Saturday, September 22, 2012

Friday Night at The Movies VIII

Last night it was time for an old family favorite again; It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. 2 hours and 41 minutes of some of the best comics of the era doing there best gags; a virtual Who's Who of the greatest names in the business.

I remember seeing this movie on TV several times, usually on New Years Eve, from 9:00 to midnight, back in the day before the whole evening was about setting to watch The Ball drop on Times Square. It looks better in color on the wide screen.

It's hard to pick a favorite scene. The shares scene at the beginning of the movie? Sid Caesar tearing up the hardware store? Buddy Hackett trying to fly an airplane? Milton Berle and Terry-Thomas in a fist fight beside the road? There is a whole lot of good stuff packed into what seems like a short movie.

And the best part? The movie works. It's not just a series of gags, The plot is believable, the characters motivations are well laid and consistently followed, and as usual (for me anyway) a good story, convincingly told.

Briefly, Five men (Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Jonathan Winters, Buddy Hackett and Mickey Rooney) all stop to help the victim of an automobile accident (Jimmy Durante). Durante tells the men about the money he stole 15 years earlier ($350,000.00) and where its buried. The rest of the movie is the race to Santa Rosita to retrieve the money.

Sounds simple, don't it? They tried to remake Mad Mad World in 2001 in a movie called Rat Race, which tanked pretty spectacularly. The formula may sound simple, but the correct execution is complex.

The movie holds up well. Almost 50 years old (released just a few days before JFK was shot in Dallas) the gags still are funny, and don't rely on knowing what was happening in 1963 to be funny. Without even knowing who most of these actors are, the movie is still funny. And most of the cast is dead by now.

So what makes it funny? Time-honored, universal humor. Milton Berle, traveling with his wife and his constantly badgering mother-in-law, Ethel Merman. Jonathan Winters, becoming enraged, and destroying a gas station. The chase through the abandoned building; all of these gags were probably first written is Latin, if not Ancient Greek or Sanskrit.

And how could I forget the star of the movie, Spencer Tracy? He is the cop who has been looking for the money Durante stole for 15 years. Driven to madness by his annoying wife and daughter, he is the joker in the deck that creates the madness in the last 30 minutes of the movie.

A few hours to kill, especially on a snowy Friday night; a few good beers and somebody to laugh with you. The perfect combination for a viewing of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

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