Stanley Kramer’s “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” the hit comedy from 1963, announced itself to the public with a claim that was, as it happened, true: “Everybody who’s ever been funny is in it.” It’s pointless to list all of the funny men who grace the cast, but it includes just about every comic star (save Chaplin and Lloyd) from 1925 to 1960.
I have to confess that it was not as funny to me at the time as it was to many.
In the summer of 1964 I was twelve, and twelve-year-olds have a pretty low threshold for laughter, especially for pure slapstick. One gets the impression that Kramer believed that all he had to do was assemble x-number of comedians, and the rest would take care of itself. But don’t get me wrong I laughed enough to see it more than once, and, to do the film justice, it’s gotten funnier to me over the years, especially the scenes with Jonathan Winters and Phil Silvers. How could they not be funny?
The plot is familiar enough to film lovers. A group of vacationers, strangers to each other, witness a spectacular car crash and hear the driver speak his dying words about a stolen bank fortune awaiting anyone who can find it buried under “this ‘Big W’” in a park in Santa Rosita, California. The result is a (what else?” mad, every-man-for-himself chase to get the “dough.”
The comic scenes are myriad, but one of the funniest is the fight between Terry-Thomas and Milton Berle in which neither man can land a punch on his opponent, but in which each manages to more or less hamstring himself.
Not too funny in the telling, you say? You’re right about that; it has to be seen.
But you won’t have to buy, rent, or stream the movie to get the idea. All you need do is watch the two principal candidates for president in the latest election cycle slug it out. The self-inflicted bloodying of the two would leave Terry-Thomas and Milton Berle speechless with admiration, as it might us, the hapless electorate, if it weren’t for the inconvenient fact that one of the two—Trump, an unprincipled nincompoop/snake-oil salesman, and Hillary, an unscrupulous, power-hungry criminal—is, unlike the greedy comics pursuing $350,000.00 in the film, going to actually get the “dough,” namely the presidency.
Try laughing at that one.
Consider the last three weeks. It was not too long ago that I declared the Trump campaign dead in the water for reasons anyone might guess, but I’ll give you three guesses anyhow: Trump stuck his large foot into his ever-accommodating mouth; Trump’s questionable business practices caught up with him—again; or Trump’s colorful attitude toward women became, let’s say, too colorful. If you guessed the latter, then congratulations, you’ve been following the news. Hillary’s poll numbers jumped in many states to double-digits, and the end appeared nigh.
But let’s not underestimate Hillary who without the media would probably be both behind Trump and behind bars. This is current, meaning as of today, news, so I needn’t remind forgetful voters of more than a few facts. F.B.I. Director James Comey has re-opened the investigation into the famous e-mail/homebrew server scandal, and, with a little help from “friends” such as Julian Assange, the Clinton campaign is engaging in what they’ve learned from long experience to do rather well, damage control.
Naturally, each candidate has tried to land a punch on the other to distract the national audience from his own failings but with little success. For Donald, well, groping sex-ploits are nothing compared to Hillary’s criminal exploits—and, besides, it’s proven that he never took sexual liberties with anybody; it was all locker-room gas (except for the women who say it wasn’t).
And what has Hillary to say for herself? Comey, she declares, “exonerated” her in July (although he didn’t); he sent his recent letter re-opening her case to “Republicans in Congress.” For those who know the rules of Congress, rules that to Hillary in her fondest dreams are irrelevant to curbing her executive power, Comey would have notified committee chairmen who just happen to be Republicans because they’re in the majority. But it’s fair to note that he also informed key congressional Democrats. Hillary was silent about that last fact, but in the art of spin, always a Clinton specialty, what you don’t say can often be as damaging to your enemies as what you actually do say. (None of this matter much, since only an hour ago, Comey decided the water was getting too hot and declared, once again, Hillary would not be indicted.)
Did either candidate land a punch? With the New York Times, Washington Post, and Boston Globe on her side, you’d think Hillary couldn’t miss, but the polls are tightening and not by a little. Allowing that, I do not find that Trump has succeeded in dispelling the general uneasiness and downright skepticism about his character.
When all is said and done, the two flail away but only manage to blacken their own eyes.
Amid the gaggle of comedians in “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” is Spencer Tracy, one of the greatest of film actors, playing Chief Detective Culpepper who has his own dream of cracking the cold case involving the heist of the “dough.” But as the brass ring is within his grasp, the city fathers balk at granting him the retirement package he deserves, and he decides to close in on the money-grubbing comics and take the money for himself.
How will election 2016 resolve itself? Not, I think, on election day. A Trump presidency promises gaffe after gaffe with a generous dollop or two of old-fashioned cronyism. A Hillary presidency guarantees bloating on the grand scale of the Federal government, especially of its new governmental branch, the Clinton Foundation.
A mad, mad, mad, mad world? Mad it is, and, as I noted earlier, no laughing matter.