The American Cinematheque celebrates 50th anniversary of Stanley Kramer’s ambitious comedy at the Aero
By Michael Aushenker
When Hollywood’s Cinerama Dome, the world-famous, ginormous golf ball-of-a-movie palace created by Welton Beckett (same architect behind the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium), opened its doors in November 1963, Stanley Kramer’s latest blockbuster, “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” became the first movie to play on its expansive screen.
How appropriate, as “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” screening Saturday, Aug. 31 at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, is considered by some to be the Cinerarama Dome of feature film comedies. This movie was big, with a big cast (and a veritable who’s who of comedy icons in a parade of cameos that included Jerry Lewis, Don Knotts, and the Three Stooges) and, at 162 minutes long, arguably the only comedy lasting nearly three hours ever to succeed (“Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” even comes with an intermission).
A treasure hunt caper that Kramer, best known for his socially conscious dramas and melodramas (“Judgment at Nuremberg,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” “Inherit the Wind”), vowed would become “the comedy to end all comedies.” “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” is essentially a big shaggy dog story featuring Spencer Tracy as the harried police captain on the trail of various parties of greedy crackpots – among them Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Jonathan Winters, Dick Shawn and Ethel Merman – on the trail of a boffo bonanza of stolen bank loot buried at “the Big W.”
But comedy-wise, it’s all in the journey; a panoramic tour of California pitting its characters against backdrops shot in Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Oxnard, Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Woodland Hills and Long Beach. The final chase scene, which begins in Santa Monica at the “California Incline,” and continues into Malibu, past Corral Canyon Road and Solstice Canyon Road and onto Malibu Road, had, for years, been rumored to have culminated at Santa Monica’s Palisades Park.
The fabled “Big W,” the almighty palm tree-crafted consonant located in the movie at the fictional Santa Rosita State Park, was actually erected on a private estate dubbed Portuguese Point, near Abalone Cove Shoreline Park in Rancho Palos Verdes.
However, over this coming weekend, viewers can find the Big W in Santa Monica… and in 70 millimeter film stock, as the Aero celebrates the film’s 50th anniversary with a luxurious screening of this classic comedy.
The Aero Theatre is located at 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. Information, aerotheatre.com.