Genre: Adventure and Comedy Running Time: 2 hrs. 34 min.
Release Date: November 7th, 1963 MPAA Rating: G
Director: Stanley Kramer Actors: Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, Phil Silvers, Terry-Thomas, Jonathan Winters, Edie Adams, Dorothy Provine, Eddie Anderson, Jim Backus
t begins with a rather serious car chase and wreck sequence, though this is altered by the appearance of notable comedians, particularly as a bystander dentist offers up help to the survivor, Smiler Grogan (Jimmy Durante), who is so twisted up and broken that he refuses to be moved. And his death knell involves literally kicking a bucket. The drama is standard Stanley Kramer material, but the comic moments are something decidedly new.
Before he expires, Grogan, who was being pursued by the police, insists that there’s $350,000 of buried money in the Santa Rosita Beach State Park, which is just waiting for someone to come along and dig it up. When a group of witnesses – including J. Russell Finch (Milton Berle) and his wife Emeline (Dorothy Province) and her mother (Ethel Merman); Monica (Edie Adams) and Melville Crump (Sid Caesar); lone trucker Lennie Pike (Jonathan Winters); and pals Dingy Bell (Mickey Rooney) and Benjy (Buddy Hackett) – hears the tale, they begin to envision how all that money might change their lives for the better. Could the old fellow have been telling the truth? Could they drive to the spot safely and responsibly and split the dough evenly? Plus, all the while, Chief of Detectives Captain Culpepper (Spencer Tracy) attempts to track down Grogan and the Good Samaritans who might have heard of the loot.
As these madcap, screwball type road movies go, teamwork is out of the question. Even when they discuss their plans with a hint of reason, figuring a dozen different ways to divide up treasures that they can’t be certain exist, distrust and betrayal brews. “Everybody has to pay taxes!” In short time, dusty desert roads become a racetrack for fast-paced hijinks. Superb car stunts, aerial photography, and the downfall of innocent bystanders nicely complement the slapstick, the hysterically argumentative dialogue, and the abundance of supporting players (Terry-Thomas is one of the best, sporting ridiculously British utterances) and cameo appearances, many of whom are encountered on the journey to the hidden fortune.
“What are you, some kind of nut?” Traveling by automobile, tow truck, bicycle, cropduster, and anything else that can move, the rivals contend with a wealth of obstacles, sabotage, shaky allegiances, and trickery. There’s even quite a bit of violence in the form of chaotic brawls, which tend to hilariously demolish entire buildings (a fight sequence in a garage is more action-packed and destructive than most serious pictures). As the parties near the finish line, the authorities observing the race begin to see it as a competition worthy of bets, as if some grand sport. Therefore, they refuse to interfere; after all, it wouldn’t be fair if the police intervened. It’s as if they’re predicting a winner of the stolen booty! Intermittently interrupting the high-speed shenanigans are various conversations with obnoxious family members and potential allies (most of whom turn into additional competitors), infighting and bickering, and comic routines (some that appear improvised), which allow the performers to impart the schticks for which they’re well known.
Fascinatingly, despite the spectacular nature of the stunts in the first half, by the time the intermission and entr’acte come around, the visuals get even more complexly outrageous. A fireworks catastrophe, an unpiloted plane (thanks to a bourbon-imbibing, unconscious pilot), and general pandemonium lead to the feuding bands unbelievably continuing to cross paths before arriving at the park right around the same time (like a comic version of the finale of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”) for extra turmoil – and yet another car chase (followed by a foot chase). It’s an uncommon mix of genuine action and slapstick comedy, complete with a fitting, allegorical message about greed and the human condition; everyone gets what they deserve. And it concludes with a tremendous belly laugh for good measure.
– Mike Massie