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What are you…Some kind of a nut?!

August 22, 2011

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

Tuesday, August 23rd 9pm

Otto’s Shrunken Head

538 E. 14th street (A & B)

This week’s flick is co-hosted by Creative Film Cars.

It was a natural choice for the team up, since the film features almost enough vehicles to rival the endless database of new and classic cars, bikes, boats, planes, and penny farthings at CFC. Hope ya’ll can join us for this classic, comedic car chase film!

– Corinna

Everybody who’s ever been funny is in it!

“Smiler” Grogan (Jimmy Durante), suspect in an old tuna factory robbery, recently released from prison and on the run from the police, passes seven (not four, as commonly believed) vehicles on a twisting, mountainous road in the Sonoran Desert of Southern California before careening his car off the road and crashing. (The third, fourth, and fifth passed vehicles apparently disappear shortly afterwards somehow.) Five motorists from four of the passed vehicles stop to assist: Melville Crump (Sid Caesar), a dentist; Lennie Pike (Jonathan Winters), a furniture mover; Dingy Bell (Mickey Rooney) and Benjy Benjamin (Buddy Hackett), two friends on their way to Las Vegas; and J. Russell Finch (Milton Berle), an entrepreneur. Just before he kicks the bucket (quite literally; his foot hits a bucket as he dies), Grogan tells the Samaritans about $350,000 (equivalent to about $2,510,687 today in 2011) buried in Santa Rosita State Park, near the Mexican border, under a mysterious “big W”. Initially, the motorists try to reason with each other to share the money, but when they all soon find out that they are all too greedy to divide the money equally once they find it, it soon becomes an all-out race to get the cash first.

It’s there. It’s buried under this big ‘W’

Meanwhile, Captain T. G. Culpepper (Spencer Tracy) of the Santa Rosita Police Department has been patiently working on the Grogan case for 15 years, hoping to someday solve it and retire with honor. Learning of the fatal crash, he suspects that “Smiler” might have given one of the witnesses a clue to the stolen loot’s location, so he has various police units track their movements. His suspicions are confirmed by their behavior. Throughout the film, Culpepper has a nagging wife, a petulant daughter, and apparently only a modest police pension in his future.

Mother, he’s not that good a driver

Everyone experiences multiple setbacks en route to the money. Crump and his wife Monica (Edie Adams) charter a shabby World War I-era biplane and harrowingly make it to Santa Rosita but get stuck in the basement of a hardware store there. They manage to wreck the place in various failed escape attempts before blasting a hole in the wall with dynamite.

Lousy, stinkin’ bulls are everywhere

Dingy and Benjy convince pilot Tyler Fitzgerald (Jim Backus) to shuttle them to Santa Rosita in his modern twin-engine aircraft. Fitzgerald carelessly lets them operate the controls while he makes drinks in the back of the plane. He is soon knocked unconscious, and the pair have various hijinks while attempting to land the aircraft.

Dingy, don’t let this worry you. We’re gonna get killed!

On the ground, two cab drivers, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, who whisks Dingy and Benjy away from the airport, and Peter Falk, in a separate cab driving Crump and Monica from the hardware store, also get in on the hunt.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I didn’t want to move to California.

Pike’s furniture truck crashes into the vehicle containing Finch, his wife Emmeline (Dorothy Provine), and his overbearing dictatorial mother-in-law, Mrs. Marcus (Ethel Merman). The three persuade Pike to ride off for help on a girl’s bicycle, then flag down a British army officer, Lt. Col. J. Algernon Hawthorne (Terry-Thomas), to get them to Santa Rosita, and ignore Pike on the roadside nearby. After many arguments, most caused by Mrs. Marcus, she and Emmeline refuse to go any farther, and Finch and Hawthorne leave them behind.

Now what’s with this ‘fair share for everybody’

Pike tries to get motorist Otto Meyer (Phil Silvers) to take him to Santa Rosita, but foolishly tells him the entire situation, prompting the weaselly and more greedy Meyer to race for the money himself. Pike, outraged, destroys a service station at which Meyer has been forced to stop due to a tire blowout. After the rampage, Pike steals the station’s tow truck and later picks up Mrs. Marcus and Emmeline. Mrs. Marcus calls her beach bum son Sylvester (Dick Shawn) who lives near Santa Rosita, but the almost Oedipally-obsessed Sylvester races hysterically to the defense of his mother instead of going for the money. Meyer experiences his own setbacks, including losing his car in a river. All the while, the police secretly track their activities while Culpepper bides his time.

Just drive on down and dig it up

Eventually, all the characters meet up at the state park and search for the “Big W.” Captain Culpepper orders all policemen to leave the area and goes in solo to retrieve the money. The majority of the characters begin wandering around the grounds looking for the cryptic W. Emmeline, alone and wiping her face at a water fountain, ironically the only one who wanted no part in any of the matter, is the first to recognize the Big W, composed of four large palm trees standing at odd angles. Culpepper comes out of the bushes and greets her gently. She offers to split the money with Culpepper but unwittingly reveals the location to him. Soon Pike, then others, notice the palm trees as well and frantically begin digging beneath, while Culpepper quietly mixes in with the non-diggers and watches. After the suitcase is dug up and opened, the group unsuccessfully attempts to strike deals with each other on the money’s distribution. Captain Culpepper then identifies himself, takes the suitcase, and orders the now-stunned ensemble to turn themselves in, noting that a jury might be more lenient if they do. The defeated claimants climb into the two taxis and drive out of the park, initially intending to turn themselves in to authorities.

I say. Good show!

But when the two taxicab groups spy Culpepper heading away from Santa Rosita with the money, they immediately reverse direction and follow him. Sadly for Culpepper, his plan to hop on a boat bound for Mexico with the money is stymied as the taxicabs catch up with him. During the resulting long, frantic chase sequence, after a number of unsuccessful attempts to reach Culpepper by radio, the police department realizes what he’s doing, revokes his pension (which Santa Rosita had trebled by the lobbying efforts of its Police Chief, Aloysius (William Demerest)), and orders his arrest.

Air traffic control tower staffer: If you can, give us your position. Who is flying the plane?

Ding Bell: [Benji is at the controls] What do you mean “who’s flying the plane”? Nobody’s flying the plane!

At the end of the chase, all eleven men in the group end up stranded on the fire escape of an abandoned building slated for demolition. While trying to keep from falling off, the men lose control of the suitcase containing the money, and all $350,000 flutters down to the astonished crowd watching the events, who quickly gather it up. The men then simultaneously attempt to climb down a Santa Rosita Fire Department aerial ladder truck, but their combined weight makes the firemen lose control of the ladder, which gyrates wildly, flinging them off in various amusing ways.

You know I’m not entirely uncertain you haven’t damaged this machine.

The dejected men, now in a prison hospital in bandages and casts and with varying degrees of immobility and pain (and still greedy and selfish to the last), criticize Culpepper for seizing the money as well as blaming each other for this predicament they have gotten themselves into, but the former Captain bitterly replies that their sentences will be probably be lighter because he will probably unfairly take most of the blame in court. He adds that perhaps in ten or twenty years, there’ll be something he can laugh at about all this, but the rest remain unsympathetic. The three women then enter, with the nagging Mrs. Marcus (in the middle) scolding all of the hospitalized men and naturally blaming them for everything. Mrs. Marcus promptly slips on a banana peel and is carried off on a gurney by interns. Everyone, even Culpepper, begins to laugh hysterically. – wikipedia

Can’t make it to Otto’s? watch the full film here

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