Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" (1963)

Perhaps the best example of epic mad-cap, silly, excess, “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” features just about every comedic celebrity that was working in its day, and strings together one of the longest running time of jokes, slapstick, and inanity in the history of film. And, even though it is really just silly fun, the excess is appropriate because it is also about the excess of the materialism of American culture. The things that these people go through for a share of a few hundred thousand dollars is staggering.

To be fair, the $350,000 these people are losing their minds over is about 2.5 million today. However, as inflation has increased so too has our craziness. I have no doubt this movie would not be made as a silly comedy today. It would likely be dark and involve a willingness to kill from some characters.

There is a scene near the beginning of the film that sticks sorely out in today’s cultural climate that also encapsulates the problem that this film is highlighting. The leadlawman, played by Spencer Tracy, asks his secretary for a cup of coffee. As she gets up to cross the room to the machine the whole room—even the film itself—pauses to ogle her backside. It is played as a joke, but it is one of those “funny ‘cause it’s true” moments for its day. It hasn’t been all that long since men were so blatantly creepy, and if things are better today it is often merely because those creepy sorts of men try to be more subtle in their sexism.

Materialism is just as artificial, just as much a lie of happiness, and just as wrong and damaging. We still laugh at this sort of commentary today—plenty of films have reimagined this concept—but when we really think about it it is a sad state of affairs.

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