So this is going to take some time to explain if you are under seventy years old…
Why do I, a man who is too young to see any of these stars when they were at their peak, love this movie so much? Mad World (will call it that to not clutter up the article with the long title) has basically every kind of joke in the book. You got slapstick, double entendres, falls, body humor, wits, twists, physical acting, and overall a clever script. Yes, you may have never heard of people like Milton Berle or Ethel Merman but you will want to find out more about them through YouTube once you see this film. When I saw this as a little kid I was convinced this was a cartoon and not real people doing these crazy things. Now it is obvious most of these were done by stunt people…but we’ll get to that.
Basically this movie starts off wild and never lets up. The plot is overtly simple and its kinda like Mad Max: Fury Road in that we are just watching these people go from point A to point B with many obstacles along the way. So whether it is Jonathan Winters going through trying to murder Phil Silvers repeatedly or Buddy Hackett and Mickey Rooney flying a doomed plane it has to be stressed again this film never stops for a break. But there are seriously some fantastic performances in this on all spectrum’s. Let me give you my three favorite performers in no particular order:
Smooth talking all the way, there isn’t a scene that doesn’t amaze from Phil Silvers. He is essentially playing the same type of character he plays in ANYTHING. But he just gels with the entire cast whether it is conning Jonathan Winters, Don Knotts, or the reversal with the little kid halfway through. Him sinking his car in the river is still one of the best line readings I’ve seen in a film. Speaking of bests: The one shown above involving Mr. Knotts is my absolute favorite comedic scene in a movie. These two are just amazing together and it makes me wish Knotts had a bigger role to play.
The ultimate hero of the film. From a cast full of amazing, and polished talent, this was Winters first outing as an actor. But you wouldn’t know he was so ‘green’ as a performer in film with this. He is basically a man child in this; but one that has a weird since of honor and a code. If we had to remake today (and hopefully that never happens) I could see him played by Zach Galifianakis. He does many scenes involving destruction and him going to town in this gas station is probably the one best remembered of this film. But, as mentioned earlier, you can easily tell when the stunt people come in and that makes it funnier for some reason.
The dark horse of this whole feature this film made me aware of how gifted of a performer Dick Shawn was. Here’s a guy who plays the ultimate, insane mama’s boy. He is constantly screaming and overreacting way too much. But he also has the best introduction to anyone in film ever with that incredible dance shown above. He left us at a pretty young age and with this and The Producers he didn’t leave much to work with. But what he did do was just magic and I’ll always remember him as good old Sylvester.
I could go on and on about what makes this film great. I could also go through the typical route of referencing all the cameos of this movie which is pretty much the big hook of the thing. (The true standout in cameos though go to Jim Backus playing a proto-Mitt Romney) But this more about cameos from starts you dear reader probably have no idea who they are. Heck, in today’s day and age I bet you didn’t even know there was a ‘Golden Age of Television’ before the age of Breaking Bad and the like. Do yourself a favor though and pick this film up, especially the Criterion Collection version which is newly restored. You might not recognize any of the people thrown about for the almost three hour run-time but you don’t have to recognize superb talent when you see it.