The Movie: In Search of The Big W

Huge News (as of the end of 2013)!

Criterion is releasing a new, definitive version of the movie on January 21, 2014! This is going to be pretty amazing:

  • 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
  • Two Blu-rays and three DVDs, with all content available in both formats
  • 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

Some Things and Stuff About The Movie

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was released on November 7, 1963, just two weeks before the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It's an adventure comedy film directed by Stanley Kramer about a diverse and colorful group of strangers who fall into a madcap pursuit of $350,000 of stolen cash across southern California, and its large ensemble cast features a veritable who's who of comedians and actors, with dozens of major comedy stars from all eras of cinema appearing in major and minor roles, including many brief cameos.


Although well known for serious films such as Inherit the Wind and Judgment at Nuremberg (both starring Spencer Tracy), Kramer set out to make the ultimate comedy film with It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. At more than three hours in its original roadshow version, including overture, intermission and exit music, the result is certainly one of the longest.

Filmed in Ultra Panavision 70 and presented in Cinerama (becoming one of the first Cinerama films originated with one camera), it also had an all-star cast, with dozens of major comedy stars from all eras of cinema making appearances in the film.

It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World followed a Hollywood trend in the 1960s of producing "epic" films as a way of wooing audiences away from television and back to movie theaters. Television had sapped the regular moviegoing audience and box-office revenues were dropping, so the major studios experimented with a number of gimmicks to attract audiences, including widescreen films.

The title was taken from Thomas Middleton's 1605 comedy A Mad World, My Masters. Kramer considered adding a fifth "mad" to the title before deciding that it would be redundant, but noted in interviews that he later regretted it. The recently announced sequel (on hold as of 2013?) may add the fifth "mad" back in.

In the 1970s, American and Canadian television networks broadcast the film on New Year's Eve. The last reported showing of the film on major American network television was on May 16, 1978, although Turner Classic Movies has shown the movie regularly since.

Some Production Trivia

The early scenes in which "Smiler" Grogan goes off the road and the four vehicles briefly speed before slowing down to stop and talk were filmed on the 'Seven Steps' section of the Palms-to-Pines Highway (State Highway 74), a generally east-west route mostly south of, and west of, Palm Desert, California. Smiler Grogan AirborneCulpepper forecasts the vehicles -- going east -- will turn south (a right turn), but the movie shows them turn left. The corner where Durante's car sails off, known by "Mad World" fans as "Smiler's Point", can easily be spotted today on Highway 74, minus the man-made ramp that was removed after the stunt was performed.

Many of the actors performed some of their own stunts, including some spectacular falls by Caesar, physical antics including the famous garage scene by Jonathan Winters, and Phil Silvers' drive into a flowing river where he almost drowned. Caesar severely injured his back while filming the hardware store scene and was unable to return to the film for some time. Silvers injured himself shortly before the shooting of the scene (near the end of the movie) where the male characters chase Culpepper up several flights of stairs and onto fire-escape ladders. As shot, the scene features Silvers' stunt double.

The gas station scene with Jonathan Winters, Marvin Kaplan and Arnold Stang was filmed at a specially constructed set built on composer Jimmy Van Heusen's property near Palm Springs, California. Van Heusen first saw the completed gas station on his Friday drive from Los Angeles out to his weekend retreat. He reportedly did not realize that the gas station was a movie set, thinking instead that his business manager had leased a portion of his property for an actual service station. The destruction scene with Winters, Kaplan and Stang was filmed that weekend, with the site cleanup scheduled for the next week. On Monday morning's return trip to Los Angeles, Van Heusen saw the destroyed gas station lying in a pile and thought something terrible had happened. As the property owner, he believed he might be sued by injured parties.

During shooting of the gas station's destruction, the water tower began to collapse too soon because of a special-effects miscue. A combination of a split-screen effect and use of the optical printer repaired the scene.

Many of the scenes that take place on what look like lonely stretches of road were filmed in areas of Southern California that have become heavily urbanized in the decades following the movie's production; in the scene where Jack Benny encounters Milton Berle's character and his group, the entire area, which was practically open desert in the movie, is now a modern suburban neighborhood in Yucca Valley, with a Walgreens store, a Wal-Mart, and other major retailers all around.

Some Locations from the movie

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The airport terminal scenes were filmed at the now-defunct Rancho Conejo Airport in Newbury Park, California, though the control tower shown was constructed only for filming. Other plane sequences were filmed at the Sonoma County Airport north of Santa Rosa, California.

In one scene, a Beech model C-18S flies through a billboard. The plane was flown by stuntman Frank Tallman, but a communications mix up resulted in the use of linen graphic sheets on the sign rather than paper, as planned. The Plane Linen is much tougher than paper, and the plane was nearly destroyed on impact. Tallman managed to fly it back to the airstrip, discovering that the leading edges of the wings had been smashed all the way back to the wing spars. Tallman considered it the closest he ever got to dying on film.

The parking lot sequences near the Big W were shot at Peck Park in San Pedro (Western & Summerland, at the end of the driveway). The Big WThe actual park site of "Santa Rosita State Park" was the grounds of a private residence at Portuguese Point in Rancho Palos Verdes, just south of Abalone Cove Shoreline Park, where only one of the four palm trees remains. There is speculation that the missing trees may be replanted sometime in the future in commemoration of the film.

The final chase scene was filmed in Santa Monica, most notably at the California Incline, and downtown Long Beach. The cars can be seen passing the Pike amusement park with its wooden roller coaster and traveling around Rainbow Pier. The Arcade under Ocean Boulevard near Pine Avenue also is part of the scene.

Compulsive gambler Phil Silvers had a running craps game going during the production. Jerry Lewis reportedly stopped by the set and left $500 poorer according to Something a Little Less Serious: A Tribute to 'It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World', a 1991 documentary found on the 2001 DVD version (Lewis has a cameo appearance in the original film). Veteran stuntman Carey Loftin was also featured in the documentary, explaining some of the complexity as well as simplicity of stunts, such as the day he "kicked the bucket" as a stand-in for Durante.

Some Things and Stuff About The Movie

It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World! has seen a number of versions on various media formats over years, and has been released twice on DVD, in 2001 and 2003. It is in the process of being archivally restored by preservationist Robert A. Harris.

Cinematic Releases

In its preview showing in 1963, the film ran 210 minutes -- 3.5 hours! Director Stanley Kramer cut the film to 192 minutes for the premiere. This was the version with which Kramer was reportedly satisfied. During its roadshow 70mm run, United Artists, seeing that it had a major hit movie, cut the film to 162 minutes without Kramer's involvement, in order to add an extra daily showing. The general release 35mm version runs 154 minutes, with overture and exit music omitted.

At the film's premiere, radio transmissions between the film's fictional police department played in the theater lobby and rest rooms during the intermission. The police transmissions featured Detective Matthews (Charles McGraw) and the police personnel that follow the group. These three reports (each approx. one minute in length) may have added to the full 210 minute length.

Some of the cut footage remains missing, although 20 minutes of material has been found in recent decades. MGM/UA has also located a 20 minute 70mm preview reel which contained a few scenes in their entirety. These two 70mm reels provided the extra scenes for the 1991 "Special Edition" version with restored footage" project. No out-take footage was used, with the exception of a two-second wide shot of the Beechcraft aircraft, needed to bridge a highly sought-after bit of Buddy Hackett being doused with a bucket of water.

Currently, the best existing footage is in the form of original 70mm elements of the general release version (recent restored versions shown in revival screenings come from this footage). Some if not all of the remaining footage does exist in some form, although much of it has deteriorated over time. A restoration effort has been completed by preservationist Robert A. Harris in an attempt to bring the film back as close as possible to the original roadshow release, and the definitive Criterion release is scheduled for January 2014 release.

Home Media and TV Releases

While not officially referring to it as a director's cut, Director Stanley Kramer helped oversee the re-incorporation of missing footage into a 182-minute "Special Edition" version for VHS and LaserDisc in 1991. Screenwriter Tania Rose was also contacted by the Special Edition team, and after viewing the footage, gave her endorsement to the project. Because of the quality of the missing scenes, the lack of a large budget for a film restoration, and a lack of interest at the time by restoration experts, it was decided that a digital tape reconstruction for presentation on Laserdisc would suffice as a venue for fans to finally see the footage that had been missing for so long. The special edition version has aired on Turner Classic Movies. A decade later, the improved quality of DVD made the lower quality of the restored footage noticeable, so the decision to release standard edited version on DVD was made. Comparisons between the two show that the extended version is of inferior video quality to that of the DVD, as film transfer techniques and formats have improved since.

The official release from MGM is the 161-minute general release version, taken from its original 35mm elements. Because of this, it is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, as opposed to the full 2.75:1 in anamorphic 70mm form.

Current DVD Releases

Two versions of the film have been released on DVD. The first, from 2001, is a double-sided disc containing an hour of missing scenes on the second side, along with the original documentary Something A Little Less Serious, and trailers and TV spots. In 2003, the film was released on DVD as a movie-only edition, as a single-sided disc with art on one face. The 2001 release had a yellow spine and is now somewhat more difficult to find, while the 2003 release had a blue spine and is relatively easy to find.

A Sequel In the Works

On January 9, 2007, Karen Sharpe Kramer, widow of Stanley Kramer, and film producer Edward Bass announced that a sequel entitled It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, MAD World is in the works. Like the original a large ensemble cast mixing comics and dramatic actors is planned. The story follows the descendants of the characters from the first movie who are thrust into another madcap chase to find a cache of money after it is revealed that the bills found in the first movie were counterfeit. Suriviving original cast members Sid Caesar and Jonathan Winters, among others, may make cameo appearances.

Don't Own This Movie?

Well, you should. You really really should. And you can buy it (the definitive, 2014, digitally-restored version) on Amazon right now.

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