THE REAL HONEST TO GOD I WAS THERE STORY OF THE ORIGINS OF THE MAD WORLD
SPECIAL EDITION LASERDISC

 

I don't know where this trim reel came from. Or who really had it originally. Or where it was found. But a member of our group ended up with it, and we approached MGM/UA Home Video.
"Mad World" had yet to be released in a letterbox format.
"Let's do a documentary. We know the movie. Who to contact. And we have this 70mm reel for extras."
At this time, the Laserdisc was the format for film buffs. Box sets were being released with interviews,
original documentaries and even deleted footage.
They watched the assembly of the incorporated trims into the film that I edited via a Grass Valley editing system. (Yes, there was a time that editing was with tapes and done in a linear fashion)
MGM/UA - "We'd like to that that. can we use this as a guide?"
"Okay, sure. Can we do this documentary?"
So MGM/UA rented a Betacam package for us and we contacted as many cast and crew members as we could. We only had about a week...including a drive to Arizona to interview Jerry Lewis, who was on set filming "Arizona Dream" with Johnny Depp. After the documentary was in the can, we got a call from Don Knotts. (We had been trying to get him) He was out of town and he would have loved to been interviewed.
I mentioned "Can we call this documentary 'Something a Little Less Serious'?"
If there was one constant in the interviews, it's that everyone loved Stanley Kramer.
Many remained in touch with him after "Mad World".
Some in our group vehemently disagreed with giving the trims to MGM/UA, saying that it had to be "all or nothing". Nothing less than a full restoration. That was a valid point. But I argued that there may not BE anything else (years later I was proved wrong) and can we do something while Kramer is still alive?
I then found out that a VHS containing the footage incorporated into the existing version was never sent to Mr. Kramer as I requested, so I wished them luck and broke contact.

I spoke with Stanley Kramer at an AFI retrospective on his career. I brought up the search for footage. His face sunk. He was clearly not happy about this publicized search for missing footage. But he did seem happy about putting this all to bed. He was all for the project and his rolodex was ours.
"Some stuff I cut for a reason." His exact words. "Let's see what you've got."
Stanley understood that we had some, but not all, of what was cut out. He let us use his office for a home base for interviews and he no doubt enjoyed us being around. He was still trying to get a new film "Pollanaise"(SP) off the ground with Robin Williams and even mentioned during the AFI talk that he would want to do a "Mad World" again. I remember him saying it a second time, almost whispering it to himself.

This trim reel was a mix of both Ultra-Panavision and Rectified Cinerama print material. Wide screen buffs can certainly spot the differences. Remember the company did not want to spend money to try to fix any distortion, and it might have been tougher to do in the early analog to digital video world.

By examining the half-frames that were at the head and tail of the trims, and also using the second draft screenplay as a reference, we were able to place the shots in with the best accuracy we could.
It's important to note that "Mad World" was not only cut down after the premiere,
the film's first third was RE-ARRANGED somewhat.
So, there was the battle of moving scenes back to where they played originally,
but that could not work perfectly because some scenes were still missing!
MGM/UA then discovered a 70mm preview reel that contained a few of the trims incorporated in, splice free.
This reel was in MONO sound, very hollow, and we replaced it
with the trims multi-channel audio when available.
Footage with missing frames at the heads and tails could not be placed back in without a jump cut.
And while Mad fans back then would probably accept the error just to see the new footage,
Joe Sixpack would not.
So, in a few instances, in order to get this footage seen to the public, we blew-up the image slightly so it would not be jarring. I did not enjoy doing that process,
and hopefully, if this footage is ever used again we would keep it purer, jump cuts and all.
So this could not represent any previous theatrical version of "Mad World".
And we ended up with one of the first "Special Editions" in Home Video history...!
It could only exist as that, because it was mastered on standard defintion D2 tape in a letterbox format.
No HD version of this Special Edition exists.
And there was no damage done to the General Release Version.
THAT'S the version that got the film's acclaim, and in my opinion, may indeed be the best version.

When viewing the trims I saw footage that was, with a few exceptions, cut for a reason, IMO.
And I determined that the General Release Version was NOT a butchered cut, as many others feel, but indeed a masterful cut. Where the trims had scenes go on too long after the comedy peak, the General Release Version cuts perfect. This had to be the original editors, and I feel, Stanley Kramer who shaped this, however reluctantly.
Much of the footage consists of the characters yelling "We're wasting time!" And they were.
As editor Robert C. Jones told me, "We cut entances and exits."
What I'd LIKE to think is this; This film was a grand experiment. Kramer shot everything. Jim Danforth told me that even the effects were shot in various ways, because Kramer was not sure how he would cut them.
And I think they realized that they were hyping this as the greatest comedy ever made,
and that they sort of maybe DID make something at least close to that. And if they are ruthless,
and cut and cut, that great comedy will be what's left.

There are some trims I personally do like, however, including
1) A monologue by Lennie Pike where he explains what he'd do with the money and how he'd help his old landlady, then a few seconds later he changes his attitude by swearing to wring Otto's neck!
(only the second half of this speech was left in the general release version.)
There were TWO trims involved to complete the sequence, with frames missing.
So I inserted a cut shot of Mrs. Marcus waiting on the phone.

2) Monica Crump tumbling over the park bench. But it was not edited in.
For a more detailed explanation, see HERE.

3) A scene with actor James Flavin reporting on the group heading to the Valley Center crossroads,
while we see the cars swing around the corner accompanied by a dynamic Ernest Gold cue.

4) In the general release version, there is a cut after Finch yells "DON'T!" while in the ditch.
The scene actually extends with Finch yelling "Get me outta here!" and Hawthorne yelling "Let go of my pants!". As it turned out, we could not restore this scene without a jump-cut, so it was not included.

5) Quick shot of Mrs. Marcus at the plaza. "Don't you dare push me!"

I had already sent a PAL VHS to co-writer Tania Rose who told us that she approved of the special version. MGM/UA gave a screener to Stanley Kramer who also approved it.
How much Stanley remembered about the original version, who knows?

Not surprisingly, the Laserdisc documentary seemed to be the best extra for many fans,
and most fanzines, reviews and articles seemed in accord with our efforts.
The magazine "The Perfect Vision" did not, and the laserdisc was blasted in an article that was full of inacuracies claiming the footage was from an outtake reel, and how come it looks so awful?
None of us were even contacted by them for any history or facts.

As it turned out, this project along with his book "A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" may have been the last things Stanley had anything to do with. He was on "Entertainment Tonight" and a few other shows promoting the laserdisc. "I've restored much of it", he said.
We've done more research since the twenty something years this laserdisc was released,
and we've determined that the extended bit with the two detectives ("I'll make sure the coyotes don't drag him away") and the cops finding Ray & Irwin were probably not in any released version.
Both these scenes were found in the 70mm preview reel.
Remember that 1990 was still a mostly analog video world.
Today there would have been more enthusiasm for the project, more money,
and with today's technology, a better product.

So, what is this "Special Edition" in the final analysis?
I've always compared it to a family album.
For friends that come over, you want to show your family at their best, and all those photos are perfect.
That's the General Release version.
But you never get rid of the other photos. The ones blurred, or with someone's eyes closed, etc.
because that's your family. That's still one of a kind. Those you keep for your close friends and relatives, the ones you don't care about impressing. This is all history, and some folks in the photos are gone now.
That's the Special Edition.
Both those albums should exist.

As the years went on, more and more fans became aware of how the film was cut down, and ultimately some real film pros got caught up in the films fandom, and greatness. More footage has been found, and hopefully someday we'll see a fuller, more accurate version of one of the most unique film comedies ever made in this country, as long as the General Release Version can co-exist with it.

And we are proud that our ragtag group of Mad fans started the ball rolling years before.
We did something. And we got it out there.
And possibly most important - There would not have been any 1991 documentary,
and pretty much all who were interviewed have left us.
And, No, We were not paid anything for our involvement.
But MGM/UA knew and we knew
that's not why we worked on the project.

And that's the real honest to God I was there truth.