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The Criterion Collection: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World Blu-ray review

The Criterion Collection: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World Blu-ray review

The most epic and ambitious comedy ever made, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World has been given a stunning 4K restoration. No madcap comedy in the history of film has ever looked this good.

Essentially inventing the genre of wacky racing movies, this crackpot film – propelled by massive star power and non stop gags – manages to take a paper thin premise and fill nearly three hours of screen-time. That you never get bored is quite an accomplishment.

The plot is simple and classic. An old crook (Jimmy Durante) drives off a cliff. Some fellow motorists run down to see if he’s okay. Before he dies he tells them the location of a stash of money he stole years ago. They think about working together to find the money, but soon decide it’s every man for himself. And thus begins the madness.

Led by a cast of Hollywood comic royalty (Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney, Buddy Hackett, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Phil Silvers, Ethel Merman, Terry Thomas), this film has everything you could possibly want from a piece of light entertainment. Incredible 70mm cinematography, a snazzy Saul Bass title sequence, crazy car chases, aerial stunts, pyrotechnic special fx, zingy one liners, phenomenal slapstick comedy, and cameos from the likes of Buster Keaton, Peter Falk, Jerry Lewis, and The Three Stooges.

Director Stanley Kramer – who is perhaps better known for serious films about issues with society – throws everything he has at the screen, and miraculously most of it sticks. It’s by no means perfect – with this many jokes there are inevitably some duds – and the running time is just ridiculous.

If you were so inclined you could argue that this too is one of Kramer’s “message films” dealing with the greed that is corrupting the heart of the America. But seriously, if you’re watching this film for the satire, then you need to take a long hard look at yourself. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is as daft as they come, and even has the audacity to finish the film with the oldest visual gag in the book, and it’s an absolute beauty.

The disc comes packed with extras, including a HD transfer of the 197 minute extended version of the film. There are audio commentaries, documentaries, interviews, talk show appearances, press junket footage, and a whole lot more. This package from Criterion is so comprehensive you could literally spend an entire weekend working your way through it.

A technical triumph and a comedic gem. Not only do they not make them like this anymore, I highly doubt they even could.

★★★★★

This review first appeared on Entertainment Focus

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