June 29, 2019

"I'd like to think that sometime, maybe 10 or 20 years from now... there'd be something I could laugh at... anything."

Said Spencer Tracy, as the thoroughly disgraced Captain T. G. Culpepper, encased in a body cast, at the end of "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World," which I watched — all 2 hours and 39 minutes of it — as the 1963 entry in my imaginary movie project. This is a movie I saw in the theater when it came out. I was 12, and I didn't know much about gigantic epic comedy chase movies. In fact, I still don't. It's been more than 50 years since then, and I've found any number of things to laugh at along my way, but I can't say I laughed much rewatching this sprawling, raucous monster. I wasn't in a theater full of people who'd assembled to enjoy the hell out of themselves, as I was back in 1963. I'm sure I laughed a lot back then, but I only half-laughed twice in the present-day rewatch.

Tracy, musing about ever laughing again, in fact gets to laugh almost immediately. Buddy Hackett (also in a full body cast) peels a banana, throws the peel on the floor, and Ethel Merman, who's been yelling at everyone throughout the film, comes strutting in, yelling at everyone, and she slips on the banana peel and falls hard on her ass. Do we really want to see a woman get hurt? Yes, in this case, we've been conditioned to wish harm on her, because she's been the loud-mouth mother-in-law visiting aural pain on all the men (except her beloved son Dick Shawn) for the entirety of the movie.

I get it. And yet, I do not get it. And I did not get it the first time around. Yes, I understand the old comic convention of The Mother-in-Law — specifically the mother-in-law to a man. She's got her daughter's devotion and she's going after the daughter's husband, crushing his masculine pride at every turn. You don't ask why these people are like this. They just are. They're characters. They're assigned these positions. Do not pause to reflect or all is lost. That is, nothing is funny. It's just loud. And — oh! — Ethel Merman is loud. Did you know her original last name is Zimmerman — just like Bob Dylan? She lopped off the "Zim." Why not lop off the "man" — it would be more castrating-y — and be Zimmer?

The man she emasculates is Milton Berle. (Milton Berle's original last name was Berlinger. He lopped off the back end of his name. And yes, I know his penis was big.) He's the fragile male, and that's supposed to be inherently funny. His wife, Dorothy Provine, is there to be the ingenue female. That couple contrasts to Sid Caesar and Edie Adams, who burgeon with fleshly amplitude, perhaps because they don't have a mother-in-law on board, draining them of sexual energy.

Everyone in this movie is after a treasure trove, which for some reason is $350,000. Not a million, not a half million, not a quarter million, not halfway between a quarter million and a half million, but $350,000. Someone must have thought that was a funny amount of money, perhaps because the math is hard when they get into conversations about dividing it up into shares. I guess the main idea of this movie is that these people — who learn simultaneously that there's money buried in a particular, incompletely described place — can work together or they can break up and go every man for himself. That is the ultimate great theme: Order or chaos. Society or a raw state of nature. Driving according to the rules of the road or speeding and veering and sailing off a cliff. They must decide!

It's a comedy, so they keep choosing chaos. They only come back to order — let's work together — now and then to create a new opportunity for crazy chaos. Here's a high point — showing how short bouts of order are overwhelmed by chaos:



Anyway... my "imaginary movie project" requires me to say what the difference was between then and now — the me who watched this thing in 1963 when I was 12 and the me who watched it 56 years later. I believe I truly felt the comedy at the time. I felt the anxiety of the danger and destruction and delighted in the comeuppance the greedy connivers experienced. For all the mishaps, the only death is the one that occurs right at the beginning, when Jimmy Durante sails off the cliff and survives long enough to tell Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Mickey Rooney, and Jonathan Winters about the buried treasure and then figurative and literally kicks the bucket. It's like a porn movie, isn't it? It has to work on you inside, physically, and cause spasms — laughter/orgasms — or it's nothing, not worth your attention.

Eh. I guess I shouldn't say that when I'm trying to talk about myself, the 12 year old. But that's how I feel about laughter. And, you know I have no taste for porn.* I like my physical experiences in the real world, not aimed at me from a screen, with me reacting to what other people are doing or pretending to do. And the same goes for comedy. I laugh a lot, but it's in the context of real life. Something happens and funny things are observed and said. I'm in the middle of things. That gets my laughter.

No matter how big the movie is — and this was Cinerama and very long, with a cast packed with famous faces (Jerry Lewis drives up just to run over Spencer Tracy's hat and the 3 Stooges are suddenly there, holding firehoses, and then gone) — it isn't life. It's somebody's idea of how to jostle the people into spasming. It flows at you, long and hard. But I don't enjoy being at the receiving end of a firehose. Every day, in the casual environs of Meadhouse, there are half a dozen little things that make me laugh more than the entirety of "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World." I need the laughter that comes from within, not the greedy insistence of Hollywood — LAUGH!

There's something sad in the desperation of throwing everything at the big screen. But at least this movie was about greedy human desperation. Or so I muse, at age 68, 56 years after 12-year-old me sat in a big group and laughed because this is what people do, laugh at stuff like this, marvel at all the comic celebrities. Was it really funny back then, or was I greedy and desperate to get up to speed on what human beings think is so funny?

I remember my best friend sitting next to me, nudging me to notice Edie Adams posed in profile on the extreme left of the Cinerama screen. She knew — and I hadn't yet realized — that it was intended to be highly entertaining that her breasts were so large. I acted like, yeah, I got it. Now, I'm old, and I don't feel that I have to get anything. I get what I want, not what's foisted on me.

________________________

* Longtime readers already know this, but I must point it out again so that you can understand Young Althouse. I grew up in a home where Playboy (and sometimes Swank and Escapade) were out on the coffee table along with Life and Look. Anyone was free to look through these magazines. They were never forbidden or fetishized. They were simply part of the normal in the Althouse household. I'm the opposite of Puritanical about porn. It just means nothing to me. It seems kind of old-fashioned. Quaint.

120 comments:

Hagar said...

Althouse is new to slapstick comedy?
Burlesque and vaudeville are American traditions.

Unknown said...

Where's the love for the actor in the film who had more talent and more influence over motion picture history, thanks also to his directing, than anyone else in the movie—Buster Keaton?

A new documentary about him...here

And this clip starring from Candid Camera as an inept diner customer is one of the funniest things ever committed to film....here

JackWayne said...

The one scene that grated on me when I was young and especially when I was rewatching as an older person, was the scene inside the hardware store where Sid is trying to break out. The scene should have been edited a lot to make it smaller.

Dagwood said...

Althouse is channeling Pauline Kael?

MadisonMan said...

I don't think I've ever watched this movie. Maybe I should.

FWIW, I think the Ethel Merman on a banana peel would be funnier if you had a terrible Mother-in-Law. I don't. Mine's a wonderful woman.

stevew said...

Slapstick has faded from prominence over the years since this movie was released. There are still such movies made but without as much of the violence - more pratfalls and such. The most recent one I can find on a top 100 slapstick movie list is "Horrible Bosses" from 2011. Many of those listed are SNL cast pieces.

I think the cohort that enjoys slapstick - the ones that do laugh - has shrunk. I know I don't enjoy it as much as I once did.

Leland said...

No "era of that's not funny" tag? I admit that I have never found slapstick amusing, so it is not necessarily an era thing. However, I'm sure there are things in the movie that were funny for the times yet considered horrible now. A falling mother-in-law to me would mean taking her in, to care for her, as she got used to her hip replacement. That's not funny, then or now.

Heartless Aztec said...

Porn movies all end just like the MMMW. The big ladder/dick waving around throwing off people/sperm. Neither is funny nor particularly exciting. It's, as you say, fostered on you. And despite the build up boring.

Birkel said...

Althouse in the era of that's not funny.

Darrell said...

You have to be in the right mood to enjoy slapstick comedy. Sitting there, analyzing the piece, does not set the right mood.

Sydney said...

The first time I saw It's a Mad Mad Mad World, I was about ten and it was on television. I remember laughing my ass off. I thought it was the funniest movie I had ever seen. I rewatched it when I was in my forties and didn't find it funny at all. Found it boring, in fact.

iowan2 said...

Darrell's got it. Funny requires being receptive. Watching standup, live, is a process. You block out the time, transport yourself, hand over your labor earnings for ticket, more earnings for drinks, prep with a couple of opening comics. Primed for the funny, your break out laughing when he/she names the city he/she's in. I too saw MMMMW in the theater as a child about the same as our host. Rural IA, small town theater, probably 2 to 3 years after its release in the city. So about the same age, when we watched.
Decades later, My MIL was best friends with the theater owners wife. We visit her a couple times a month in assisted living.

Ann Althouse said...

“Sitting there, analyzing the piece, does not set the right mood.”

That’s not what I do.

I sit down to watch it when I feel in the mood, and I chose it for rewatch. I thought about it afterward mainly through writing this. I didn’t know what I’d say other than that I wanted to start with the quote I put in the title.

Conservachusetts said...

I’m surprised the iconic dance scene wasn’t mentioned. Crazy stuff featuring a smoking hot Barrie Chase. https://youtu.be/3X_L3Eaf26U

Henry said...

I saw it multiple times on television. The first time I was too little to even get the bad jokes. Like the "kicked the bucket" gag. I know that because I remember getting that one the second time I watched it and contrasting my knowledgable 6-year-old self with my dim 4-year-old self. Because now I am six, I'm as clever as clever // I think I'll be six now forever and ever.

I also remember feeling really sad for the Jonathan Winters character. All the other characters were utterly unlikeable and he was the one likable one. He seemed to be a good, even childlike man, possessed by something outside of himself.

Milo Minderbinder said...

IAMMMMW is perhaps the funniest movie ever made. Yuugggeeee

Terry di Tufo said...

"What could happen to an Old Fashioned?"

Unknown said...

It was a comedy when I was a child, but now in my 50s, it's much more of a mystery - where's the loot hidden? $350,000 is still a lot of cash to suddenly stumble upon.

Peter said...

Do we really want to see a woman get hurt?

Oh, please. Next you'll be reviewing old Roadrunner cartoons and asking whether we should be taking pleasure in the suffering of innocent coyotes. Everybody got "hurt" in slapstick!

This movie was pretty much the swansong of slapstick. Many of its stars got their start before the war in Vaudeville or stand-up comedy in the Catskills. Slapstick was wildly popular and was funny for the sole reason that millions found it funny. But comedy isn't eternal. Billy Crystal's Mr. Saturday Night and the recent Stan and Ollie are excellent, poignant accounts of the decline of once wildly-popular comedic genres.

Just a few years later, Boomers thought The Graduate was the funniest thing ever, but it seems forced and lame today, and maybe offensive to woke feminists. I find The Office mildly amusing for an episode or two, but my millenial children think it's screamingly funny and can't get enough. Really, Ms. Althouse, dissecting fifty year old comedy to show that it really wasn't very funny? Now, THAT'S not funny.

Temujin said...

I saw the movie as a kid. And again a few years later. This was never a good movie. And though the people who starred in the movie are some of the all-time greats, some of the most creative and funny people we've had in show biz- ever, this was probably the worst movie any of them made.

This was an early case of Hollywood stuffing a bad script with a lot of stars, and hoping the stars drive the movie. Which, I think it did. But as a comedy classic? Nah. It stunk.

Anything else Sid Caesar did was brilliant. And if any of you ever saw Buddy Hackett in person...you'd remember one thing: your jaw aching from being in a perpetual laughing shape for 1-2 hours.

Fernandistein said...

IAMMMMW is perhaps the funniest movie ever made.

Indeed. I like the parts where Phil Silvers gets wet and hijacks Don Knotts. And the other parts. "What could happen to an Old Fashioned?" has never been properly answered.

David Begley said...

Mary Poppins is on the 1964 list with lots of other good movies.

traditionalguy said...

Funnily, 1963 was about the un-funniest year. And it went down hill from there. Where have you gone Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis ? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

David Begley said...

Mary Poppins Returns was released in 2018. I liked it. Emily Blunt was great.

Howard said...

Sapna Maramg is posting on the wrong thread.

BleachBit-and-Hammers said...

I recall watching this as a young kid. The Big W was the only thing that kept it all going. Lots of chaos. I recall liking it? The way you describe it, the thing has not aged well.

Darrell said...

Barrie Chase sat down a few years ago to a series of long YouTube interviews by this teenage boy that was 17 going on 40. She talked about getting the call from Stanley Kramer to appear in the movie--she had gone to Europe at the time because a lot of offers for work had been coming to her from there--usually these Saturday-and-Sunday night variety shows. They knew her from the shows she did with Fred Astaire. Well, there was a lot of work, but she quickly found out that the money was bad, at least relative to US standards. I think she said she was living in some small seaside village in Spain or Portugal when the call came in. According to her, Stanley Kramer told her he had just scored a budget over $9 million and he wanted to throw together a big movie with everyone he knew, and include all the comedy legends--and make it a comedy to get it out fast. He knew they would go off-script anyway and he thought it would a breeze to make--just turn on the cameras and let them run with the set-up. Chase asked about the plot and her role and Kramer said that didn't matter--it's a paycheck and a good paycheck at that. Get you ass back here. She told him that she didn't know if she had the airfare and he said just get to the airport--there'll be a ticket waiting. And so she did. She had gained some weight because of all the carbs she had been eating on her budget and she was worried. When they saw that her breast size had also increased, they put her in those swim suits and had her dance constantly.

It was never meant to be the best movie of all time.

Rory said...

I'm a big comedy fan, just slightly young to have seen it in first run. I'm not certain if I've ever seen it straight through, though I'm certain I've seen it all in pieces. One thing that I think has to be kept in mind is that people would be primed to enjoy these specific performers: Phil Silvers had been an Emmy winner, Berle and Caesar were giants in early TV. "Sophisticated" comedy was represented, too: the Brit Terry-Thomas, the dirty Buddy Hackett, the guerrilla Jonathan Winters.

I think there's some similarity in the plot and general tone of Mad World and the Blues Brothers. I don't Mad World is as funny as that, but it holds together better than Animal House does.

Movies wouldn't give Merman starring roles because she wasn't pretty enough. Her personality was brassy, so it was inevitable that her comedic characters be overbearing. Dumping her on her ass is actually a gentle comeuppance for such a character.

Mr. Forward said...

“You're a lamp; God is the electricity. You're a faucet; God is the water. You're a human; God is the divine within you. ALLOW the flow.”

You're a banana; God is the peel. You’re the sap; God is the tree. You are humorous, God is the punchline within you. FOLLOW the dough.

Two-eyed Jack said...

According to one of the inflation calculator sites, $350,000 in 1963 is the equivalent today of $2,929,156.86.

Which number is funnier?

Charlie said...

Dick Shawn and Jonathan Winters are great in this movie.

Lurker21 said...

It was the frenetic energy of the movie that appealed to people. That and the large cast of stars. It was also a comedy of types, stereotypes that were familiar to people from television, film, radio and vaudeville. People laughed as much at the recognition of the types (and the actors who played them) as at anything funny that they said or did. And the older members of the audience were probably taken aback at the recognition of once familar faces from as far back as the 1920s.

Nowadays we don't have some of those stereotypes, or we express them more subtly, or we look at them from a very different angle. Part of popular culture is more subtle. Part is as crude as ever but has different targets. You can do mother-in-law humor, but it can't be as broad anymore. The comedy is in the subtleties. But there's always somebody out there doing the broadest and lowest comedy.

I shouldn't admit this, but it was a surprise to find out that Merman was a gentile in real life. She played the ethnic stereotype of the day so well.

Ralph L said...

Hollywood was pretty desperate at the time, wasn't it, with everyone glued to his TV (conventional geriatric possessive).

BleachBit-and-Hammers said...

I don't remember any of this. The trailer

Hillarywoodland should be-make it. But slather it in Streep-woke boredom and social lectures.

Paul said...

"Do we really want to see a woman get hurt?"

No Ann, what is.. is. A loud mouth gets their comeuppance. That is what they laughed at. Does not matter if it was a woman or man. And she wasn't hurt. Just made a fool of.

rcocean said...

Stanley Kramer was a great producer. He was brilliant at getting money, getting stars, buying up properties and getting movies made. And he was a borderline adequate director. MMMW should have been directed by a comedic director. Not Stanley Kramer, its not that he's terrible, its that he's just adequate.

Almost every slapstick scene goes on too long or just isn't funny. Merman banana peal scene is actually one of the few things that are hilarious. The car chases are exciting - but not funny. The demotion of the service station isn't funny. Rooney and Hackett trying to land an airplane isn't really funny - just interesting.

But Terry Thomas, Phil Silvers, Don Knotts, Winters, Berle and Shawn are funny. So, is Ethel Merman. Too bad we didn't get more Peter Falk and Rochester and less Sid Ceasar.

roadgeek said...

Don't forget Jack Benny. Or Don Knotts. I recall watching this movie on television at a friends house when I was about eight or nine. We had planned watching it for days. As an extra treat, an comedy classic, "Munster, Go Home!" was the late show. We howled at both movies.

rcocean said...

I have it on DVD and watch it every couple years. But I skip through lots of it. Too many explosions, car crashes, car chases, and stunts. Not enough funny lines. Thinking about it, four characters stand out: Winters, Terry-Thomas, Shawn, and Merman. Berle is almost a straight man. And Sid is given almost nothing funny to do.

Mike Sylwester said...

For your 1963 movie, you could have reviewed Son of Flubber.

rcocean said...

Althouse's comment about Movies forcing you to laugh, and how artifile it is, reminds me of Teddy Roosevelt, who was glad his son gave up "Pipe smoking and going to the theater". Two vices he didn't approve of, although for different reasons. He disliked Theater going because its "passive" as opposed to reading. And for the same reason, he wanted men out boxing and playing sports, not sitting around watching other men play the game.

Huisache said...

I watched this movie with my kids (aged 9 and 11) recently, because I saw that Althouse was going to be watching it, and wanted to see if they found it funny. I've seen it a couple of times because my parents got it for me as a present. They're boomers and LOVE this movie. I'm a gen Xer and find it dull and self-indulgent. The comedy (aside from the crashes, explosions, etc.) seems to consist of people I'm supposed to know and find inherently funny simply mugging the camera or engaging in un-funny dialogue. I do admire its production values and epic sweep, and that's the only reason I find it enjoyable in any way. Oh, and Edie Adams, who I think is very beautiful.

My kids found the physical comedy funny and enjoyed some of the dialogue. They were more astounded than amused, though, at the sheer destruction, but I suppose astonishment is part of entertainment. The mugging was lost on them. *I* don't even know who most of the people are, to look at. The Three Stooges are an exception, of course, everybody knows them, but they don't *do* anything. There's no hook-and-ladder Stooges mayhem. They just stand there, dressed as firemen. Why is that inherently funny? It's not!

It's my theory that different generations have different styles of comedy, that what's funny to one generation may be lost on another, and that this comes in waves. I've always loved Charlie Chaplin films for their satire, subversiveness, pathos, and acrobatics, and they're some of my kids' favorite things to watch, too; I like Capra's screwball comedies; but the next generation of comedy – my parents' generation – just doesn't do anything for me. It's like a big desert until the eighties. But that's when I grew up, so maybe that's why I find certain things funny. If there'd been an epic treasure-hunt movie with Steve Martin, John Candy, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Richard Pryor, etc., then maybe I'd find it hilariously glorious, and look down on youngsters who didn't get it.

Roy Lofquist said...

Bill Watterson, the creator of "Calvin and Hobbes", wrote a book about the development of the characters. How do you tell a story in three or four cartoon panels once a week? The answer is slowly. In the beginning you set up a series of stories. Two weeks introducing Calvin Ball, Susie is given a bunch of space, etc. After a while, as your readers become familiar, a mere hint at one of these themes evokes larger ideas and the stories take off.

MMMW was, more than anything, a nostalgia vehicle. The story itself was the McGuffin. The movie brought together a large number of loved performers, each evoking their own stellar careers. It could only work at that time in that place for that audience.

Howard said...

Dr. Strangelove was supposed to premiere on 11/22/63, but was bumped for some odd reason to January 1964. That comedy still holds up. We watched it all the time as kids, but outgrew IAMMMMW by age 11.

Phil 314 said...

The early 60’s was a bad time for movies.

William said...

Sullivan's Travels presents the best defense of slapstick.

wwww said...

"If there'd been an epic treasure-hunt movie with Steve Martin, John Candy, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Richard Pryor, etc., then maybe I'd find it hilariously glorious, and look down on youngsters who didn't get it."

Dan Aykroyd in the Blues Brothers is hilarious. I haven't seen the movie in this post, but the clip wasn't compelling to me.

Big Mike said...

In the early days of our marriage we didn’t talk about my mother and my wife’s mother, it was her mother-in-law and my mother-in-law. They did their damnest to break us up, for years after the wedding as well as while we were engaged. Mothers-in-law on banana peels? Bring it!

Our forty-fifth anniversary will be in a few months.

Huisache said...

I do like The Blues Brothers quite a bit, and have seen it many times. That supports my theory.

Big Mike said...

@Althouse, did you at least get Eddie Anderson (Jack Benny’s sidekick “Rochester”) flying through the air and landing in the arms of a statue of Lincoln?

gilbar said...

Why not lop off the "man" — it would be more castrating-y — and be Zimmer?

oh! oh! I know! i Know!
it would still have sounded ethnic. Real americans (back then at least) didn't have ethnicy weird consonant sounding names. With Zimmer, people would still be saying; "is that jewish?"

Seeing Red said...

There’s a reason MILs are stereotyped.

Tom T. said...

The movie "Rat Race," from around 2000, was essentially a remake of this movie. Shorter and tighter, with some funny set pieces, but totally runs out of gas at the end.

Gahrie said...

If there'd been an epic treasure-hunt movie with Steve Martin, John Candy, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Richard Pryor, etc., then maybe I'd find it hilariously glorious, and look down on youngsters who didn't get it.

Try the The Cannonball Run movies, or the Smokey and the Bandit ones....

rcocean said...

Zimmerman is not a Jewish name. I knew several "Zimmermans" growing up, and they sure as hell weren't Jewish.

And the German Aristocrat who sent the "Zimmerman Telegram" which helped start a war between the USA and Germany in 1917, wasn't Jewish.

Seeing Red said...

Huisache BLAZING SADDLES.

And early SNL.

And Mr. Bean

gilbar said...

i didn't SAY it was a jewish name, i said that people would say: "is that jewish?"
too weird for back then

rcocean said...

We need to go back to the old days when ethnics would "anglicize" their names. I'm tired of seeing actresses and actors with weird, unpronounceable names. If your name has more than 7 constants you need to change it to "Smith".

Fortunately, Chinese and Japanese names are easy to write and remember. Wong, Yamamoto, etc. Spainish names are easy too, since Spanish is almost phonetic.

gilbar said...

Conservachusetts said...
I’m surprised the iconic dance scene wasn’t mentioned. Crazy stuff featuring a smoking hot Barrie Chase.


Thanx for the link CA! that IS the best part of the movie

rcocean said...

Hickenlooper should have been forced at Ellis Island to call himself Hicks.

Howard said...

My maternal grandfather had a ****man name. We had always hoped to be part Jewish, but 23&me said hell no, pure honky mongrel Teutonic Viking and Celtic. This caused an not insignificant increase in my white guilt

Seeing Red said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TWWren said...

I am two years older than you so I was fourteen when I first saw 'Mad...World' with my parents, in a huge theater in downtown Dallas. I've enjoyed it many times since. You are the only one I am aware of who did not like it (channeling my PK) . Congratulations?

rcocean said...

"If there'd been an epic treasure-hunt movie with Steve Martin, John Candy, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Richard Pryor, etc., then maybe I'd find it hilariously glorious, and look down on youngsters who didn't get it."

A lot of these guys remade classic comedies, and they weren't as good as the originals. John Candy's death was a massive loss. So, was losing Farely and Belushi. Meanwhile, Whoopi Goldberg will live to a 100.

Howard said...

It was originally Hoekenupper and was anglicized.

Seeing Red said...

Arsenic and Old Lace.

CHARGE!

Seeing Red said...

OT: there’s more to the fleeing Oregon senators story.

Ann Althouse said...

"This movie was pretty much the swansong of slapstick. Many of its stars got their start before the war in Vaudeville or stand-up comedy in the Catskills. Slapstick was wildly popular and was funny for the sole reason that millions found it funny. But comedy isn't eternal. Billy Crystal's Mr. Saturday Night and the recent Stan and Ollie are excellent, poignant accounts of the decline of once wildly-popular comedic genres."

But the comedians were more standup and sketch comedy guys, not true slapstick artists. There really wasn't that much physical comedy on view. It's nothing compared to the great silent movie comedians who could do really funny things using their body. I'm thinking of Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

(And I know BK is in IAMMMMW, but he has almost nothing to do. It's like the joke is, hey, did you notice that famous face there?)

Leora said...

You've inspired me to go back and watch Z which was the most exciting movie I'd ever seen in 1969. I will probably hate it. I was 17.

Michael Fitzgerald said...

"Do we really want to see a woman get hurt?"

The humor in slapstick is that the victims don't get really hurt. When Moe gets mad and draws a huge saw blade across Curly's bald head, Curly says: "Ow, ow, ow, oh, look!" Then we see the saw teeth are all bent from Curly's cement-like head, then we laugh like hell, especially cause Curly grins and goes "Nyuk, Nyuk, Nyuk..." Now, if Curly screamed, fell on the ground clutching his bleeding head while Moe laughed, that isn't slapstick. If at the end of every episode, the Stooges were limping, bleeding, blinded, and bandaged then the violence wouldn't be humorous.

This seems obvious to me, but I have had to explain how it works to people before.

Ann Althouse said...

Here's a definitional question: Does the category "slapstick" include car chases and similar thrilling stunts?

From Wikipedia: "Slapstick is a style of humor involving exaggerated physical activity which exceeds the boundaries of normal physical comedy." And: "Physical comedy is a form of comedy focused on manipulation of the body for a humorous effect. It can include slapstick, clowning, mime, physical stunts, or making funny faces."

Is stuff with cars seen from a distance "slapstick"?

My favorite kind of slapstick is W.C. Fields in "It's a Gift." He's trying to shave with a straight razor and other people are doing things like getting into the medicine cabinet as if he's not there. Also in IAG, Mr. Muckle and the light bulbs and trying to sleep on the porch.

Ann Althouse said...

"For your 1963 movie, you could have reviewed Son of Flubber."

No, because I didn't see it in the theater when it came out. That's THE rule for this project.

Michael Fitzgerald said...

Leora@10:31AM Z, I saw it about 15 years ago and HATED it. Something like the rubbish muddled politicking of shit like The Manchurian Candidate. A truly great movie that really posits honest detached consideration of ideologies at war is The Battle of Algiers. Z and Manchurian are fucking student films compared to The Battle of Algiers.
Check it out, Leora.

Ann Althouse said...

"@Althouse, did you at least get Eddie Anderson (Jack Benny’s sidekick “Rochester”) flying through the air and landing in the arms of a statue of Lincoln?"

We discussed this subject yesterday. Not laughing is not the same as not "getting." I got everything.

Michael Fitzgerald said...

Kumquats! I want kumquats!

Yes, Mr. Muckle!

Ken B said...

William at 9:44 says Sullivans's Travels presents the best defense of slapstick.

Thank you William! I love that movie, and I think the scene you refer to is the best single scene in movies.

Ann Althouse said...

"The humor in slapstick is that the victims don't get really hurt."

So just some person standing there not getting hurt is humorous?

You're speaking of one element. But there must be something that is funny.

Is it just that very extreme things are happening to the human body — like their being thrown from the top of a waving fire truck ladder from a height of 6 stories?

Then why don't we laugh at a movie that shows an evil person torturing a child — if we know it's simulation)?

Bob Smith said...

Mad, mad mad, features a cameo by the immortal Stan Freeberg. That’s the only reason to watch it.

buwaya said...

Althouse probably doesn't like the Three Stooges.
My wife hates them. But they had a touch of genius.
The madness is the point.

FWBuff said...

I don’t know that this movie was the last gasp of an older style of comedy. I would argue that it inspired a whole line of comedy capers involving chases and cameos and sex and outrageous character types. “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”, all the Mel Brooks movies, several Disney live-action movies, Barbra Streisand’s comedies (“For Pete’s Sake” and “What’s Up, Doc?”) owed much to IAMMMMW.

Rory said...

"But the comedians were more standup and sketch comedy guys, not true slapstick artists."

The contemporary comparison for Mad World is Blake Edwards's 1965 "The Great Race." The credits dedicate it Laurel and Hardy, it's again a 2 1/2 hour movie that's largely slapstick. A couple of differences are that the main players - Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, Jack Lemmon, Peter Falk, and Keenan Wynn - are all accomplished comic actors rather than standup types; and that the movie shifts gears occasionally with music and...a sword fight! The script is a lot more interesting, too. The biggest difference is that earned $25 million, compared to Mad World's $60 million.

tcrosse said...

Well-choreograhed slapstick can be quite elegant. Buster Keaton did it quite well, and nobody got hurt. Likewise, the fight scenes in Jackie Chan movies are beautifully choreographed, and nobody really seems to get hurt.

FWBuff said...

@Rory, I meant to include “The Great Race” in my list!

Rory said...

"Yes, I understand the old comic convention of The Mother-in-Law — specifically the mother-in-law to a man."

It's not just a comic convention: Paddy Chayevsky's "Marty" of the mid-fifties features a secondary plot of the harassing mother-in-law, and the main plot is the same, except that Marty's mother is disciouraging him from even getting involved with a woman. It's not ubiquitous today, but for thousands of years families were comprised of multiple generations under the same roof, and both comedy and drama had to speak about that.

wholelottasplainin' said...

Here's another episode in the "that's not funny" era:

I recently watched "My Cousin Vinnie" with my two 20-something sons.

Both were uncomfortable watching the tongue-tied pro-bono lawyer stutter and stammer through his presentation to the jury.

It seems they thought a disabled person was being made fun of---even though the guy's speech was just fine up to that point.

(Of course the "free" lawyer explained away his poor performance : "I get nervous".)

Wifey and I though it was hilarious. The kids didn't.



Michael Fitzgerald said...

Ann Althouse@10:59AM Yes, there must be something else that's funny. As Huisache described the use of the Stooges, and others mention the banal dialogue. Safe violence is only one element of the humor, but in slapstick, it's the primary and necessary element.

The scene of torture you describe is designed to excite different emotions within us than comedy, dread, repulsion, anguish, etc. In this case, you show the blood, you depict the pain, and the audience reacts appropriately to the stimuli.

Here's a theoretical: You are told that you are going to be shown a slapstick movie. The scene you describe comes on- The man strikes the child. Instead of a funny sound effect, you hear the sharp smack. The man draws a blade across the kid's head, instead of making funny sound like Curly, the kid screams and cries, blood pours out. Do you think you would laugh or recoil?

Now reverse the experiment. You think you are going to see a horror movie, a slasher film. The killer strikes the co-ed with an axe, the blade bends instead of cutting her. The dumb blonde gets put on a lot conveyor belt headfirst into a giant saw blade and the teeth of the blade all dull off her cement head. Do you speak in horror or laugh like hell?

rcpjr said...

"Then why don't we laugh at a movie that shows an evil person torturing a child — if we know it's simulation)?"

Part of it is that they are clownish idiots that brought the suffering on themselves. They are up on that fire escape because of their extreme greed, selfishness, and stupidity, so they are getting only what they deserve. In your ridiculous example, the torture is causing purposeful harm of an innocent child. Of course that's not funny. No one is torturing these people except themselves. Milton Berle and his wife torment themselves in that department store basement. Nobody is doing it to them. Every single person in that hospital room at the end put themselves there. That, and you are TOTALLY overthinking this. This is one of the funniest movies ever made - and without a single curse word, too - and you spend a Saturday morning psychoanalyzing it? There's a word for that...killjoy.

Anyway, for my money, that scene where Jonathan Winters tears up the gas station is frickin hilarious. And the flying scene. "What could go wrong with an old fashion?" Classic. I think I'll watch my DVD of this tonight.

Michael Fitzgerald said...

"speak in horror"
I wish I could put autocorrect headfirst into a saw blade.

Jay Vogt said...

Huge fan of IAMMMW. Loved it when I first saw is as a kid at the Westgate Theater in Morningside, MN. Liked a lot a few years ago with my kids on a DVD at home. Kudos to the directors for putting that tear in Edie Adam's dress so that she could show off those fabulous pins for most of the movie.

Not getting the lack of love for Dorothy Provine though - equally beautiful and she pretty much built the template of the sexy, smart, ditzy blonde. Teri Garr perfected it about a decade later.

Jay Vogt said...

@Althouse, I know it's your project/your rules but as 1964 approaches, it's a target rich environment (Dr. Strangelove and Hard Day's Night and more). However, let me humbly offer up for your consideration, "A shot in the Dark". You get Peter Sellers (albeit w/o the bomb) and you get to unwrap the sexual tension that Elke Sommer's brings to the mix. My final sell point is that you get Herb Lom.

Rory said...

"Dorothy Provine"

Also turns up in The Great Race.

mrams said...

What happened to you?

We fell into yellow!

Ann Althouse said...

@jay

You’ll be surprised by my 1964.

The movie I really wanted, I can’t find, “Dingaka.”

Pianoman said...

You forgot the tag "Era Of That's Not Funny".

Honestly, if you're going to hyper-analyze slapstick comedy, you may as well give up on slapstick altogether. It's intended to be silly.

Yancey Ward said...

I take it Althouse also never got into The Three Stooges.

Yancey Ward said...

I see I wasn't the only one who thought of Moe, Larry, and Curly.

Drago said...

Let's get a blog response on these movies:

1) Caddyshack

2) Blazing Saddles

3) Bachelor Party

*It is understood these movies could not get made today

Drago said...

I won't even bother asking about the Marx Brothers and William Powell as the Thin Man.

Bilwick said...

I saw the movie on its first run, when it was a road-show event with an overture and I think an intermission. As I recall I enjoyed it but was a little disappointed. For one thing, when it came out, some people thought it had something to do with MAD Magazine, which I loved and could make me laugh like a lunatic. The movie, of course, had actually nothing to do with MAD Magazine. Recently I watched it on television, and just didn't think it all that funny, especially given the talent involved. The big chase and the climax on the fire escape seemed to go on forever. But it may be true, as they warned us, that MAD Magazine would rot our minds. If the humor isn't sick, it isn't that funny to me.

One of my aunts saw it at the time, and she said that when "Rochester" was catapulted off the fire escape and landed in the lap of a statue of Abraham Lincoln "a colored man" in the audience roared with laughter.

Re Ethel Merman, I've read that everyone thought her Jewish but she claimed to be a Gentile, and when she attended a High Holiday celebration, had to ask all the Jews in attendance, "So what's this?" and "Why are we doing this?" etc. I 've also read that she was bisexual and had a fling with a young Jacqueline Susann. Any woman who had sex (on separate occasions) with both Jacqueline Susann AND Ernest Borgnine is some woman.

Seeing Red said...

Benny Hill. Lololol

rcocean said...

"Re Ethel Merman, I've read that everyone thought her Jewish but she claimed to be a Gentile, and when she attended a High Holiday celebration, had to ask all the Jews in attendance,"

So, you're claiming she was really Jewish but pretended to not Be? Why would she do that? Antisemitism on Broadway and in Hollywood? LOL

rcocean said...

"It was originally Hoekenupper and was anglicized."

Well he didn't anglicize it enough.

RBE said...

I saw IAMMMMW at the glorious Indiana Theater in Indianapolis. It was in Cinerama. What a treat to see movies in Cinerama. The Big W...always makes me smile. Some movies don't translate to a small screen.

RBE said...

My favorite Cinerama movie as a child. South Seas Adventure and Search For Paradise https://youtu.be/OeyeChzsVUQ

Mark said...

There is a cultural lemming aspect to comedy. A lot of people laugh and laugh thinking it is so funny because everyone else thinks it is funny and its the "in" thing. It was that way in the old days. It is that way now.

Look at things like SNL today or a lot of other trendy sitcoms. You have audiences guffawing nonstop, yet there is not one tiny little thing that is funny in any of it. It is all boring crap.

I've watched some Marx Brothers movies in past months. Not nearly as funny as back when. The "zany" and "wacky" has just lost its appeal. Or try watching Laugh In.

Mark said...

Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for the cultural condemnation of a movie that has been listed as the best comedy every -- Some Like It Hot.

I would have expected it to get the confederate statue / blackface treatment by now.

Freeman Hunt said...

Broad comedy just doesn't do it for me. Oddly, it starts to make me feel angry.

exiledonmainstreet, green-eyed devil said...

buwaya said...
Althouse probably doesn't like the Three Stooges.
My wife hates them. But they had a touch of genius.
The madness is the point.

6/29/19, 11:00 AM

I wonder if there is a sex divide when it comes to the Stooges. I hate them, always have, and I love the Marx Brothers. Most of my girlfriends also hated the Stooges. Just about every man I know thought they were great.

(Admittedly, I'm talking about a small sample size here.)

Freeman Hunt said...
Broad comedy just doesn't do it for me."

Physical comedy can work for me, but it can't just be someone getting a pie in the face. When I see those "America's funniest" home videos of people falling down or walking into a tree, I just feel embarrassed for the clumsy person. But I loved the way John Cleese used his height and long legs in "The Ministry of Silly Walks" sketch.

BUMBLE BEE said...

The best thing (almost) on cable tv are the comedy collection commercials. The 3 Stooges, Red Skelton, Bob Hope and Carol Burnett commercials stop my channel surfing every time. Cousin Vinnie? I fell in love with Marisa Tomei. Bennie Hill? Laughed till it hurt. These all were about the set-up. Totie Fields, Myron Cohen too. The set-up is the thing. Watching it is like watching a triple play.

BUMBLE BEE said...

And don't you DARE forget Soupy Sales! His late night show was madness.

BleachBit-and-Hammers said...

"It's a whamdoodle, Humdinger, Stem Winder!"

"Anyone who's ever been funny is in it."

Mazo Jeff said...

I love this movie. I saw it in college in Omaha, Laughed my butt off (It came back and then some).

The two funniest parts for me was Arnold Stang and his gas station. When Jonathon Winters leaves, there is nothing left standing, nothing, not even the water tower.

The other is Terry Thomas. His line about america's preoccupaton with "boozums"!!

Gahrie said...

And don't you DARE forget Soupy Sales!

I liked Paul Lynde. Could you imagine him on TV today?

Yancey Ward said...

"Let's get a blog response on these movies:

1) Caddyshack

2) Blazing Saddles

3) Bachelor Party"


I love all three movies, though I only fully appreciated Blazing Saddles when I watched a second time as a teenager (I had seen it previously as an 8 year old). I haven't seen Bachelor Party in 25 years now, but remember it well enough to quote from today. Caddyshack I saw at least 3 times in the theater with my friends the Summer before I started high school, and have seen in the last year, too.

Yancey Ward said...

Who are these Stooges you speak of

Unknown said...

The film is simply a commercial amalgamation. It is a bet that so many tickets will be sold that every other issue will be irrelevant.

rcocean said...

"There is a cultural lemming aspect to comedy."

Whenever I've gone to movies, I've been amazed at how people will roar with laughter at the most obvious comedic tropes. Someone farts at dinner party, howls of laughter, A little girl (or an old woman) says "Fuck" - they're rolling in the aisles. Mention "Vagina" and watch them laugh!

TV comedy audiences aren't much better. "Trump is a poopy head" has them peeing in their pants. My morning radio show used to play "Best political jokes" from the Late night TV shows, but they gave it up - because it was just non-stop unfunny Trump bashing. What's hilarious about calling Trump "Putin's cockholster" or jabbing about Mueller?

rcocean said...

"Broad comedy just doesn't do it for me. Oddly, it starts to make me feel angry."

Maybe you need to meet funnier broads.

Unknown said...

Dingaka is available here.

It's on a service called Trakt which appears to be legit.

alanc709 said...

Has anyone mentioned "Airplane!" yet?

Bilwick said...

Rcocean: I'm not claiming anything about Merman. Go back and read what I actually wrote.