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IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD

For Hicksflicks.com, Jan. 24, 2014

No one is going to say "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" (1963) is one of the all-time great comedies. It may be the biggest, perhaps the most expensive and even the most expansive epic comedy ever made. But bigger isn't always better.

And, let's be honest, "Mad World" is loud, bombastic, frenetic and overblown. No question about it.

And yet ... there's something about this lengthy chase farce that is undeniably ingratiating, perhaps even addicting. I've lost count of how many times I've seen it. And I never tire of it. Although in my case, and others my age, it's at least partially the beckoning of nostalgia.

I saw "Mad World" when it was in its first run at the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles when I was in high school and managed to finagle my way into getting there a couple more times before it went into general release.

But "Mad World" has a huge fanbase that includes a lot of people much younger than I. In fact, it's so huge that the premier boutique label The Criterion Collection — which generally sticks to titles from the likes of Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa — has given the film new life this week in a five-disc combination Blu-ray/DVD set that overflows with bonus features.

Although "Mad World" has always in print, it's been a long time since it looked this good. Most DVD and Blu-ray editions contain the general-theatrical length version, 163 minutes, trimmed down from its original roadshow version, which runs more than three hours, 197 minutes. But this set has both, and both are newly restored. And the longer one has been meticulously reconstructed.

The story has several strangers meeting on a rural road in Southern California where a mobster (Jimmy Durante) literally kicks the bucket after telling them his stash of cash is hidden under a big W. What's that mean? They haven't a clue (in more ways than one). But greed quickly takes hold and the chase is on.

Among the bickering players on display are Buddy Hackett and Mickey Rooney, Milton Berle and Terry-Thomas, and Sid Caesar and Edie Adams — as disparate a trio of comedy teams as you could imagine, yet all have comic chemistry that is palpable. Ethel Merman, Phil Silvers, Dorothy Provine and Dick Shawn are also among the lead cast members, led by Spencer Tracy as a cop tracking their every move.

Among the famed comedians who make cameo appearances are Buster Keaton, Jack Benny, Stan Freberg, Jerry Lewis, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson and many more. The Three Stooges also show up and without uttering a word get a big laugh with their fleeting appearance.

And it's directed by Stanley Kramer, better known for such socially relevant dramas as "The Defiant Ones" and "Judgment at Nuremberg." But he handles the comedy well, using the wide screen to advantage again and again.

If you haven't indulged in "It's a Mad Mad Mad World" in awhile — or if, heaven forfend, you've never seen it — now's your chance.