Drivers’ Cinema: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
First, I want to commend the bravery of the stuntmen that helped make Stanley Kramer’s classic film, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) an exemplary model of slapstick cinema. The willingness to put one’s body in danger for the sake of pure laughter is rarely found in modern filmmaking. This self-sacrificing behavior embraced by the film’s stuntmen and cast is one of the true qualities that make It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World a timeless classic.
The movie provides audiences with a “gag” driven plot formula. The film is packed with stars that parade on screen barking and yelling at each other stumbling from one outrageous situation to the next. I am frequently left dumbfounded, wondering how the characters could have placed themselves in such odd situations. For example, two stars end up locked in the basement of a hardware store for the majority of the film before using sticks of dynamite to break free. Prior to their escape, they set off a box of fireworks, knock over gallons of paint and set fire to the staircase.
The film uses a wonderful display of American automobiles to spark gags, keeping the audience—especially those that are car aficionados—thoroughly entertained. Each car quickly drops out of play and is replaced by another as the characters drive like madmen, racing each other southward to uncover some hidden cash. At one point, a beautiful 1947 Ford Super De Luxe drifts downstream as it fails to cross a river. One scene even portrays Dick Shawn taking flight in a 1962 Dodge Dart 440 before eventually winding up in a ravine during an attempt to run Milton Berle off the road.
Personally, I enjoy the film for its exaggerations and fast-paced cuts. The characters are constantly bombarded by misfortune and the camera can barely keep up. As a car enthusiast, laughing at automobiles is a rare and unique experience as the cars in the film are often at the centerpiece of the film’s gags. The loose structure of the classic comedy should not go unappreciated. It is unfortunate that modern cinema rarely allows for such physical extremities and lack of a linear plot. Physical gags are a call to the earlier days of Vaudeville Theater and it seems as if the origins of comedy are slowly slipping away. Why not dedicate a night to enjoying the pure silliness of slapstick humor, because, let’s be honest, when is the last time you saw someone slip on a banana peel?