"It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" Standard DVD review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

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post #1 of 2 Old 06-02-08, 10:26 AM Thread Starter
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"It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" Standard DVD review

I first saw Stanley Kramer's "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" in it's general
release version in 35mm Technicolor and anamorphic back in 1964 at the Triangle theater in Yorktown. I was only seven years old at the time but I thought it was a hillarious epic comedy. I recognized most of the stars and cameos from the movies I had seen on television. Then I forgot about the movie until it's network
premiere in the seventies. Judith Crist in her TV guide column stated that NBC was going to show the uncut version. That peaked my interest again since I had no idea that what I saw was not the complete copy of the movie. It sure seemed quite long as it was. I did a little research and discovered when it premiered in 70mm Cinerama in 1963, it was approximately a half hour longer. So I was very excited to see what I had missed at the Triangle. However, the ads turned out to be wrong. What NBC played was a pan/scanned version of the standard 154 minute cut of the movie. I watched it anyway and enjoyed it again even though I always had the sense that half of the people were cropped out of the image.

The next time I saw the movie was at The Elgin in 1976 in NYC in a near mint 35mm Technicolor/anamoprhic 1971 re-issue. Again, it was the standard 154 general release cut but it was much more entertaining in widescreen since Kramer spread out the comedians across the full width of the ratio. The funniest shot was the angle pointing up at the actors as then all looked into the hole they dug when they
discovered the suitcase full of cash.

My next involvement in the movie came when I was contacted by Eric Federing circa 1985. Eric was a political adviser to Norman Mineta in Congress. This was his favorite feature and he was requesting assitance to restore the movie to the original Roadshow running time. I joined his campaign which was even introduced on the Senate floor with a resolution noting it's historical importance.

This is where the story becomes a bit dicey. Eric contacted MGM which was the successor owner of the movie from the original distributor, UA which folded after the "Heaven's Gate" fiasco in 1980. While MGM is one of the top distributors today for DVDs and cable and is very dedicated to preserving and restoring their entire library (including the inherited UA titles), back in the eighties they were
less interested in this subject. MGM/UA brass told Eric they thought the movie was dated and weren't interested in funding a restoration. The standard cut version that was out there was preserved. They had the original 65mm negative, 65mm black and white separations and 35mm internegatives all stored archivally and in good shape. The film was making money in it's current version so why make it longer? The director, Stanley Kramer, stated he preferred the short version and didn't seem inclined to bring it back to the premiere length either.

Eric wouldn't take no for an answer so he asked if he could prove them wrong and they gave the go ahead. He booked the movie in a series of large screen theaters around the country and introduced it with a slide show of stills from the scenes that had been cut to garner interest. Many audiences were enthusiastic about seeing the complete version.

This at least inspired MGM/UA to take a look at all the surviving materials. Unfortunately, all negatives were the short version. Then came a breakthrough...sort of. A film collector (whom shall remain nameless)
contacted me and said he had retrieved some boxes from a warehouse that
was to be demolished and they seemed to contain little trims of 70mm film
that were labeled "Mad World". I asked if he would be willing to donate
them to Eric for his campaign and he agreed. He shipped me the boxes
and when I examined them I discovered they were some of the cut scenes
from the Roadshow version. They were faded but still had some color left
in them. I also found a faded 70mm Roadshow print which was cut but you could see where the footage was removed. Apparently the first batch of 70mm release prints were the long version and then UA had the theaters cut out the scenes from the actual copies. That's how about 20 minutes of the 30 minutes of cut scenes
were found. I made a cutting guide for Eric indicating where there were splices in the print and where the cut trims had been originally. The 70mm print had been chemically rejuvinated and was starting to decompose so I didn't want
to cut the trims into the print. I spliced the trims onto a large reel and we screened it at the Smithsonian's Imax theater after hours to see what the footage was and made notes.

After all the time we spent looking for the footage, I was disappointed. Aside from an important scene of Mike Mazurski forcing Phil Silvers down the hill and some extra footage of Dick Shawn acting crazy, most of the cuts were just padding and not particularly funny nor necessary for the movie. More of Tracy arguing with his
wife on the phone, more of Sid Caesar on the plane and so forth. On top of that, some of the key scenes that were cut still remained missing including a sequence when Dick Shawn steals the red convertable after talking to his mother and a telephone conversation between Spencer Tracy and Buster Keaton setting up the meeting at the pier. Aside from the fading problem of the image, it also had a bizarre aspect ratio. It was 70mm wide (2.21 x 1) but had an incrementaly anamorphic squeeze across the frame. It was normal in the middle but slightly squeezed on the sides. To my knowledge this format was only used for this film and it would've been extremelly difficult to find any equipment that could correct it so it looked normal when projected. Never the less, I informed Eric that we should persuade MGM/UA to make a color corrected duplicate negative of the 65mm trims while there was still some color left on them. If they faded much more, they would be completely red and impossible to fix in the future.

Eric contacted MGM/UA but they weren't impressed with the quality of the footage we found and didn't want to spend the money to have a color corrected duplicate negative made. Then a fellow at the video department (who shall also remain
nameless) decided to move into the fold. He made a deal with the collector who
found the footage and told him to get it back from Eric's campaign. About 7 AM one morning, the collector arrived at my house banging on the door demanding I return the 70mm trims. I called Eric and asked him what I should do. Even though he had donated the footage to him, he said there was nothing in writing and to return the trims which I did.

About a month later, it was announced that a 'restored' version of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" was being released on VHS and laserdisc. Obviously, Eric and I were quite surprised at this since he had been running the campaign for many years. What was released was a complete mess. MGM/UA took the faded footage 'as is' with the bizarre incremental squeeze and randomly inserted it into a letterboxed transfer of the short version. Since they didn't have access to the 70mm print we found with the splices, many of the scenes were in the wrong place.
They also had found some kind of faded demo reel which had extra footage that never appeared in any version of the movie. That was randomly edited into the laserdisc too. It got poor reviews from fans of the movie and Eric got so disgusted, he folded the "Mad World" campaign.

Many years later, the new management at MGM/UA attempted to pick up the
pieces and officially restore the picture but in the interim, the 70mm footage had completely turned to red since a color corrected duplicate negative was never made in the nineties. They were unable to find the additional cut scenes but did find the radio reports that played in the lobby for the first few days of the Cinerama release. MGM/UA made a new 70mm anamoprhic print of the film which played the Cinerama Dome a couple of years ago and reportedly looked quite good. However, it seems unlikely that the long version of the movie will ever be restored now.

So what has been released on DVD to date? There are two versions out there. One is a special edition and one is a single disc copy you can find in discount bins. The video transfer is the same except that the special edition has the overture and the faded cut trims as a suppliment. Naturally both are the standard 154 minute version. Both are anamorphically enhanced but derived from 35mm anamorphic materials. The color and sharpness are fine but I noticed some pixelation in the image. They are not the qualiy of contemporary anamorphically enhanced
transfers. Acceptable but I woudn't advise projecting them on a DLP. There are some occasional blemishes and they have not been digitally restored to remove them. I don't want to suggest they look bad. Just outdated transfers from lower resolution masters. One obvious flaw is that while the 35mm prints had a 2.35 x 1 ratio (slightly cropped from the anamorphic 2.76 x 1 70mm copies), they seem to have been further cropped on video to about a 2.55 x 1 ratio. In other words
the 2.35 was cropped to 2.55. No extra image information was included and some of the already cropped image was further cropped.

The 5.1 stereo sound is good but the directional dialogue was rechanneled into the center speaker. Originally, the dialogue was extremelly directional to indicate
where the person speaking was on the wide Cinerama screen. The sound effects and music are still very directional and amusing.

The special edition contains a documentary about the movie where everyone
fawns over each other years later. I was never crazy about those kind of suppliments. I prefer it when surviving participants give background
on the shoot itself, the clash of egos and difficulty of filming in the desert.

I personally like the short version which had a nice pace. The longer version would've been interesting to see as a curio if it existed but it doesn't and the slipshod laserdisc copy does not represent what was shown in the earlier Roadshow presentations, just a patchwork mess.

I don't think the movie is dated plotwise and Kramer's satire on greed is still
relevant without the heavy handed posturing of his message movies like
"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner". The special effects are dated and it's obviously dummies swinging from the ladder and falling at the end although campy on that level. I don't know if you'll be able to identify all of the cameos unless you're an afficianado of old TV sitcoms and movies of the era. You're recognize the Three Stooges and Don Knotts but will you laugh at the Jack Benny and Buster
Keaton cameos? How many here are familiar with Jimmy Durante, Johnathan
Winters and Dick Shawn? The instant recognition of everyone on screen was what made people laugh in 1963. I don't know if young viewers will get it...

I like the wretched excess of the movie which is part of the fun. Too many crashes, chases and destruction but well choreographed. Great stunt work and the compositions are amusing. Cramming so many people in the frame is rarely done any more. The music score by Ernest Gold and animated title sequence are also funny in themselves. I don't know how contemporary audiences will react to this movie.

Let's hope that MGM/UA releases a fully restored Blu-ray of the standard 154 minute version in the future derived from the 65mm negative, digitally cleaned up and in the correct 2.76 x 1 ratio as Warner did with "Battle of the Bulge" on HD DVD. They should also add the intermission radio reports which were police calls indicating where the characters were at that moment in time.

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 06-07-08 at 05:21 AM.
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post #2 of 2 Old 06-02-08, 11:01 AM Thread Starter
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Re: "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" Standard DVD review

By the way, the same thing happened to "The Alamo". When they discovered an uncut 70mm Roadshow copy in cold storage in Canada, rather than making a duplicate negative of those scenes they just transfered it to laserdisc in the letterboxed format. In the interim the print faded away which is why the current DVD version is not restored. Pre-1983 Eastmancolor had a very limited shelf
life and if something rare is found it has to be immediately transferred to
modern low fade stock. Otherwise, it will fade away to nothing. The same
applies to any lost footage or movie discovered on nitrate. It has to be
preserved immediately before it decomposes.

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 06-02-08 at 11:38 AM.
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