It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was Stanley Kramer’s first foray into comedy as a director. He had produced some comedies previous to the project, and was best-known for making films about social problems and issues, such as The Defiant Ones and On the Beach. He later mixed these genres with the film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.
The film as one of the first big, epic comedies. It was shot in Cinerama (extremely wide-screen) and is still seen as one of the key Cinerama films. It’s a madcap run of energy on screen in which a thief has a car crash and tells a group of people where his money is stashed before expiring. They then rush away to find the money—originally they agree to split it, but it soon becomes a competition.
Spencer Tracy plays the detective who was on the thief’s tail and then takes off after the others in an effort to recover the loot. The cast is loaded with cameos from actors like Peter Falk, Jerry Lewis, The Three Stooges and Buster Keaton. Don Knotts has a fun cameo as a nervous driver, and 12 principal cast members, including Mickey Rooney, Milton Berle and Sid Caesar. It’s basically a showcase for the cream of comic actors circa 1963. With so many actors trying to chew the scenery out from under each other it’s a bit of a mess, but still a riotously fun watch. The format is comic set-piece after set-piece, with car chases and ridiculous scenes following each other at a fast pace. The cast were actually given separate scripts for physical comedy and dialogue to avoid confusion.
You have a choice on the disk between the shorter theatrical version, which was cut by the studio to trim almost 50 minutes, and the roadshow version, which Criterion has reconstructed as closely as possible. Most critics prefer the theatrical cut, which is understandable because the other is well over three hours long. There is a long list of additional features, including commentaries on the roadshow version, documentaries about the film, press interviews, talk-show excerpts, a documentary about the visual effects, every trailer, TV ad and release ad that Criterion could find—and more.