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Film Review: It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Updated on December 25, 2017
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Jason Wheeler is the Senior Writer and Editor at Film Frenzy. He reviews films from across the cinematic landscape.


In 1963, Stanley Kramer It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, which starred Spencer Tracey, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, Phil Silvers, Terry-Thomas, Jonathan Winters, Edie Adams, Dorothy Provine, Eddie Anderson, Peter Falk, and Jimmy Durante with cameos by multiple stars, including Buster Keaton, Jerry Lewis, Jack Benny, Don Knotts and The Three Stooges. The film grossed $60 million at the box office.


When “Smiler" Grogan sails his car off a cliff, a few strangers gather around to help him. Before dying, he tells them about some hidden money from an old robbery and they all set off to find it. However, each group wants the money for themselves and works to impede the other groups from getting to its location.


One of those films that's been borrowed from countless times, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is a well made and very humorous comedic epic. That's mainly due to how the film cleverly turns from a somewhat realistic premise to one that's completely ludicrous. It really stems from the situation the characters find themselves in. Coming to the aid of a stranger who drove off a cliff is realistic, but in the ensuing story, they all find themselves in increasingly outlandish circumstances that continues to reach further and further into the unconventionally ridiculous. Before they all get to their target, those same situations end up making the impossible become possible. Benjy and Dingy have a great idea to take a plane, hoping it’ll get them there faster. Their pilot turning out to be a drunk is absurd, but him passing out and the two buffoons having to land it is still pretty absurd, but continues to go even further as they crash through a billboard, make the man helping them land fall off the tower and eventually crash land into the airport, only to flee the scene to get the cash. It goes beyond absurd and still remains quite hilarious. Throughout all of this, the police chief is following all of the groups, seemingly wanting to turn them in. At first, he seems like the standard straight cop in a department full of morons betting on the winner, but ends up stealing the cash, leading to a madcap chase.

The stunts seen in the film are also really great, ranging from the simple, such as Lennie hanging off a cab door to the climax, with everyone hanging off a fire engine ladder. Yet, even with the hilarity of the ladder, reality does ensue with every single person ending up in the hospital in traction and they never get their money due to it being scattered in the chase.

Reality also hits with Emmeline being the only sane woman in the film. At first it seems funny, as she’s the only one that recognizes just how crazy this whole thing really is, but near the end, it’s shown that she really just wants to get away from everyone, using the money to do so. It’s a little glimpse of sanity in the insanity and demonstrates how money can turn normal human beings into crazed idiots. The police chief also has the only solid reason for wanting the money, with his life being in absolute shambles, believing that he won’t laugh for a good long while. He is proven wrong though as he laughs when Mrs. Marcus slips on a banana peel.

The amount of cameos are also well done. Don Knotts perfectly plays his typical nervous character, as a driver whose car was hijacked. Otto just tells the driver that he’s a secret agent, making his nervousness as absolutely warranted when he just throws him out and takes the car. The Three Stooges also have a perfect cameo, even though it’s only a few seconds. They’re part of the fire engine that rolls up, but they don’t move or speak. All they do is stand there, as if to confirm that everyone is practically doomed. When the film is constantly putting in hectic and frenzied comedy, the trio just standing there is very minimal and still manages to get the effect. There’s also Jack Benny just driving by Russell, Hawthorne, and Mrs. Marcus having a fight. The only thing that comes of it is Mrs. Marcus insulting him and Benny giving his catch phrase and driving off.

4 stars for It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

the postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent WNI's positions, strategies or opinion

Awards & Recognitions

bold indicates reception of award//recognition

Academy Awards

  • Best Effects, Sound Effects
  • Best Cinematography, Color
  • Best Sound
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Music, Original Song ("It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World)
  • Best Music, Score - Substantially Original

American Cinema Editors, USA Eddie Awards

  • Best Edited Feature Film

Edgar Allen Poe Awards

  • Best Motion Picture

Golden Globe Awards

  • Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical
  • Best Actor - Comedy or Musical (Jonathan Winters)

Golden Laurel Awards

  • Top Roadshow
  • Top Song ("It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World")

New York Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Third Place - Best film


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