Sunday, December 26, 2010
MOVIE SHOWCASE: IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD
If you want to watch simply a fun movie then I recommend "IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD". Despite its length (192 minutes the original film ran), the movie flies by, and does not drag at all. The movie is an American comedy film directed by Stanley Kramer about the madcap pursuit of $350,000 in stolen cash by a diverse and colorful group of strangers. The ensemble comedy premiered on November 7, 1963. Ensemble cast is an understatement, because as many stars as possible are crammed into the movie.
"Smiler" Grogan (Jimmy Durante), a suspect in a long ago tuna factory robbery and on the run from the police, careens his car off a twisting, mountainous road in the Southern California desert and crashes. Five motorists stop to help him - Melville Crump (Sid Caesar), a dentist; Lennie Pike (Jonathan Winters), a furniture mover; Dingy Bell (Mickey Rooney) and Benjy Benjamin (Buddy Hackett), two friends on their way to Las Vegas; and J. Russell Finch (Milton Berle), who owns an edible seaweed company. Just before he kicks the bucket (quite literally), Grogan tells the five about $350,000 (equal to $2,510,687 today) buried in the (fictitious) Santa Rosita State Park, near the Mexican border, under a mysterious "big W". Initially, the motorists try to reason with each other and share the money, but it soon becomes an all-out race to get the money first.
Unbeknownst to them all, Captain T. G. Culpepper (Spencer Tracy) of the Santa Rosita Police Department has been patiently working on the "Smiler" Grogan case for years, hoping to someday solve it and retire. When he learns of the fatal crash, he suspects that Grogan may have tipped off the passersby, so he tracks them by various police units. His suspicions are confirmed by their behavior.
Everyone experiences multiple setbacks en route to the money. Crump and his wife Monica (Edie Adams) charter a shabby World War I biplane and harrowingly make it to Santa Rosita but get stuck in the basement of a hardware store. They free themselves with the help of some dynamite conveniently located in the basement.
Dingy and Benjy charter a modern plane, but after their alcoholic pilot (Jim Backus) lets the two fly the plane, erratically, and consequently gets knocked unconscious while he attempts to make a drink in the back of the plane, the terrified friends are forced to land the plane themselves. On the ground, two cab drivers, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, whisking Dingy and Benjy away from the airport, and Peter Falk, in a separate cab driving Crump and Monica away from the hardware store, thus also get in on the hunt.
Pike's furniture truck crashes into the vehicle containing Finch, his wife Emmeline (Dorothy Provine), and his overbearing dictatorial mother-in-law, Mrs. Marcus (Ethel Merman). The three persuade Pike to ride off for help on a girl's bicycle, then flag down a British army officer, Lt. Col. J. Algernon Hawthorne (Terry-Thomas), to get them to Santa Rosita, and drive past Pike when he attempts to thumb Hawthorne's vehicle down. After many arguments, most caused by Mrs. Marcus, she and Emmeline refuse to go any farther, and Finch and Hawthorne leave them behind.
Pike tries to get motorist Otto Meyer (Phil Silvers) to take him to Santa Rosita, but Meyer betrays Pike and races for the money on his own. Pike, outraged over Meyer, destroys a service station at which Meyer has been forced to stop due to a tire blowout. After the rampage, Pike steals the station's tow truck and picks up Mrs. Marcus and Emmeline. Mrs. Marcus calls her beatnik son Sylvester (Dick Shawn), who lives near Santa Rosita, to get the money, but the almost Oedipally obsessed Sylvester races hysterically to the defense of his mother, running out on his beautiful bedroom companion (Barrie Chase). Meyer experiences his own setbacks, including losing his car and nearly being drowned. All the while, Culpepper and the police department secretly track their activities.
Eventually, all the characters meet up at the state park and search for the Big W. Culpepper orders all policemen to leave the area and goes in solo to retrieve the money but actually plans to take the money to Mexico to escape his dysfunctional family and unsatisfying job after the police department tells Culpepper that his pension won't change. Emmeline, alone and wiping her face at a water fountain, ironically the only one who wanted no part in any of the matter, is the first to recognize the Big W, composed of four palm trees standing at odd angles. Culpepper comes out of the bushes as Emmeline makes the discovery. Emmeline offers to split the money evenly with Culpepper and openly states her wishes to leave all her troubles behind, and maybe even live in a convent (reminding the audience that both Tracy and Provine are Roman Catholic in real life), but in saying so, unwittingly reveals to Culpepper the location. Minutes later, however, Pike, then the others, notice the palm trees and frantically began digging, while Culpepper quietly mixes in with the others and watches. Eventually Sylvester is the only one left in the resulting hole, and his attempts strike the suitcase containing the money. After the suitcase is opened and the group unsuccessfully attempts to strike deals with each other on the money's distribution, Culpepper identifies himself and orders the now-stunned ensemble to turn themselves in, saying a jury may be more lenient. The ensemble climb into the two taxis (Falk's cab had Caesar, Silvers, Adams, Hackett, and Rooney, and Rochester's cab had Berle, Merman, Winters, Provine, Terry-Thomas, and Shawn) and drive out of the park, initially intending to turn themselves in.
But when the two taxicab groups see Culpepper traveling out of the park's exit in the opposite direction with the money, they reverse direction and follow him. Meanwhile, after a number of unsuccessful attempts to reach Culpepper to tell him that his pension would be trebled, the police department revokes his pension and orders his arrest. After a long and frantic chase sequence, all eleven men in the group end up stranded on the fire escape of an old building slated for demolition. While trying to keep from falling off, the men lose control of the suitcase containing the money, and all $350,000 flutters down to the crowd watching below after the suitcase opens. The men then all attempt to climb down a Santa Rosita Fire Department aerial ladder truck, but their combined weight makes the firemen lose control of the ladder, causing the ladder to pivot and rotate wildly and fling the men in many different directions, resulting in many injuries and landing all the men in the hospital awaiting arrest, and eventually to crash into the ground.
In the hospital, the dejected group, in casts and with varying degrees of immobility and pain, criticize Culpepper for taking the money, but he says they will get off easy with the justice system because he will have the harsh sentence. He adds that maybe ten or twenty years from now, there'll be something he can laugh at, but the rest remain unsympathetic. The three women then enter, with Mrs. Marcus (in the middle) scolding all of the hospitalized men. Mrs. Marcus promptly slips on a banana peel that Benjy had thrown on the floor moments before and is carried off on a gurney by interns. Everyone, even Culpepper, begins to laugh hysterically.
A sequel was talked about a few years ago, but hopefully they will never tinker with this 1960s comedy masterpiece...