Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 29, No. 14. 1966.
Its A Mad World
Its A Mad World
with Rex Benson
The Critic who described It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World as "Stanley Kramer's laugh-a-minute comedy" deserves first prize in the pithy and pertinent judgment department. The failing of this film, as a comedy, is simply that it is not funny enough. It has none of the sustained hilarity that we find in such films as The Court Jester (Danny Kave), Jerry Lewis' The Ladies' Man, or even On The Beat with Norman Wisdom. Since Kramer seems to have extracted what he can from the script, the fault must lie with William and Tania Rose, who wrote the screenplay. Most of the lines are banal even when spoken by expert comedians, and few of the situations have real comic potential.
This is not to say that the film is entirely humourless. The antics of MicKey Rooney and Buddy Hackett, by far the best team in the whole show, stimulate the most laughter, especially when Paul Ford attempts to bring down their wildly careering 'plane. Jerry Lewis, grotesquely maniacal has a brief appearance, and Jonathan Winters would give presence to any demolition gang. His single-handed destruction of the petrol station is quite frightening. Ethel Merman gives a perfect rendition of everybody's nightmare mother-in-law and she provides the film's bannaskin conclusion with some justification. None of these characters, however, look as though they could ever ruffle Spencer Tracey's monumental calm. With 35 years of impeccable performances behind him, one gets the impression that he could demolish the entire proceedings with a single star-like glance.
The one-lens Cinerama process produces some odd distortions. Vehicles cling desperately to roads that fringe the screen like coiling snakes and people run up-hill and down-hill on land which is actually flat. It is doubtful whether Cinerama has increased the technical scope of the cinema, as Cinemascope and Vistavision have perhaps done to some extent. Eisentein once proposed that a frame should be used, the proportions of which could be altered at will, depending on the compositional effect desired. So far no one has seen fit to act on his suggestion. The Todd-AO people have announced a new Dimension-150 which they claim is an improvement on onelens Cinerama. This Dimension-150 is photographed and projected with 65mm film. The camera takes four lenses, giving a range of focal lengths and the projection can, for instance, use a screen 74 feet wide with a curve for "depth" as deep as 21 feet back. This process has yet to be seen on the commercial circuits.
Nevertheless, despite the drawbacks of the ultra-wide screen, Kramer has attempted to embellish individual sequences with an imaginative treatment, and the chase scenes especially, are superbly done. He is ably helped by the special-effects and stunt departments in the glorious pseudo-finale, where characters are tossed one by one off an extension ladder. The victims include one astonished negro who finds himself in the arms of an Abe Lincoln statue—ha-ha plus social significance. Ernest Laszlo's colour photography produces some pretty effects, and the fine playing of the Los Angeles Philharmonic compensates for the rather glum music written by Ernest (Exodus) Gold, another Kramer regular.
In some ways it is a pity that this film was ever advertised as a comedy since it stands up quite well as a kind of space-age morality-play. Kramer has stated: "The idea . . . came from William and Tania Rose, who wrote a letter stating an idea for an approach to a kind of catharsis in comedy which would be based upon something very grim: greed ... I certainly viewed it as a story of greed and of the inability, in some cases, of people to laugh at an extension of themselves. The intent was to extend the activities of a group of people so that step by step they would be willing to undergo increasingly more fantastic and dangerous experiences to achieve something to which they were not entitled at the start. . . . This was the idea: an extension of truth to the ludicrous."
IAMMMMW does suceed in exposing the vicious aspect of the characters as they search for the stolen money. People are assaulted, cars smashed and buildings wrecked. And who would repress a shudder when Terry Thomas calmly and carefully stamps all over Milton Berle's fingers? I do feel that Kramer Is wrong on one point, however. He says: ", . . it was necessary for me that people should want Tracy to go away with the money because he shouldn't get away with it; it doesn't matter that his reasons may have personally been more valid or that he was the nicer man." Since Kramer never specifies exactly who is entitled to the money, one might suppose that it would have been entirely moral, from a human point of view, for Tracy to have been the happy recipient. In fact. Kramer's morality is of a static and conventional kind, and it is this morality which, contrary to his expectations, finally impedes the progress of the pure humour, rather than heightening its effect. Thus the introduction of the Message only negates the over-all impact and, tailing a good script, the film is ultimately unsuccessful as comedy.