It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

How do you prep a kid in the modern age for this film? One of the radical differences in the way we consume entertainment today than how we did from the sixties through the eighties is that it’s perfectly understandable that a kid could reach the age of ten without knowing who anybody in this silly and hilarious epic is. I think I must have been about twelve when I first saw It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World on HBO around 1983. My dad saw it in the monthly program book and cancelled all potential plans; we were watching that movie. And then, I remember being amazed because I knew who so many of the actors were. Him! Her and him! That guy! Milton Berle! The millionaire from Gilligan’s Island! Mearth from Mork & Mindy! The mechanic from The Love Bug!

Today? The only reason any kid would know any of these jokers is if their parents are showing them entertainment from the past. Choices were so limited then that when we wanted to watch TV, we often settled. We were often pleasantly surprised and amused, but kids today get to watch whatever they want whenever they want – which is how it should be – while we grew up watching whatever we thought was the best of the eight or nine options available. So occasionally we’d run into Jerry Lewis or Mickey Rooney or Peter Falk or Sid Caesar or Edie Adams or Ethel Merman or Terry-Thomas or Jonathan Winters or Phil Silver and be happily entertained, but what we really wanted was for somebody to make TV shows where Spider-Man and the Hulk fought actual supervillains and had them on demand to watch whenever we wanted. Kids today have that. The comic heroes of the past will be lost to time. Nothing lasts forever.

(A question went around on Twitter yesterday, one with which we were sometimes confronted: The Andy Griffith Show or The Beverly Hillbillies? The answer, of course, is “the sweet, merciful embrace of death.”)

So what prep work was there for our son? Well, I told him that he saw Terry-Thomas as Cousin Archie in a Persuaders! we saw recently, and he was sure to remember Milton Berle being heckled offstage by Statler and Waldorf in one of the finest moments in all of The Muppet Show, and…

…and he’d just have to trust me, because one of the most amazing things about Mad World is just about every speaking part in the movie is played by somebody that audiences in 1963, 1973, 1983, probably 1993 knew. In 1983, my dad had forgotten that the two service station attendants who briefly bedevil Jonathan Winters were actors even he knew. I remember him saying “That’s Arnold Stang and Marvin Kaplan!”

The other bit of prep work that I could do was remind him of the Three Stooges. You never know how this kid’s memory works. I picked up the complete DVD set some time back, but we’ve only seen a few, and it’s been a while, so we sat down to “Three Little Beers,” the one with the press, press, pull gag, yesterday afternoon. He about lost his mind, and I reminded him that there is absolutely no situation that the Stooges cannot make far, far worse. Had to make sure to set up their brief appearance here.

I’m confident anybody reading this is familiar with the movie, though it’s possible you may not be aware of how much antipathy there is in the movie snob world about it. A few months ago, when I got interested in the Criterion Collection again, I read the World thread at their forum and was surprised to see it get so much hate. I think it’s absolute slapstick joy myself, and the kid, dying of laughter, completely agreed, but you see Dorothy Provine in the center of the top picture, finding this whole thing unamusing if not disgusting and ready to call the police to round up these greedy jackasses? That’s my wife, that is. She didn’t come back from the intermission.

Never mind the haters. Watch this movie with a kid. Prep them as best you can beforehand so they’ll know what pay phones are, and let it rip. They’ll probably miss a few of the gags, like Spencer Tracy making his decisions, or Berle’s face when Merman asks where she should stick a cactus, but Silvers’ car and Winters at the garage will have them howling. It’s a little dated, and I suppose it will one day be forgotten, but until then, it’s sure to make me laugh so hard that my left eye will still be hurting an hour later. You probably don’t need the five-disc version, but as Mark Evanier, one of the contributors to the commentary track, will tell you, the two Blu-ray Criterion will do you just fine. See you at the Big W.

Batman 3.18 – Louie’s Lethal Lilac Time

Last night, we were talking about bad movies with our friend David and I mentioned my belief that the very worst films are the ones that are just plain boring. Then tonight we watched this episode of Batman which, by that definition, must be the worst so far, because it’s so amazingly dull.

In other episodes, we might have seen other guest stars seem unhappy that they chose to do this show, and that tends to result in rushed, sloppy performances that come across as abrupt and grouchy. See Rudy Vallee in the Londinium episodes for a fine example. But here, Milton Berle acts like he just does not care at all. He put in his eight or ten hours on the set, perhaps learning his lines immediately before delivering them, and never again thought about this show. In his previous appearance, he at least had a twinkle in his eye even if Louie the Lilac is played oddly straight, but in this, there is nothing.

Perhaps with an interesting plot this might have worked, but no, we saw Charles Hoffman’s name in the credits and knew it wasn’t to be. This should have been a Batgirl solo mission, rescuing Bruce and Dick from Louie the Lilac, but once she finally arrives, she’s immediately captured and Batman and Robin have to save the day, thanks to a pair of – oh, come on – instant unfolding Bat-costume capsules, just add water.

There’s so little to the plot that even having just twenty-five minutes to fill, Hoffman has to add a highlight reel of exciting moments from season two and a subplot of a maintenance man almost finding Barbara’s Batgirl room. Of course we have to keep Batgirl and the cops away from the warehouse as long as possible, because once they do arrive, there’s no doubt Louie is holed up inside. He has his name painted on the side of the building! Next!

Batman 3.7 – Louie, the Lilac

There’s kind of an amusing scene in the middle of this episode. Richard Bakalyan, back for his third appearance in the show and playing one of Louie the Lilac’s gangster cronies, has tailed Barbara Gordon back to her apartment and locked her in her bedroom to keep her from notifying her dad, the commish. Barbara, of course, changes into Batgirl and re-enters her main room from the terrace, and Bakalyan acts all innocent, like he’s just had a quarrel with his sweetie, who won’t come out to talk.

Otherwise, this is like watching paint dry. Milton Berle isn’t actually bad in his role, it’s just that he plays it so straight that his character is simply boring. The plot is some bafflegam about making all of Gotham City’s twenty flower children love him so much that when they become successful grown-ups, they’ll become his ticket to political and financial power, I guess. I was left wondering, after director george waGGner’s unhappy experience working with noted control freak Otto Preminger in the previous season, whether the similarly difficult and controlling Berle made his life similarly awful.

Daniel confounded us again by saying that he really liked this dull story, but apparently his favorite part was seeing Egghead show up in the teaser for next week’s episode. Who knows?

Batman 2.10 – Ma Parker

Wow, there’s the gem of something practically modern in this one. Ma Parker’s plan is awfully far-fetched*, but it’s cute. She’s assembled the Gotham State Pen Gang, and intends to launch robberies and heists from its walls. The running time and the format conspire against it, but we’ve actually seen not-dissimilar stories on modern superhero programs like Arrow and especially The Flash which give recurring baddies a little more screen time.

Unfortunately, the realities of the production, and the fact that the producers didn’t think and plan far enough ahead, mean that the only old villains that we actually see are Julie Newmar in a single scene cameo as Catwoman, and Milton Berle in an unbilled cameo as a former foe – it sounds like his name is “Left” or “Laugh” – who has 48 years until his parole. It’s said that the Joker and the Penguin are in solitary, but what a huge shame that they didn’t think ahead, and quickly film reaction shots of Art Carney and Van Johnson in prison blues while they had those actors on the set!

And speaking of former villains, in the Bookworm story in season one, it’s established that the Batmobile has a bomb detection device. It’s not working anymore.

*Her plan, however, is not even remotely as far-fetched as Batman’s idea to jump into a prison and make it to the offices without being jumped by a prison full of villains. Maybe the modern super-ninja Batman of the modern day could do such a thing, but not the 1960s iteration. This really kind of called for some backup!