Posts Tagged ‘Terry Thomas’

Movie Reviews 448 – It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

September 4, 2020

Movies that feature a true ‘all star’ cast are nothing new, but when it comes to unadulterated comedies, the pickings are pretty slim. Ironically one of the best is also one of the earliest, featuring a veritable Who’s Who of Hollywood and television talent at the time. Not only does It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World have a legendary leading cast, but it has a script that is just as inspiring.

It all begins on a desolate desert highway with a speeding car weaving through the few vehicles and then plunging down an embankment and crashing among the rocks below. The vehicles stop and the occupants descend to find a dying old man (“The Schnoz” himself, Jimmy Durante) who tells them of a fortune, the spoils of robbery fifteen years prior, hidden below a “Big W” in a seaside park in a town called Santa Rosita some 200 miles away. Before the authorities arrive the man kicks the proverbial bucket (literally and figuratively) leaving the witnesses to question what they heard. Fearing that telling the cops will needlessly detain them for further questioning, they reluctantly agree to withhold the part of the money when questioned by detectives who soon arrive on the scene.

But no sooner are they back on the road that they start jockeying for the lead, evidently all having bought into the dying man’s tale. After a quick stop to discuss the matter in the hopes that an amicable agreement can be made regarding distribution of the money should they find it, the groups soon split up, opting for a ‘winner takes all’ approach. Thus begins a greed fueled, no holds barred, multi-state chase on land, air and unintentionally in a river.

The initial crazed group of participants are as varied as can be. Two young men, Benji (Buddy Hackett) and Ding (Mickey Rooney) heading out to Vegas for some fun. The Crumps, Melville (Sid Caesar) and Monica (Edie Adams) as a couple on their second honeymoon. Lennie (Jonathan Winters), a lone truck driver hauling furniture and finally Russel (Milton Berle) and Emeline (Dorothy Provine) Finch seeking some rest after his recent breakdown but inexplicably hauling his ever yapping, loudmouth mother-in-law (Ethel Merman).

Unbeknownst to this medley of money mad moochers is the fact that they have been under the constant watchful eye of the authorities under the guidance of the Captain T.G. Culpeper (Spencer Tracy) who was the detective on the case at the outset, and now looking for redemption. Adamant that the treasure remained hidden in his town of Santa Rosita all these years and now hoping to retire with the closure to the case as the final feather in his cap, his plans crumble before his very eyes as he faces one crisis after another.

They don’t make them like this anymore. While some slapstick certainly comes into play this comedy relies on insane characters at their worst, betraying one another, creating new allegiances as they cross paths and getting into the craziest of situations. To sweeten the pot the film has an ever growing list of other equally absurd characters joining them in swelling ranks for the mystical treasure. We get to enjoy gap toothed Terry-Thomas, Phil Silvers of Sgt. Bilko fame, Gilligan’s Island millionaire Jim Backus, and with a memorable dance scene that puts Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to shame, Dick Shawn as a hyperactive beatnik beach bum and his silent cohort dancer Barrie Chase.

If that weren’t enough there are brief cameos from a number of other legendary comic stars including Norman Fell, Columbo’s Peter Falk, Jerry Lewis, Carl Reiner, Jack Benny, Don Knotts, Buster Keaton (sadly in a ‘blink and you’ll miss him’ moment), to name just a few, and most fittingly The Three Stooges in one of their last appearances. There are plenty of other recognizable faces (and voices such as Selma Diamond’s if you listen carefully) and spotting them all is part of the fun.

There is no shortage of favorite scenes and this film replete with explosions, stunt driving, and more crashes than a demolition derby. All two hours and forty minutes (not including the audio intermission) is capped by one of the most jaw dropping finales where the entire cast are finally reunited at their target only to have one more surprise in store for them.

The poster artwork by famed MAD magazine artist Jack Davis is not an exaggeration of the frenzy in this film and fittingly MAD counter parodied with a pocket sized paperback edition appropriately titled It’s a World, World, World, World MAD.

Frustratingly, my MGM DVD menu teased special features on the reverse of the disc but it was a single sided DVD (legitimate!) and the box makes no mention of additional features. I suspect that there was a Special Edition variant release at the same time but MGM did not bother making different discs with the feature on it.

In these trying times when it seems like the world has indeed gone mad, it’s nice to know that there was a time when a “mad world” was just a playful notion. Thankfully, we can return to those times, at least for two hours and forty minutes. Not including intermission.

I never get tired of watching this one.

Movie Reviews 392 – Danger: Diabolik (1968)

May 17, 2019

Some of you may recall my review of Les Diaboliques the magnificent French thriller by director Henri-Georges Clouzot starring Simone Signoret. That film had it all. Dynamic performances. European easygoing, yet thought provoking pace which at the same time delivers a nerve-wracking murder plot.  A love triangle with a unique feminist twist. In a nutshell a groundbreaking classic.

Well the similarly titled Danger: Diabolik has none of that. And yet…

Sculpted from a completely different cinematic mold, this Italian production based on a fumetti (Italian term for comics) was brought to us by Dino De Laurentiis, the man who also produced  such campy fare as Flash Gordon, Conan the Destroyer, King Kong (the World Trade Center version), and notably in this case Barbarella. In the right hands, in this case being director Mario Bava, the patriarch of Italian horror cinema (Black Sabbath, Black Sunday and Planet of the Vampires), this cult-favorite anti-hero is faithfully transformed from print to screen without losing any of the outlandish premise, characterizations or artistry of the source material.

Thwarted by every attempt to capture him, Diabolik (John Phillip Law) and his statuesque sidekick Eva (Marisa Mell) stage elaborate high priced crimes across the land much to the chagrin of police inspector Ginko (Michel Piccoli) who also has to placate the politicians (one being everyone’s favorite gap-toothed comedian Terry Thomas) as he tries to apprend the headline grabbing foe. As Diabolik keeps one step ahead of each trap set – and making off with the bait – Ginko turns to another criminal, mobster Valmont (Adolfo Celi, the eye patched SPECTRE agent in Thunderball) to help him by capturing Eva. But one daring plane jump and a few theatrics later (including death itself) Diabolic and Eva are reunited only to fall for Ginko’s surprise backup plan. But does a molten gold body cast really spell the end of Diabolik?

Part Austin Powers with all the James Bond gadgetry, part Phantom of the Paradise, Bava’s colorful cinematography and use of fisheye lenses delivers an action packed story with all the rampant zaniness of the 60’s wrapped in the flamboyant fashion of the times. Speaking of the cinematography, comic readers will recognize how the framing of many shots in the film are indicative of comic panels, sometimes in the most clever ways. Aside from Andy Warhol zeitgeist, viewers will revel in Diabolik’s secret, subterranean lair, second  only to the Batcave. One thing that you probably could not pull off today is the concept of a sympathetic terrorist, but during the counterculture movement, this was palatable to a degree. All this and a music score by maestro Ennio Morricone to boot!

My Paramount DVD contained an exceptional special feature documentary in which comic artist, Stephen Bissette (clearly a huge fan of the film and original comic) presents many details that went into the adaptation, in some cases from original panel to scenes. And you have to check out the Beastie Boys Body Movin’ hommage video track.