The last time I attended a screening of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was just this past December at the Egyptian Theatre where they screened a 70mm print of the 1963 comedy classic. My good friend Perry let me know about it, and I met him and his family there for what would turn out to be a really enjoyable movie theatre experience!
It was my first visit to the Egyptian. It has a quaint but historic cinema vibe about the place, especially once you enter the theatre itself with its high, curved ceiling, beautiful wall paintings, and warm decor, much like the El Capitan Theatre down the street and the Avalon Theatre on Catalina Island.
Before the screening, the audience was treated to a brief Q & A session with two stars from the film, Barrie Chase, who played the bikini babe dancing with Dick Shawn in the film, talked about how she got cast and how it was working with Shawn, and Marvin Kaplan, the familiar character actor, shared funny anecdotes playing one of the two gas station attendants relentlessly assaulted by Jonathan Winters' character in the movie. Then the screening began, but not before a bit of drama beforehand. After the Q & A moments, the theatre manager came to the front of the house to announce that they had been stalling the start of the movie because they realized at the last minute they did not receive Reel 5 of the film! Explaining that they're back up plan was to fill in the missing reel by playing an advance copy of the Blu-ray Disc of the film that one of their employees happened to have, he returned a second time to tell us they found where Reel 5 was and hoped to have it delivered in time to drop it in at the right time during the screening. We enjoyed the entire movie in its original film glory as planned and it was hilarious!
The film, which I hadn't really seen in a long, long, long, long time, featured so many famous comedians of the Golden Era of Hollywood and popular actors in early roles that the screening also doubled as a Where's Waldo-like game, identifying faces as they appeared in their small roles or wordless cameos. If you've never seen the film and intrigued with whom I'm talking about, click the movie poster at the top or see this list on Wikipedia of actors, comedians and celebrities who appeared in the film. But obviously I recommend you seek out a copy on DVD or Blu-ray to watch the entire film yourself.
Now flash forward seven months later to sometime a couple of weeks ago when Perry again tells me about a screening of the same 70mm print, this time at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills. The first installment of the Academy's film series entitled "The Last 70mm Film Festival", this screening advertised a panel discussion to include cast members Jonathan Winters, Mickey Rooney, Marvin Kaplan, Stan Freberg, Barrie Chase and Carl Reiner! And not only that, there was this eye-catching bit of detail in the press release: Tickets are $5 for the general public.
Five bucks? Really!?
My standby ticket in front of Academy building.
So, Perry spread the word and plans were made to go. A hiccup occurred when Perry found out that tickets had sold out shortly after they went on sale. But a call to the box office let us know that standby tickets might be available the day of the show. We'd have to arrive two hours before the event to receive a number, and then return again at showtime to find out whether tickets were available to buy or not. The day of the screening, without a solid guarantee that we'd get in to see the panel and movie, we headed to Hollywood and made it to the Academy building before 5pm. To our good fortune, there was only one person ahead of us in line when we arrived. By the time standby numbers were handed out at 5:30pm, there were about 30 others who had gotten in line behind us.
After getting dinner across the street at a place called Lazy Daisy Café, we arrived back at the box office to see if we'd have good luck. (It would've been fun to see a huge "W" over the box office, eh?) We were encouraged to see that they were still handing out standby numbers to folks arriving at showtime. And by about 7:15p, numbers 1 through 6 (Mine!) were allowed to buy tickets.
And again, tickets were only five dollars! What. A. Deal!
Leaving the box office, we entered the main entrance where they scanned our tickets for admission and immediately I thought to myself, "Yea, I get to keep a pristine ticket as my souvenir!" Then, I waited until one of four security guards was available to empty my pockets in front of and make sure I wasn't carrying a bomb. I retrieved my belongings to follow my friends upstairs (which gave my stiff, achy thighs from yesterday morning's workout some unwelcome displeasure) where at the top we all received programs and immediately I thought to myself, "That five buck price is getting better all the time!"
Front of souvenir program and event ticket.
We entered the theatre and eventually found seats in the center left section for the four of us in our group. I was pleased to find they offered a very decent view of the screen. And it was great timing too because the lights just began to dim, signaling the start of our evening at the screening.
A gentleman took the stage to mention the screening of the short film "The Miracle of Todd-AO" that those who arrived earlier had apparently just seen. Then, he read an introduction, acknowledging this was the first in their "The Last 70mm Film Festival" series. He quickly took note of the packed house (the theatre seats 1,012) and guessed that this would likely not be the last 70mm film festival and the audience, mostly aduits in their 40s and older, applauded in agreement. He went on to share factoids about 70mm film in general and about the aspect ratio of the film we were about to see tonight. (It was 2.75:1, with the tops and bottoms cropped so that the very left and right edges of the film would fit on their projection screen.
But before we'd see the film, it was time for the panel discussion, and to host this part of the evening, the gentleman introduced Billy Crystal!
He was great as emcee! He started off telling us a humor-filled anecdote about his father's love of comedies and also how he and a childhood friend of his, with the principal's help, organized a school outing across town to watch the film. That evening, he invited that school friend and he stood up in the audience when Billy called him out. Then, he introduced the evening's guests: script supervisor Marshall Schlom, casting director Lynn Stalmaster, director Stanley Kramer's wife Karen Kramer, Barrie Chase, Marvin Kaplan, Jonathan Winters, Mickey Rooney, Stan Freberg, and Carl Reiner.
Theatre lighting > iPhone's abillty to focus
To say it was a special evening is a great understatement. With some like Freberg frail and not in the best of health and Winters and Kaplan in wheelchairs, when they and the others spoke, they were back in performance mode and entertained us with their stories and their they've-still-got-it quick wit! Mickey Rooney was wheeled out in a wheelchair only to stand up to take a seat he was wheeled to. He was surprisingly animated throughout the event, proving he still loved the limelight and tried out some one-lines about his marriages for the audience. Kaplan related the same story he told us at the December screening with the same life and enjoyment as before, and the ever-beautiful Chase repeated her experience working with Dick Shawn again, with Karen Kramer sitting next to her assuring her that Stanley did indeed enjoy working with then young dancer. Carl Reiner told a funny tho' possibly suspect story about filming the tower scene which allowed him to inadvertently touch the plane that soared past. He also remembered seeing Winters whittling a 3" x 3" block of wood during the production that would ultimately be transformed in a perfect egg shape. When asked whether he still had that wooden egg, Winters deadpanned he'd laid a lot of rotten eggs in his day or something to that effect. Besides Crystal, Winters was clearly still at the top of his game, charming everyone with his wit and humor. Crystal used Winters' rotten egg line as the perfect cue to end the half hour discussion. The panel received a standing ovation and thinking of just those past thirty minutes, I thought to myself, "Best five bucks I've ever spent!"
The screening of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" rounded out the rest of the evening. It still genuinely made me laugh out loud, plus this time I was able to find Stan Freberg in the film thanks to the anecdote he shared earlier in that evening. On the ride home, Perry and I noticed the screening had a darker look to it than when we last saw it together at the Egyptian. When I got home, I popped in my Blu-ray copy of the movie for the first time, to see the opening and a couple of other scenes fresh after seeing the 70mm film on the big screen. The picture's not distractedly crisp and sharp thankfully, but it does has a much brighter look to it. For example, in the opening scene during the highway chase, it looks like how bright the desert region would naturally look if the morning sun beat down on it on a cloudless sky. And I noticed age spots on Jimmy Durante's head in his close-ups that I hadn't noticed before seeing it two previous times plus a fly that skittered over the hand that would be Jonathan Winters' hand in the same scene.
Anyway, that's what it was like to attend "The Last 70mm Film Festival" screening of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre last night. The series continues through the summer with screenings of "Sleeping Beauty," "Grand Prix," "The Sound of Music," "2001: A Space Odyssey," and "Spartacus." Most are sold out now, but so was ours and we got in! So fortunate that I got to go. As a fan of their work and legacy, it was big deal to get to see this now rare gathering of so many from Hollywood's comedy history. Below are more photos of the souvenir program to enjoy. And thanks again, Perry!
All About Me
A fan of Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Batman, comic books, Blu-rays, Disney, soundtracks, taking pictures, theatre and...Barry Manilow!