It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World 50th Anniversary Criterion edition REVIEW

James / January 29th, 2014

MMMMW-BD

This has been out for a week now, but I just finally got mine in the mail yesterday. I watched the extended version last night. It runs 3 hours, 17 minutes. This is the best effort ever in 50 years to restore the film back to the way it was at its original premiere. Using newly found scraps of footage, stills and audio clips, they’ve managed to gather every bit that has survived and assembled it all into the most complete version of the film we’ll ever see.

 

The two most notable scenes are when Sylvester (Dick Shawn) steals the car, and when Captain Culpepper (Spencer Tracy) talks to Jimmy the Crook (Buster Keaton) on the phone. Unfortunately, the footage has never been found, but the audio exists as well as some B&W stills. The scene with the car has so many stills that it almost give a flip book effect and hearing the dialogue makes it very clear what’s going on. It was amazing to see proof that these scenes were real, after hearing about them for so long.

 

A lot of it’s added running time, as expected comes from the all the different musical breaks, like the overture, the intermission and the police radio calls that played in the lobby before the film came back on. The Blu-ray doesn’t attempt to edit any of this down, it stays very faithful to how it was in the theater, with long gaps of silence, and nothing but a black screen. It felt weird to be sitting in my living room in the dark, but it was fun listening to the police voices explain what is happening. It was sort of like the experience of listening to a radio show.

 

The rest of the added footage are seconds here and there, small bits cut from the beginning or end of scenes. You can see why they cut out what they did, and it helps you appreciate the editing that was done to keep the pace moving faster. For example, there’s a cut scene where the Chief walks in to the police station and is introduced. You start wondering how they could have cut the character’s introduction. But then, the regular footage cuts back in, just as Culpepper calls him “Chief.” It gets to the point. You didn’t need the stuff at the beginning. Still there are some moments that explain more to the plot, like after Lennie Pike (Jonathan Winters) accidentally slams his truck into the back of the car, and has to start peddling on the “little girl’s” bicycle. Now we’re actually shown the damage to the vehicles and there’s a little bit more of a segue into him having to find the bike.

 

Other than some very brief moments, there’s not much to really amaze you, if you’re already familiar with the previous extended version from 1991 that was on the Laserdisc, VHS and played on Turner Classic Movies. Most of the added scenes, I’ve already seen before, but this time they’ve been reputedly re-edited into their correct order. Often times, I would get excited when I thought I was seeing new footage, but then deja vu would kick in, and I ‘d remember it was from the old extended version that I saw more than 20 years ago. There were even parts where the found footage had Asian subtitles that couldn’t be removed, like the scene where Otto Meyer (Phil Silvers) gets his steering wheel ripped out by a disgruntled passenger. I distinctly remember seeing this already, WITHOUT the subtitles. So there’s instances like this where I’m really confused.

 

I wish I had time to make a detailed comparison of all the different versions. I am very curious to know how much footage was actually added to this Criterion version, NOT counting the overture, intermission, police radios, and exit music. I’ve searched the internet in vain, and so far I have yet to see it done.

 

I would recommend Criterion’s extended version to hardcore fans only. Casual watchers may find it distracting, with all the sudden changes in image quality, randomly appearing subtitles, audio with no picture, picture with no audio, and having to face a black screen for several minutes, more than once. If I was not such a huge fan of the movie, I would be wondering what all this mess was. But the regular version I think still holds up, and should catch on to younger generations.

 

Part of the appeal is that the movie flows in real time, as if you’re actually traveling with them down to the California coast, but I still think the shorter 2 hour, 45 minute version is the best. The Criterion release comes with BOTH versions, and a ton of extras. You can’t go wrong. Except I do miss normal DVD packaging.

See my video review of the movie, as part of my Top 30 favorite movies.

 

 

UPDATE: Great news! The 1991 extended version has just been compared to the 2014 extended version. It’s very detailed and accurate. Check it out on movie-censorship.com (German).

 

UPDATE 2: The comparison on movie-censorship.com has been added in English.

Comments

  • January 29, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    I still have yet to see it! But I’ve been hearing you talk about this movie for YEARS now, that’s it… I’m downloading it… ha! Rock on James!

  • January 29, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    My reaction was very similar –the extended cut is interesting, the way many fanedited extended editions are, but the footage matched so poorly that I felt constantly distracted by it. I also remember seeing some of it on either TCM or via VHS in a higher quality (seriously, VHS), but that may be nostalgia taking its toll. I wish they had included a third version, with only all of the matching footage available, and none of the off-color footage or footage missing elements.

  • January 29, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    Nice review… but what if one has never, and I mean NEVER, ever, seen it in the first place (such as myself)?

    • xdeathknightx

      January 29, 2014 at 1:32 pm

      Get the two hour and 45 minute version and watch that one. It doesn’t have any of the cuts or footage added.

  • Allen Lucas

    January 29, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    For any hardcore film fanatic, all Criterion titles on Blu-Ray are worth owning. However, I’m sure many of them are required tastes that not everybody may like. But between this and the 1954 Godzilla film, these are the ones I would purchase if the price is right. Speaking of which, do you have the Godzilla Criterion Blu-Ray? I didn’t know if you already did an article on that. I would like to hear your thoughts on the picture quality on the Blu-Ray compared to the earlier DVD and Blu-Ray versions from Classic Media.

  • diegowar

    January 29, 2014 at 7:29 pm

    Thanks for this very nice report !

  • January 29, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    I would love a video of those version comparisons if you made it.

  • Hank Foreman

    January 29, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    There is one notable bonus feature missing from the Criterion Blu-ray that other releases of the film (ranging from the 1991 Laserdisc to the 2011 Walmart-exclusive Blu-ray) have: the 1991 “Something a Little Serious” documentary. Aside from disc space, what’s the point of removing this fascinating documentary? Sure, the Big W update at that time is rendered outdated (thanks to your awesome locations video), but the rest of the documentary (along with its interesting anecdotes from the then-surviving cast) is just fine the way it is! What was Criterion thinking!?

  • culwin

    January 30, 2014 at 12:43 am

    I think I must have first seen this on TV back in the early 80’s, on some local non-cable station. I guess it must have been a very heavily edited version. A lot of times we got screwed like that but sometimes those independent local stations would show some weird, off-the-wall stuff.

  • BladeRunner

    January 30, 2014 at 9:28 am

    very cool!

  • January 30, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    I just bought the standalone bluray of this movie. Im assuming its the normal cut of the movie. Haven’t watched it yet, but it was $5 and I know its James’ favorite movie, figured I had nothing to lose.

  • frostare

    January 31, 2014 at 6:20 pm

    I watched this movie because of your list! I really liked it and this theme: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LA6jbi4VMAA

  • laser

    February 1, 2014 at 2:56 am

    Re: the Japanese subtitles – the restorer Robert A. Harris has stated that some of the specific trims scanned for the Laserdisc now no longer exist, so alternate ones had to be used, which may or may not have had the subtitles.

    Re: the new, non-Laserdisc scenes – You can spot what’s new to this release by the condition. Anything that’s audio only is obvious, as well as any spots where the audio cuts out or the colour (sourced from the Laserdisc scan) goes away.

  • laser

    February 1, 2014 at 3:06 am

    BTW, I understand that the extended cut may not be some peoples cup of tea for various reasons, but you really should have pointed out how much work has gone into it. Have you watched the Restoration Demonstration?

    First off, all of the scanned film elements were faded beyond repair, warped, and sticky. The colour had to be the taken from the standard-def Laserdisc master and realigned.

    Plus, some of the trims were “rectified” (stretched for a curved screen), which was not easy to correct. Finally, the proper editing had to be recontructed, which was tricky because the extra footage came from several difference sources, and some bits were never meant to be seen.

  • laser

    February 1, 2014 at 3:11 am

    The only reason that this release happened was because someone at Criterion was a fan of the film. The studios would’ve let it degrade into vinegar. The premiere cut, completely gone down the memory hole aside from the script, a few stills, and a half-assed Laserdisc – thank the film gods that never happened! :O

  • laser

    February 1, 2014 at 3:31 am

    I personally consider the longer cut to be THE cut. It makes it almost real-time, which is a great idea, helps explain some odd occurences, and as the movie was already so frantic at the premiere, I find that cutting out the slow bits is like taking an overdose of pep pills – it’s just too dang much! o_0

    Releases like this are preserving history. I hope to see more of them. We already have Metropolis, but The Alamo is in dire condition, as is the 30 FPS version of Around The World In Eighty Days. You always hear about silent films disappearing, but some colour films actually degrade faster.

    Now THAT’S horror!

  • Nintendomaniac

    February 12, 2014 at 7:14 pm

    Sid Caesar just passed away today (Feb. 12th). Now Mickey Rooney is the only main cast member who is still alive.

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