There’s only one word to describe IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD…”mad.” Thankfully for us film score fans, Ernest Gold‘s wonderful score ties together all the loose threads of this bombastic film.
This loud comedy (and I do mean LOUD, as evidenced by its Oscar for Best Sound Editing) about a group of strangers who follow the last words of dying thief Jimmy Durante to find $350,000 under the watchful eye of the local police chief Spencer Tracy would probably be unfilmable today. The cast alone would make it prohibitive–Tracy, Durante, Milton Berle, Jimmy Durante, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, Phil Silvers, Jonathan Winters, Edie Adams, Jim Baccus, Peter Falk, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Carl Reiner and many others…and that’s not counting the cameos by Jerry Lewis, Jack Benny, the Three Stooges, Don Knotts and Buster Keaton. The film doesn’t offer much in the way of subtlety for the array of comedic talent on board and, at two hours and 40 minutes, the funny moments are few and far between for such a long haul
Gold worked on the score six months, almost unheard of in film music circles, and it paid off. The music is far more enjoyable than the bloated film and gives the illusion that film is more enjoyable than it actually is.
Kritzerland recently re-released the soundtrack (which is actually a re-recorded studio effort) and vastly improved on the out-of-print Ryko disc. That earlier release included bits of dialogue from the film which not only weren’t amusing, they interrupted the joyous flow of Gold’s delightful score. The new release eliminates those annoying dialog tracks and offers Gold’s Oscar-nominated music in far deeper, richer sound, with the welcome addition of six bonus tracks from the original soundtrack.
The “Overture” consists of Gold’s main theme as an Oscar-nominated title song. The nonsensical lyrics were added by Mack David after Gold had composed the theme. The song is sung by an unnamed chorus with various lines being sung (or shouted, as the case may be) by various stars of the film. There are two other ’60s period songs used as source music for Merman’s hippie son (Shawn). The “Main Title” contains the main theme as a charming circus-like waltz, with the tubas providing the necessary oom-pah-pah’s.
Because of the numerous characters in the film, Gold’s score serves as the throughline connecting them all. The only character who gets his own theme is that of Phil Silvers’ “Gullible Otto Meyer,” a sly theme that starts on soprano sax and moves to the muted trumpet and strings. Once the group hit the park, the music becomes martial to accompany them on the quest for the “Big W,” given its own small theme complete with harp glissandi and wordless female chorus. Mexican flavored music accompanies Cpt. Culpepper’s (Tracy) thoughts of running off with the money to Mexico.
My favorite cue occurs early in the film. In “Follow the Leader,” the music lopes along calmly as our travelers begin their journey in search of the money. As their distrust grows and they speed up to get there first, the music accelerates right along with them.
Gold’s score has been a favorite of mine back from the days of its original gatefold LP. The folks at Kritzerland have done an impeccable job of cleaning up the score so that Gold’s music shines better than ever. If the film fails to bring a smile to your face (like me), Gold’s music surely will.