Parodied in "The Simpsons" and an obvious inspiration for this Summer's "Rat Race", "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (shortened for the remainder of this review) is the 1961 comedy about a legion of various folks from all walks of life speeding across the country to be the first to find a buried treasure. It all starts off when several people witness a driver speeding off a mountain cliff. When they check to see if he's hurt, he is - but he also has a secret to share - that he was searching for a small fortune buried in a certain spot.
Thus sets off a race of epic proportions (and a cast of massive proportions - starring: Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Jack Benny, Buddy Hackett, Mickey Rooney, Phil Silvers, Carl Reiner, Terry-Thomas, Jonathan Winters, Buster Keaton, Dick Shawn, Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson, Jim Backus, William Demarest, Don Knotts, The Three Stooges, Andy Devine, Sterling Holloway, Arnold Stang, Stan Freberg, Norman Fell, Jimmy Durante, Jerry Lewis and others) as the various participants travel by bike, by car, by plane and any other mode of transportation that they believe will get them to the site faster than the other folks who are right on their tail.
The film was produced on a nine million dollar budget, which, in that time, apparently was able to get one quite a bit. The film's cast probably chewed up most of that budget, but the film also has some decent production values elsewhere. The film's length is the one factor that either people seem to love or hate. Personally, watching the 161 minute version (including intermission) that's featured on this DVD, I'm suprised that director Stanley Kramer and his writers were able to think up enough inspired gags to keep things going with only a few dull stretches. The 161 minute version isn't the only one, though. The original roadshow edition, presented in 70mm, was 192 minutes in length. According to the Internet Movie Database, the laserdisc edition clocked in at 188 minutes - why that cut isn't presented here, I'm not sure. Seamless branching (which MGM has just used to present both the R and Unrated versions of "Dressed To Kill") could have possibly been used to offer more than one version of the movie, if the material was available. The film was cut down for theatrical release to 161 (the version here) minutes and also, 154. The original cut of the picture reportedly ran nearly 5 1/2 hours (which would have been called, "It's a Long, Long, Long, Long World").
The film isn't without some problems, but I find that it still holds up fairly well today and is certainly good for a few laughs.
VIDEO: There's apparently been much discussion over MGM's preparation of the picture. Originally shown in both 35mm and 70mm presentations, this particular edition, according to the back of the box, is a new 16x9 transfer from the original 35mm theatrical release. It is also the 161 minute version - one of a few versions that were shown. The results of MGM's efforts here are not too bad - there's some problems, but I didn't find the presentation suffered that badly from them. Many have said that the film is in some need of restoration and that does show, although the film is certainly not completely problematic visually. Sharpness and detail are generally fine at times, while wanting during other moments. Never did the picture appear strongly defined, but never did I feel it was visibly blurry or hazy. It sort of veered back and forth between the two ends as the movie went on.
Print wear was evident, but definitely not massive. Speckles, infrequent marks and the occasional scratch did appear - nothing that I found too distracting. The picture also remained lightly grainy for many scenes. I didn't notice anything in the way of pixelation, but edge enhancement was noticable occasionally.
Colors usually fared okay throughout the movie, appearing slightly faded at times, but otherwise looking mildly pleasing. The presentation by MGM is watchable and certainly not terrible, but the picture still seems as if it could use some additional touches in spots.
SOUND: The Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation fares about as well as one might expect from it. The music comes in and the surrounds pop into life, but afterwards, things essentially fold up into mono once again. The audio quality is certainly fine in terms of clarity and the fact that it doesn't contain any sort of background hiss or other signs of wear. Although the sound effects, music and dialogue didn't come across as thin or edgy sounding, the music and sound effects really never had a fullness to them either, sounding rather flat. Not too bad for a picture of its age and the sound met my expectations.
MENUS:: The main menu for the picture side does provide some lively film-themed animation, while the menu for the features side is basic.
Extended Scenes: It's during the main menu for this segment that we find out a little more about the history behind the versions of the picture. The material here is taken from a 70mm workprint. The condition of the material varies from scene-to-scene - although they never become unwatchable, there are some definite problems with color and wear during many of them. An additional problem is that, although one can skip to the next bit with the chapter advance button, I found it rather odd that these scenes (and there's quite a lot of them) are not indexed. The other problem, and this is just a personal opinion, is that I didn't find any of them that funny. Although I suppose I'm pleased that the studio took the steps to find them and include them here, I don't think many of them would work in the actual picture that well. I'm not entirely familiar with what version this material came from or if they are scenes completely deleted. It would have been nice if MGM built some sort of index that gave further details about the scene's history.
Something A Little Less Serious: Originally presented on the laserdisc edition of the picture, this nearly one hour documentary mainly revolves around the members of the cast remembering some of the more entertaining moments of production as well as what it was like to work with the other actors.
Also: Trailer & Re-Release Trailer.
Final Thoughts: "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" is a film with a few flaws, but still quite a few laughs. MGM's DVD edition is priced nice at 19.99, but some will likely question why the extended version was not restored for this edition or what the current condition of that extended cut is. The audio/video quality for this presentation is not bad, but the film still shows some noticable age. Extras aren't bad - I would have liked some of the cast or crew to be brought together for some sort of commentary, but oh well. The documentary is informative, but the deleted scenes section is rather unorganized.
The Film *** 1/2
Video 81/B- = (324/400 possible points)
Audio: 80/B- = (320/400 possible points)
Extras: 80/B- = (240/300 possible points)
Menus: 80/B- = (160/200 possible points)
Value: 83/B = (249/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: *** 1/2
DVD GRADE: B