); and the vast population of characters pays off in some hectic cross-cutting between an armload of parallel stories. A few high points: Dick Shawn's impersonation of a mama's-boy beach bum; Jonathan Winters's single-handed devastation of a desert gas station; and the hair-raising climax atop a firetruck ladder, standing needle-thin on the barn-broad screen. Naturally, Kramer is not content to just have fun in this chase comedy about gangsters, cops, and solid citizens all joining in, with equal avarice, on the eternal dollar hunt; and the innocence of the humor is always undercut by the cynicism of the message. Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney, Sid Caesar, Edie Adams, Milton Berle, Ethel Merman, Phil Silvers, Terry-Thomas. (1963) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated G | 2 hours, 34 minutes
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