MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar
Extras: Retrospective Documentary, Extended and Deleted Scenes
Starring just about every funny man and woman working in 1962, "IAMMMMW" (any future references to the title will be indicated by the acronym "IAMMMMW") begins with a car speeding along a desert mountain highway, dodging the other sauntering vehicles. Sailing off an embankment, the car crashes. Some of the motorists stop and climb down to assess the damage. They find an old man, barely alive. With his last gasps, he tells his ersatz mourners of a hidden stash of money hidden under a big "W" in Santa Rosita Park, some 200 miles away. $350,000 and he bequeath it to his witnesses. And then…he kicks the bucket. Literally. The stunned parties meet on the side of the road, first to determine if the old man was telling the truth and then plan a course of action for retrieving and dividing the money. Talks of "shares" and "quarters" soon yield to war cries of "every man, including the old bag, for himself!" Let the rat race begin!
The script by William and Tania Rose (in the documentary, Milton Belle says there were actually two scripts: one for dialogue and one for physical "cues") works like the coiling of a colossal spring. For the first half, the characters beg, borrow, steal, cajole, fly, bicycle, drive and skip along their journey, all the while under the surveillance of the seemingly stoic Captain Culpepper (Spencer Tracy), who has been trying to solve the case of the missing money for the last fifteen years. The initial group of treasures hunters grows along the way, picking up businessmen, cab drivers, and British amateur botanists. Employing anyone who ever told a joke in the history of American entertainment, the cast was a once in a lifetime gathering of comedy greats: Jonathan Winters, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Terry Thomas, Phil Silvers, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney and Edie Adams make up the core group. Cameos and incidental roles were made up from representatives of the silent era (Buster Kenton, ZaSu Pitts) through the Thirties and Forties (Jack Benny, Joe E. Brown and the Three Stooges pop up in "blink-and-they’re-gone" walk-bys) up to the "present" (Jerry Lewis, Carl Reiner and Jim Backus for starters). However, the narrative structure winds everything so tight that, after the intermission, the resolution plays out like a ninety-minute bout of comedy diarrhea.
Originally the film clocked in at over three hours. The length dwindled as it made its way from premiere to roadshow engagements and finally into general theatrical release, bringing us to the current 161 minute version on the DVD. Interestingly, the disc provides entr’acte music, exit music but not the overture (present on the laserdisc) as well as the now legendary "police updates" from the premiere engagement intermission. (The Shirelles dance sequence, referenced in the credits but not in the film or the deleted scenes, may already be lost forever.)
The back cover describes the feature presentation as a "new 16×9 Transfer from Original 35mm Theatrical Version." Despite listing a 2.55 aspect ratio, the image is closer to a 2.35 aspect ratio. Even with the incongruity of screen shape, the <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer is a definite improvement over the previous laserdisc release. Colors read more stable and brilliant here; the solid red background of the opening credits never exhibited any <$chroma,chroma noise> or break-up. Hues appear slightly saturated in some scenes, not totally unexpected for a film its age. However, some scenes projected a faint orange tinge. Deep blacks and balanced contrast levels bring out the details, but every so often the image would drop down a notch in clarity and sharpness. Fleshtones also swung from the natural to the brownish. Aliasing crops up intermittently (mostly in the desert scenes) but the instances are far less than what shows up on the laserdisc. A few shots show edge enhancement, but otherwise the image is free of digital or compression artifacts.
The remastered <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 audio sounds relatively clean and dynamic for its age. Strangely, in many instances, dialogue cross talk spread across the entire front soundstage instead of anchoring in the center channel. At first, I thought the audio preserved the "directional dialogue" sound mix, common to wide-screen films of the ‘50s and 60s. In Chapter Four, the dialogue can be heard from the front left, center and right speakers but not necessarily "following" the character according to their position in the frame. Otherwise, the soundfield comes alive mostly for Ernest Gold’s witty, "merry-go-round" score. Except for the music, the rear channels and LFE are pretty much silent. A 5.1 French language track is included, as well as French and Spanish subtitle options.
"Something A Little Less Serious" is an hour-long retrospective, marking a kind of reunion for the surviving cast and crew. Originally produced for the laserdisc release, the documentary features new (1991) interviews with Stanley Kramer, Milton Berle, Jonathan Winters, Edie Adams, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Mickey Rooney, Carl Reiner, Jerry Lewis (even though he’s in the film for fourteen seconds!), composer Ernest Gold and special effects supervisor Linwood Dunn. Whew! In some ways, the look-back is itself MAD…as in a "Mutual Admiration Documentary." Clearly everyone has fond memories of the film and their co-stars. The "cross reference" structure of the documentary echoes this, with everyone glowing about everybody else. Berle praises Caesar, Caesar celebrates Adams, Hackett salutes Rooney, Winters lauds Merman, and so on. Rather than coming off as a smarmy made-for-cable PR job, the affection the cast had for each other and for Kramer’s chutzpah in juggling all their egos more than gives the documentary a genuine emotional pull.
The original theatrical trailer and the 1970 reissue trailer are presented in <$PS,widescreen>, although the original is <$16x9,anamorphic>ally enhanced whereas the reissue trailer is not. Both show some wear and tear in the source elements, but their exuberance (save for the awful lyrics to the IAMMMMW theme) make a fine wrap-up to the supplements. My only gripe is that there are no historical notes beyond the back cover blurb. A "collectible booklet" of fun facts would have been the perfect finishing touch. Pity.