UNITED STATES—When “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” was re-released in 1970, it got slapped with a G-rating. Heck, I was seven years old and already had a sense that a G-rating was bad yawning Disney juju, fun for the whole family. Like Jerry Seinfeld has said, “Fun for the whole family seldom is.” But MMMMW this is not your mother’s G-movie.
Mad World was like wow, it’s funny and brings a tear to one’s eye and it has one really risqué sequences, and there is death and destruction galore. Smiler Grogan crashing off a desert cliff; Jonathan Winters with his bare-hands destroying a brand-new gas station.
The risqué can be found, especially, the limbo dancing sequence with Barrie Chase, black-bikini-clad dancer, along with Sylvester (Dick Shawn) who’s a surfer, and lives close to Santa Rosita and therefore is a godsend for helping money-hungry Mom (Ethel Merman) to get first to the buried loot before anyone else. She can say “My son is in Santa Rosita,” and Merman (the mother-in-law to end all mother-in-laws, brassy, pushy, abrasive, bossy) goes nuts trying to get Sylvester (on the line) and he’s dancing with this chick. You know, I dislike research but I gotta look up the scene….https://bit.ly/3oGIgeb… Wild stuff. If mom, whose lady’s club meeting we escaped by going to a movie night had seen this, her predictable umbrage at the carnal scene would have marred a supreme movie experience my family had in 1970…
No, Mad World in not your usual G-rated fare. The lead-up to the sultry dance scene is where we got to see Ethel Merman’s stockinged legs sticking up high in the air. Does that sound G-rated to you? Before the phone call, Russell Finch (Berle) has crashed into a moving truck. Berle convinces Terry-Thomas to drive them to Santa Rosita in his jeep. Merman doesn’t agree with the plan and drops the jeep keys down into her cleavage. Berle and Terry-Thomas need to get the car keys back. Finally, they pick her up and turn her upside down to retrieve them, her skirts fall and legs and pantyhose exposed. Jack Benny pulls up (in a Maxwell) to offer a little friendly roadside assistance. When Ethel Merman tells him off for sticking his nose into their business, he deadpans and utters his classic, “Well!” and drives away.
In the wake of being abandoned, as Milton Berle and Colonel Hawthorne, Merman at last reaches her surfer son from a gas-station payphone.
Now when Sylvester (Dick Shawn) stops the sex dance just long enough to pick up a ringing telephone, this surfer with swagger to burn, suddenly becomes a whimpering child. He understands only what he wants to: processes that Mom has been attacked by two strange men in the desert, “Don’t worry, Momma, I’m coming to get you. You stay right there, Momma. Everything’s gonna be all right.”
Quicker than you can say “surf’s up,” Shawn leaps into his Dodge Dart 440 and heads for the desert. Leaving Barrie Chase behind in their Tiki pad. Mrs. Murcus’ plan to use her edge in getting to the Santa Rosita treasure first, backfires in her face. “That idiot!” she fumes, “He’s coming here.”
As we near the 60th anniversary of the filming of Mad World, the last man standing from the 1963 blockbuster cast is a woman, Barrie Chase–the way cool dancer in the black bikini. One of last few to be standing, after Jonathan Winter’s death in 2013 was Stan Freberg. He was brought aboard the movie in a concerted effort to jam in every living comedy eminence around in a drive-by, fly-by and full sequences, such as Don Knotts was afforded, as producer and director Stanley Kramer amassed talent for what Roger Ebert has called, “a symphony of slapstick.”
Stan Freberg, adman extraordinaire and purveyor of spot-on musical spoofs (i.e. a version of Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat Song (Day-O) where the Bongo singer keeps getting interrupted by a record producer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-9h1pjTP74) passed away in 2015.
In “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” Stan Freberg is about as comic as a doorstop, playing a phone-answering functionary in the high desert sheriff’s office. Blink and you’ll miss him. Freberg’s comic cred was the point.