The long-halted, never-frequent Childhood Favorites Revisited series returns today with a look at It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World — a film starring tons of classic stars, which I saw long before I considered myself a classic film fanatic.
When I bought it on DVD, I mentioned in the collection update that this film has a long history with my family. A pregnant woman named Jane watched Mad, Mad World at a second-run theater one day in the mid-’60s, and it made her laugh so hard that she went into labor.
Flash forward to the ’90s, and the baby born thanks to Mad, Mad World has become a mother herself. A mother of two, in fact – my sister and I. Jane has taken on the nickname of “Grammy” and loves telling stories to her two young granddaughters, and introducing them to her favorite films.
Gone with the Wind was Grammy’s favorite movie, and she made sure we watched that one pretty early in our movie-loving lives. It was only a matter of time before she would introduce us to It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World as well, telling us the story of our mom’s birth, one of her favorite stories to tell over and over.
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World tells the zany tale of a group of traveling strangers whose lives are changed one day when they see a car drive right off of a cliff. Alarmed, all stop and head down the hill, where they find the car’s driver. He’s still alive, but barely. Rather than asking them to call for an ambulance or to take him to the hospital, the stranger tells them all of a hidden fortune in Santa Rosita State Park. Unable to agree over how to split the money if they find it, the travelers head off on a race to find the mysterious “big W,” near which the dough is hidden.
I remember watching this film so many times as a kid. I have no clue how my elementary-aged attention span allowed me to sit still and watch a movie for nearly three hours, but somehow it did, as many of my favorites were epic in length. Mad, Mad World brings plenty of laughs and its story is a frantically wild goose chase, so it doesn’t seem nearly as long as it is.
I, of course, appreciate the film even more now that I’m more familiar with many of its stars. Talk about an all-star cast! This film is packed with familiar faces: Sid Caesar, Ethel Merman, Edward Everett Horton, Carl Reiner, Buster Keaton, Zasu Pitts, Jimmy Durante, and the great Spencer Tracy are just some of the film’s cast. Stand-outs of the film for me this time around were Jimmy Durante, Ethel Merman, and Sid Caesar. Merman and Caesar are loud, brash, and completely hilarious. Durante makes a big impression in the film’s opening scenes, as the man who crashes his car and sets the whole adventure in motion with his deathbed ranting about “this big ‘W.'”
While the film’s a delight to watch for its huge cast and positively nutty plot, re-watching it gave me an appreciation of it for another reason: it involves many elements that today are some of my favorite things to see in film, things that I immediately give bonus points for when I come across them in “new to me” viewings. I love cleverly-illustrated opening credits, for example — Mad, Mad World’s got ’em! And argumentative, witty dialogue? There are heaps of that here, too.
I never would have known without watching it again, but It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World clearly had a big impact on me as a budding movie buff. It’s a wildly enjoyable film that I’ll continue re-watching, for reasons of nostalgia and just for all of its wild fun!