Lengthy blockbusters from the ’60s didn’t have video as a second marketplace. They trickled down not into rental stores but into neighborhood theaters, and the studios, to fit in more shows per day, often slashed them to Reader’s Digest proportions. A number of these epics have lately been restored to their original lengths, and with well-structured films like Spartacus and Lawrence of Arabia, that’s reason to rejoice. But is bigger always better?
Consider Stanley Kramer’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, a 3 1/4-hour homage to slapstick that was trimmed to 2 1/2 hours after its premiere. Now virtually complete at three hours and eight minutes (not counting an hour-long making-of documentary at the end of the tape), Mad World barrels straight past comedy into the realm of numbing, gargantuan spectacle. It’s a Keystone Cops flick on steroids: less graceful and more mean spirited than the silent shtick it salutes, yet intermittently funny by dint of sheer muscle.
As a dozen characters race across the Southwest to reach a stash of stolen loot, virtually every notable comic actor circa 1963 shows up. The quieter ones steal the show, especially Sid Caesar as a klutzy, exasperated dentist. Most of Mad World’s other highlights involve performers upstaged by sets, as in Jonathan Winters’ Samson-style demolition of a gas station, and the cassette’s slightly letterboxed format keeps most of the carnage on-screen. The whole thing’s exhausting, but watched in shifts, between kitchen snacks, the avalanche of pratfalls, traffic accidents, and screaming insults seems less like overkill.
No such trick could improve John Sturges’ The Hallelujah Trail, probably a bore in its cut version (which never made it to video) but downright excruciating at 2 3/4 hours. Lee Remick, as a prim suffragist determined to block a shipment of whiskey to 1860s Denver, and Burt Lancaster, as the army officer assigned to bring in the booze intact, have one sweet, sexy neck-rub scene. The rest is tedious, sub-F Troop twaddle, at its worst when Martin Landau appears as an Indian charlatan named Walks Stooped Over. By the time this movie ends, so will you. D+