Peter Robinson's recent disappointment in showing Young Frankenstein to his sons made me apprehensive when It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World came up in a conversation with my kids. I quoted a few lines ("it's a big W, I tells ya--a big W!"), remembered a few scenes . . . and started giggling uncontrollably.
I instantly started to worry. Would my children, so far removed from the movie's context, find it dated? Heck, if I watched it again, would I find it dated?
Well, I can report with deep satisfaction that, unlike the execrable work of Mel Brooks, IAMMMMW is a work of even greater genius than I remembered.
The premise: five men and their companions witness a car go over a cliff. Before he dies, the driver reveals his secret: $350K of cash buried in a state park in Santa Rosita, California, under a "big W". A mad chase for the money ensues.
It's hard to imagine a more perfectly crafted film. The premise gives the plot an effortless, accelerating momentum. The dialog wonderfully expresses all the neuroses and grasping neediness lurking within the middle American mind. The characters are realized by a cast of literally dozens of the top comedians of the time: Milton Burle, Buddy Hacket, Ethel Merman, Jonathan Winters, Phil Silvers--that's only a partial list. And the frosting on the cake is a series of insane stunts with cars are airplanes.
Of many superb performances, I must single out that of Terry-Thomas, who plays J. Algernon Hawthorne, a stereotypical Englishman. The stereotype is, of course, cruelly unfair--which is what makes it so funny:
My already sky-high opinion of this movie only increased by re-watching it. Best of all, during the movie, when I asked him if it was living up to the hype, my 13 year old son responded with a simple "oh, yeah!"
Oh, yeah, indeed.