Sometime after It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was released, presumably well after the road show version was finished and it had gone into general release, so it must have been sometime in 1964, Randy Klopp, who I guess had seen the movie in Lebanon, PA, told me how excruciatingly hilarious it was. Especially the scene where Jonathan Winters destroys a gas station. Randy was a big fan of Winters, and I was not; still I had heard other good things about the movie and I was eager to see it, not least because it would at last give me a chance to finally see Ethel Merman who had been passed over for the movie version of Gypsy a year or two earlier.
I remember that I did go to see it when it finally got to Richland’s Neptune Theater, but I recall very little about it other than being very disappointed in the movie, and not finding it very funny at all. That I had seen it in a mostly empty house with little audience reaction probably played a part in that disappointment, but I do vaguely recall the destruction of the gas station scene. The problem I had with that scene is that the station’s owners were innocent victims, not deserving of having their means of livelihood taken away from them, so I just didn’t see anything funny about it.
Fast forward to the present. A year or so ago the Criterion Collection put out a newly restored Blu-ray/DVD package of the film with lots of bonus features, including a new commentary track featuring Mark Evanier and a couple other gents. I’m a regular reader of his blog, so I’ve seen him promote the release from time to time. Each time I would add it to my Amazon cart, where it would sit for a few days until I decided I didn’t really want it. Well, a few days ago I decided to spring for it, and over the last couple days I’ve watched the restored road show version and listened to the commentary track.
It’s a lot better than I remembered.
It will never be one of my favorites, and I’m still put off by the vandalism of innocent people (besides the gas station there are several other so-called gags involving people who don’t deserve the violence that’s inflicted on them), but there is much to admire in the craft that went into it, the special effects that were remarkable for their time, and yes, there are plenty of funny bits. I suspect seeing it in a theater with an appreciative audience could be a real fun experience.
And the commentary track is one of the best and most informative examples of its kind.
So I’ve been humming the title tune (“I know it may sound jerky/But in Turkey who eats turkey/Yes, yes, confess/It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world”) and even streamed the soundtrack album from iTunes last evening.
And that raised an interesting question. The artwork that iTunes uses for the album features inset photos of many of the principal players, although not necessarily photos of them from the movie. It includes Peter Falk, who plays a cab driver who doesn’t appear until the final 20 minutes of the movie. My immediate reaction was if they can show Falk, why can’t they include Eddie Anderson, who likewise plays a cab driver at the end of the film.
That’s when I realized there’s an even more glaring omission.