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It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is a 1963 American comedy film directed by Stanley Kramer about the madcap pursuit of $350,000 in stolen cash by a diverse and colorful group of strangers. The ensemble comedy premiered on November 7, 1963.


Four vehicles are passed by a speeding black sedan on a lonely highway in Southern California. The car, driven by "Smiler" Grogan (Jimmy Durante in his last screen appearance), careens off the twisting, mountainous road over a cliff. It turns out that Smiler was the chief suspect in a long-ago tuna factory robbery and had been evading police detectives when he crashed.

With his dying breath, Grogan tells Ding Bell (Mickey Rooney), his friend Benjy Benjamin (Buddy Hackett), furniture mover Lennie Pike (Jonathan Winters), dentist Melville Crump (Sid Caesar), and edible seaweed company owner J. Russell Finch (Milton Berle) about "three hundred and fifty G's" ($350,000) hidden in the state park in the fictitious city of Santa Rosita, less than a day's drive away, under a mysterious "Big W". Greed gets the better of the stunned witnesses, and a wild race to the park ensues. Many others the motorists encounter along the way, including Britishmarker army officer Lt. Col. J. Algernon Hawthorne, (Terry-Thomas) and con man Otto Meyer (Phil Silvers), join the treasure hunt. J. Russell Finch's loud and obnoxious mother-in-law, Mrs. Marcus (Ethel Merman) phones her son Sylvester (Dick Shawn), a beatnik lifeguard, adding yet another fortune hunter.

Unbeknownst to them all, Captain Culpepper (Spencer Tracy) of the Santa Rosita Police Department has been patiently working on the Smiler Grogan case for years, hoping to someday solve it and retire. When he learns of the fatal crash, he suspects that Grogan may have tipped off the passersby, so he has them tracked by various police units. His suspicions are confirmed by their behavior.

Dr. Crump and his wife Monica (Edie Adams) charter a rickety Standard J-1 World War I-era biplane. Meanwhile, Bell and Benjamin also find an airplane, a Beech 18, and enlist the aid of its wealthy alcoholic owner, Tyler Fitzgerald (Jim Backus). During the flight, Fitzgerald is accidentally knocked unconscious while mixing a drink. Bell and Benjamin manage to contact air traffic controllers (Carl Reiner, Jesse White and Eddie Ryder), who enlist Colonel Wilberforce (Paul Ford) to "talk them down." Meanwhile, the Crumps survive their own unnerving flight, but once they arrive in Santa Rosita, they get locked in a hardware store basement while attempting to purchase a pickaxe and a shovel. Eventually they free themselves with dynamite. Yellow Cab drivers Peter Falk and Eddie Anderson also get entangled in the chase.

Meanwhile, Otto Meyer picks up Lennie Pike, bicycling after his moving van crashed into the Finchs' convertible. When Pike tells Meyer about the money, Meyer tricks him into getting out of his car and roars off. Pike subsequently catches up with him at a newly-opened service station owned by Irwin (Marvin Kaplan) and Ray (Arnold Stang). Meyer manages to escape after telling the two station owners that Pike is an escaped lunatic from a psychiatric hospital. Pike is knocked unconscious; he awakens to find that they have tied him up and called the police. He breaks free and utterly demolishes the service station in his anger, before stealing a tow truck.

Berle, Caesar, Rooney, and Hackett mug for the camera in an opening scene from It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

Leaving a trail of destruction in their wake, everyone converges on Santa Rosita State Park. Culpepper hurries to join them, telling his officers to back off and let him handle the situation. The buried money is eventually found under a group of four palm trees that have been planted to resemble the letter "W". Upon unearthing the loot, they discover that a newcomer in their midst—Culpepper—is a policeman. He convinces the dejected group to turn themselves in. However, Culpepper has come to realize that he is facing a bleak future - a meager pension and self-absorbed wife (Selma Diamond) and daughter-and has decided to flee to nearby Mexicomarker with the money.

When the treasure-seekers realize that Culpepper is planning to keep the money for himself, they pursue him. Culpepper heads to the coast, where an apparent cohort, Jimmy (Buster Keaton), is waiting with a boat, but he cannot lose his pursuers. The chase ends up at an old building that is about to be demolished. Culpepper's supervisor, Aloysius (William Demarest), realizes that his old friend has become a criminal himself and sadly orders his arrest.

All of the men pursue Culpepper into the derelict building, up to the top floor and then to the roof, where they all become trapped on the unstable fire escape. The suitcase filled with the cash spills open and the entire $350,000 flutters down on the startled and then frenzied crowd of onlookers below. The fire department arrives and raises an aerial rescue ladder, but the desperate men on the collapsing fire escape crowd onto it, overloading it. It starts gyrating wildly, tossing the men off one by one. They all end up in the hospital, moaning and bandaged in traction. When the women march in, Mrs. Marcus slips on a banana peel and falls hard on her rear end. A smile slowly appears on Culpepper's face, and he finally joins the other men in side-splitting laughter.


In the early 1960s, screenwriter William Rose, then living in the UKmarker, conceived the idea for a film (provisionally titled Something a Little Less Serious) about a comedic chase through Scotlandmarker. He sent anoutline to Stanley Kramer, who agreed to produce and direct the film. (The working title was subsequently changed to One Damn Thing After Another and It's a Mad World, with Rose and Kramer adding additional Mads to the title as time progressed.)

Although well known for serious films such as Inherit the Wind and Judgment at Nuremberg (both starring Spencer Tracy), Kramer set out to make the ultimate comedy film with It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Filmed in Ultra Panavision 70 and presented in Cinerama (becoming one of the first Cinerama films originated with one camera), it also had an all-star cast, with dozens of major comedy stars from all eras of cinema making appearances in the film.

The film followed a Hollywoodmarker trend in the 1960s of producing "epic" films as a way of wooing audiences away from television and back to movie theaters. Box-office revenues were dropping, so the major studios experimented with a number of gimmicks to attract audiences, including widescreen films.

The title was taken from Thomas Middleton's 1605 comedy A Mad World, My Masters. Kramer considered adding a fifth "mad" to the title before deciding that it would be redundant, but noted in interviews that he later regretted it.

The film's theme music was written by Ernest Gold with lyrics by Mack David.

In the 1970s, ABC broadcast the film on New Year's Eve. The last reported showing of the film on major network television was on May 16, 1978.


The early scenes in which "Smiler" Grogan goes off the road, and when the four vehicles briefly speed down the mountain before slowing down and stopping so that the drivers can talk, were filmed on the “Seven Steps” section (also known as "Seven-Level Hill") of the Palms-to-Pines Highway (California State Highway 74), a generally east-west route mostly south of, and west of, the city of Palm Desertmarker, Californiamarker. Culpepper predicts that the vehicles — going east — will turn south (a right turn), but in the movie they actually turn left. The rocky point at which Durante's car sails off into space, known by Mad World fans as "Smiler's Point," can easily be spotted today on Highway 74, minus the man-made, temporary ramp that helped launch the car airborne and then was removed after the stunt was performed.

Many of the actors performed some of their own stunts, including some crashing falls by Caesar, physical antics by Jonathan Winters, and Phil Silvers' drive into a flowing river where he almost drowned. Caesar severely injured his back while filming the hardware store scene and was unable to return to the film for some time. Silvers injured himself shortly before the shooting of the scene (one of the last) where the male characters chase Culpepper up several flights of stairs and onto fire-escape ladders. As shot, the scene features Silvers' stunt double.

The gas station scene with Jonathan Winters, Marvin Kaplan, and Arnold Stang was filmed at a specially constructed set built on composer Jimmy Van Heusen's property near Palm Springs, Californiamarker. Van Heusen first saw the completed gas station on his Friday drive from Los Angeles out to his weekend retreat. He did not know the gas station was a movie set, thinking instead that his business manager had leased a portion of his property for an actual service station. The destruction scene with Winters, Kaplan, and Stang was filmed that weekend, with the site cleanup scheduled for the next week. On Monday morning's return trip to Los Angeles, Van Heusen saw the destroyed gas station and thought something terrible had happened. As the property owner, he believed he might be sued by injured parties.

During shooting of the gas station's destruction, the water tower began to collapse too soon because of a special-effects miscue. A combination of a split-screen effect and use of the optical printer repaired the scene. Jonathan Winters, whose character was the one who toppled the water tower with the tow truck, asked to be the one who backed the truck into the tower. Director Kramer overruled Winters, saying that they couldn't be certain in which direction the tower would fall and thus couldn't guarantee his safety.

Many of the scenes that take place on what look like lonely stretches of road were filmed in areas of Southern California that have become heavily urbanized in the decades following the movie's production. In the scene where Jack Benny encounters Milton Berle's character and his group, the entire area, which was practically open desert in the movie, is now a modern suburban neighborhood in Yucca Valleymarker.

Likewise, in the scene where motorist Sid Caesar is momentarily blinded by an unfurled road map, which results in all four vehicles zig-zagging behind one another on a desolate desert road, was filmed as the cars traveled northbound on Rio del Sol in Palm Desert. This stretch of roadway is now populated with numerous residences, condominium complexes, and retail businesses, and is a four-lane boulevard. Its name was changed from "Rio del Sol" to "Bob Hope Drive" several years after filming took place.

In yet another desert highway scene, the four speeding vehicles travel westbound down a slight incline to a "T" intersection and begin to make sweeping right turns (southbound) onto the cross street. The moving van driven by Jonathan Winters avoids the turn entirely by cutting diagonally across a sandy patch of desert adjacent to the intersection. This stunt was performed at the southeast corner of Ramon Road and Bob Hope Drive (again, Rio del Sol at the time) in Palm Desert. The sandy, barren terrain that the moving van cuts across is now the paved and landscaped parking lot of the Agua Caliente Indian Resort & Casino.

The airport terminal scenes were filmed at the now-defunct Rancho Conejo Airport in Newbury Park, Californiamarker, though the control tower shown was constructed only for filming. Other plane sequences were filmed at the Sonoma Countymarker Airport north of Santa Rosa, Californiamarker, at the Palm Springs International Airportmarker, and in the skies above Thousand Oaksmarker and Camarillomarker, California.

In one scene, a Beech model C-18S flies through a highway billboard. The plane was flown by stuntman Frank Tallman, but a communications mix up resulted in the use of linen graphic sheets on the sign rather than paper, as planned. Linen is much tougher than paper, and the plane was nearly destroyed on impact. Tallman managed to fly it back to the airstrip, discovering that the leading edges of the wings had been smashed all the way back to the wing spars. Tallman considered that the closest he ever got to dying on film. (Both Tallman and his business partner and fellow flyer on Mad World, Paul Mantz, eventually died in separate air crashes.)

In the movie the airplane is shown crashing through an airport restaurant plate glass window and stopping abruptly. Careful viewing will show an arresting cable that was tied to the tail of the airplane at just the right length to make the aircraft stop as it hits a curbing.

"Santa Rosita State Park" was on the grounds of a private residence located in Rancho Palos Verdesmarker. As of 2009, only one of the four palm trees remains.

The final chase scene was filmed in Santa Monicamarker, most notably at the California Incline, and downtown Long Beachmarker. The cars can be seen passing the Pike amusement park in Long Beach, with its wooden roller coaster, and traveling around the neavy Rainbow Pier. The Arcade under Ocean Boulevard near Pine Avenue also is part of the scene.

Part of the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital retirement community, in Woodland Hillsmarker, is visible in the background of the scene where characters Lenny Pike and Mrs. Marcus (in the tow truck Pike stole from the service station he destroyed in his rampage) stop at an intersection (of present-day Mulholland Drive, Valley Circle Boulevard, Avenue San Luis, and Calabasas Road) before making a U-turn. Director Stanley Kramer died in the hospital of this retirement community in 2001.

Silvers, a compulsive gambler, had a running craps game going during the production. Jerry Lewis, who has a cameo appearance in the film, reportedly stopped by the set and left $500 poorer, according to Something a Little Less Serious: A Tribute to 'It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World', a 1991 documentary included on the DVD version.

Veteran stuntman Carey Loftin was also featured in the documentary, explaining some of the complexity as well as simplicity of stunts, such as the day he "kicked the bucket" as a stand-in for Durante.

The fire escape and ladder miniature used in the final chase sequence is on display at the Hollywood Museum in Hollywoodmarker. Portions of the life-size building and fire escape were constructed on the Universal Studios back lot.


The film ran 210 minutes in its preview showing. Kramer cut the film to 192 minutes for the premiere release. During its roadshow 70 mm run, United Artists, seeing that it had a mammoth hit on its hands, cut the film to 161 minutes without Kramer's involvement in order to add an extra daily showing. The general release 35 mm version runs 154 minutes, with overture and exit music excised. At the film's premiere, radio transmissions between the film's fictional police played in the theater lobby and rest rooms during the intermission. The police transmissions featured Detective Matthews (Charles McGraw) and the police personnel that follow the group. These three reports (each approx. one minute in length) may have added to the 210-minute length.

Some of the cut footage remains missing, although 20 minutes of material was not found. MGM/UA also located a 20-minute 70 mm preview reel which contained a few scenes in their entirety. These two 70 mm reels provided the extra scenes for the "Special Edition version with restored footage" project of 1991. No out-take footage was used, with the exception of a two-second wide shot of the Beechcraft aircraft, needed to bridge a highly sought-after bit of Buddy Hackett being doused with a bucket of water.

While not officially referring to it as a director's cut, Kramer helped oversee the re-incorporation of this missing footage into a 182-minute "special edition" video version for VHS and LaserDisc. Screenwriter Tania Rose was also contacted by the Special Edition team and after viewing the footage gave her endorsement to the project. Because of the quality of the missing scenes, the lack of a large budget for a film restoration, and a lack of interest at the time by restoration experts, it was decided that a digital tape reconstruction for presentation on Laserdisc would at least be a venue for film fans to finally see the footage. Years later, the improved quality of DVD would make the poor quality of the restored footage more jarring, so the standard edited version is presented instead. The special edition version has aired on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). Comparisons between the two show that the extended version is of inferior video quality to that of the DVD, since film transfer techniques and formats have improved.

Currently, the best existing footage is in the form of original 70 mm elements of the general release version (recent restored versions shown in revival screenings are derived from these elements). However, some, if not all of the remaining footage does exist in some form, although it has deteriorated over time. A restoration effort currently is under way by preservationist Robert A. Harris in an attempt to bring the film back as close as possible to the original roadshow release.

The official release from MGM is the 161-minute general release version, taken from its original 35 mm elements. Because of this, it is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, as opposed to the full 2.75:1 in anamorphic 70 mm form. Two versions of the film have been released on DVD. The first, from 2001, is a double-sided disc containing an hour of missing scenes on the second side, along with the original documentary "Something A Little Less Serious", and trailers and TV spots. In 2003, the film was released on DVD as a movie-only edition, with disc art on the disc as opposed to being dual-sided. It should be noted that the 2001 release had a blue spine and is now hard to find, while the 2003 release had a yellow spine and is relatively easy to find in stores. Interestingly, the colors in the cartoon credits sequence are incorrect (too red) in the current DVD version. The older Special Edition Laserdisc version is surprisingly more accurate, with the green background in the opening, and the subtle color changes occurring later on. The Special Edition team (consisting of volunteer "Mad World" experts from around the country) had MGM/UA pull a 70 mm print for the correct colors.

Fans on message boards such as have listed the differences between the TCM and DVD versions, since the DVD's deleted scenes are not properly organized to explain their context and some scenes are essentially the same as seen on the DVD, only extended with a bit of material. However, even without the deleted scenes the current DVD version contains what general audiences saw in 1963.

According to one fan's analysis of the TCM extended version (70 mm 2.55:1 aspect ratio) and the DVD theatrical version (35 mm 2.35:1 aspect ratio):
  • The DVD does not contain the overture, and the main titles are in red, as opposed to the original multi-colored sequence.
  • The TCM version opens with the 1980s animated MGM/UA logo, while the DVD version opens with the familiar MGM Leo The Lion logo (United Artists releases are now part of the MGM library).
  • Part One of the TCM extended version has 14 minutes and 2 seconds of added footage.
  • Part Two of the TCM extended version has 3 minutes and 49 seconds of added footage.
  • The longest stretch of time in the film without added material is 25 minutes and 3 seconds, from timecode 1:53:45 to timecode 2:18:48.

It has been rumored that Kramer's original cut lasted more than five hours, which has been verified by Kramer's widow, Karen Sharpe Kramer, who has been involved in locating the original 192-minute premiere version for release on VHS.

Widescreen process

The film was advertised and promoted as the first film made in "one-projector" Cinerama (Cinerama normally used one image split up onto three films on three projectors which were electronically synchronized to run simultaneously, and shown on a huge curved screen). However, there was never actually any such thing as one-projector Cinerama. What was really shown was an image photographed in the Ultra Panavision process and projected by one projector onto a Cinerama screen. This misleading ad campaign, labeling Ultra Panavision and Super Panavision 70 films as being in Cinerama, persisted throughout the 1960s with such films as Ice Station Zebra, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Khartoum. The latter two films even went so far as to include the Cinerama credit on the actual film.

Home video, LaserDisc and DVD releases

The film was first released on VHS and LaserDisc by CBS/FOX Video in 1985. In 1990, MGM/UA Home Video released a "restored" video version of the film on VHS and LaserDisc. In 2001, MGM Home Entertainment released the film on two-sided DVD with extras. In 2003, MGM Home Entertainment released another DVD of the film but has a one-sided disc containing no extras. In 2007, it was released on DVD, again, but this time, in Fox Family Fun since MGM Home Entertainment was merged by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment since 2006. And like the 2001 DVD, the 2007 DVD shows off a familiar MGM logo from 2001.


The film won the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing and received Oscar nominations for its cinematography, film editing, sound recording, music score and title song. It received Golden Globes Awards nomination for Best Picture (Comedy) and for Jonathan Winters' performance as Best Actor.

American Film Institute recognition


Main characters

Secondary characters

Cameo appearances

Judy Garland, Groucho Marx, Stan Laurel, George Burns, Bob Hope, Jackie Mason, Don Rickles, Judy Holliday, and Red Skelton were among the many celebrities offered or considered for roles in the film.

In popular culture

  • The plot of the novel Florida Roadkill by Tim Dorsey is an homage to the film, with a wide variety of characters chasing after a suitcase containing $5 million in stolen drug money, which was hidden by the thief before he died. There is even a direct reference to the movie, in a scene in which a man drives over a turtle "like Jerry Lewis running over Spencer Tracy's hat in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."

  • The films, Scavenger Hunt (1979) and Rat Race (2001), were influenced from and patterned after It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, with the eventual large sum of money, however, as a prize instead of buried stolen treasure.

See also


External links

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