Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World


Me and a few friends made two pilgrimages to the Cinerama Theater in Houston when I was in high school. The first time was to see How the West Was Won (we actually went twice), and the second was for this. By then they had abandoned the three-strip process that was so widescreen that actors on one side seemed to be looking across you when facing actors on the other. This was filmed in something called Super Panavision 70, which wasn’t as good as Cinerama but was pretty damn impressive still. People have complained that it’s ponderous, too long, overblown, and takes too long to get going. Aside from the last thing, I don’t agree. We enjoyed it then, and I enjoyed it today. The cameos from just about every comedian still alive in 1963 are fun, from Jack Benny in his Maxwell to Buster Keaton as Jimmy the Crook. The sequence where Jonathan Winters single-handedly destroys a desert gas station is a classic. The scene where a two-engine airplane flies through a billboard is one most people remember well. I just learned how they did that. It was balsa wood, of course, but they figured the shredded wood and paper would clog the engines, so they built it at the end of a runway. The pilot went through, the engines clogged and stopped, and he glided in to a landing. And the plane suffered considerable damage, because someone got mixed up and used linen instead of paper. Damn good thing that runway was there. The pilot later said it was the closest he ever came to dying on film. This was the first film to play on opening night at the Cinerama Dome on Sunset, which is still there.