A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that drinking (in the case of one character, comical nonstop drunkenness) and smoking are fairly common in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. There is an abundance of slapstick roughhousing, reckless driving, and cartoonish violence, with most of the cast ... in a cast by the end. A few minor off-color verbal jokes -- one is so sneaky you wonder if censors even noticed it. Main characters are driven by all-consuming greed, with only one showing conscience and disgust for the corrupting influence of the treasure hunt. You need to watch this in widescreen to get the panoramic scope of the comedy, not a full-screen cropped version. And be prepared for a long sitting.
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What's the story?
In IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD , on a Saturday morning on a Southern California desert road, four carloads of strangers from all walks of life see a driver -- who turns out to be a gentlemanly old bandit -- go off a cliff. Before he dies, the victim (legendary comic Jimmy Durante) confides that the $300,000 fortune he stole is all buried under "a big dubya" in a park 200 miles away. This inspires a free-for-all chase by the witnesses. The different carloads of treasure-hunters make more allies and antagonists along the way, all in their frantic, bumbling dash to claw up the money first. Meanwhile a retiring police detective (Spencer Tracey) who has been on this case for 15 years, keeps track of the growing mob and the mayhem by secret surveillance. When he finds he isn't going to get a promised pension, he tries to steal the loot as well.
Is it any good?
Kids will laugh at this in parts, though even the comedy gems here bump up against the cumbersome scale. Director Stanley Kramer was best known for high-minded, serious movies about racism, justice, and other social ills; doing It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was his attempt to prove he could do comedy just as well as preach. But moreover, he wanted to show he could do one of the BIGGEST comedies conceivable, hiring enough comic heavyweights for 10 movies (many of them, like Sid Caesar and Milton Berle, enjoyed their greatest successes on TV rather than the big screen, however), and putting other illustrious screen clowns like Jerry Lewis and the Three Stooges in quick-cut cameos and bit parts. Kramer also mounted epic-level stunts, and he violated a major rule of screen farce by making the whole thing last well over two hours (it was originally shown with an intermission break).
The result is undoubtedly entertaining, sometimes screamingly funny, but also somewhat elephantine and thin in the what's-the-point? department. It's all just a big chase, the sort of thing Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton (who appears briefly) would do in the silent era as a nicely compact short subject.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the corrosive effects of avarice in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. It's more absurd now because the $300,000 involved -- these days -- is rather small for all the havoc it inspires.
What modern-day TV contests does this movie remind you of?
The ending of the movie seems to suggest something about the healing power of laughter (though a classic movie called Sullivan's Travels did it rather more successfully). Do you think laughter is the best medicine?
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