Tuesday, January 21, 2014
The Secret Meaning of Stanley Kramer's "Mad, Mad World" Revealed
There are reasons to believe that when the studio cut Stanley Kramer's Its a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), down from 210 minutes to 154 minutes that much more was lost than miscellaneous sub-plots. We are told that the studio took the film away from Kramer because of its length and the effect that would have on potential boxoffice. But others believe that something much more evil was behind the studio's actions, that the studio was upset by the director's dark vision of the greed of the average American, and conspired to take the film away and transform it into the shallow, madcap comedy that was released.
Consider the greater body of Stanley Kramer's work as a director. These are some of the most serious and acclaimed films of the 1960s including such films as On the Beach (1959), one of the best films about the dire consequences of nuclear war, amd Guess Who is Coming to Dinner (1967), an important film about racial integration in 1960s America. Add to that Ship of Fools (1965), Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) and , Inherit the Wind (1960) and ask yourself, are these the films of a director of madcap comedies filled with pointless car chases?
The rage of a frustrated common man?
Degrading sex and drug lifestyle?
Perhaps the "W" stands for Weltanschauung ?
The main story line calls out for a serious interpretation. The plot is one of greed getting the better of groups of average Americans who become aware of a hidden cache of stolen money buried in a little California town several hundreds of miles away. Their behavior quickly devolves from one of cooperation to one of vicious and deadly competition, shedding values like old clothes, and acting reprehensibly towards each other as they gallop after the money.
The story gets darker as the Spencer Tracy character who plays a policeman on the Santa Rosita police force is told to his face that he will not receive a pension on retirement because everyone on the force hates his integrity and stern enforcement of the law. Driven to desperation, he chooses to abandon his values as well, wait for the others to find the money, then come in and posing as an active duty policeman, take the money and run for Mexico. Surely this is as tragic a fall from grace as we can find in all of the American cinema?
The dark irony of this misunderstood film is only made more powerful by the brilliant choice of lead actors, an ensemble cast of the country's most noted comedic actors here at last given a chance to show their serious side in a powerful parable about greed. Could there be a better choice of ensemble cast than Phil Silvers, Jonathan Winters, Milton Berle, Buddy Hacket, Ethyl Merman, Dick Shawn, Mickey Rooney, Sid Caesar, Jim Backus and Edie Adams, all well-known comedians in what may have been their first and certainly most serious dramatic role?
If we could see the footage that was left on the cutting room floor, the missing 18 minutes that would extend the film from the restored 192 minutes to its full 210 minutes, what would we find? Would we find impassioned soliloguies from a degraded and unrepentant Phil Silvers? Perhaps a secret and unhealthy S&M relationship involving Dick Shawn and his mother Ethyl Merman? Was this Jonathan Winter's great opportunity to demonstrate his worth as an actor of tragedy? Perhaps Edie Adams' portrayal of a sex-addicted love slave of Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett and Mickey Rooney would have been the apex of her career and led to an Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actress. We may never know.
And how ironic if these hypothetical masterpieces of the cinematic art were sacrificed to the greed of the shallow studio executives in a film nominally about greed!
How often must we hear that the corrupt and corporate Hollywood system betrays the filmmaker and compromises his or her vision? It is time to call a stop to this disgraceful behavior.
We at Global Wahrman believe that the studios must undo this travesty and restore this important film to its original vision. If it means remaking it over and over again at vast expense until we get it right, then that is the price we must pay in the service of great art.
IAMMMMW on Imdb
IAMMMMW on Wikipedia
Inflation Calculator of $350K in 1960 adjusted for inflation to 2013
An analysis of the locations used in IAMMMMW
Imperial Chrysler Club Web Page on IAMMMMW
On The Beach (1959) on IMDB