In the 1963 madcap comedy film from which this article draws its title, starring Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Ethel Merman, Phil Silvers, Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney and just about everyone else you can think of from that era, the characters pursue increasingly outrageous schemes in order to secure a $350,000 windfall (about $3.2 million in today’s dollars).
The film is engaging, funny and memorable – it’s a staple of pop culture references, cropping up in everything from Remington Steele to The Simpsons. Its appeal lies not so much in the ridiculousness of the characters – little more than a group of well-intentioned and utterly reasonable passers-by – or their objective, which is reasonable enough. Rather, it lies in how the absurdity of the circumstances creates what appear to be outlandish behaviors, which ultimately redound to the discredit of the hapless participants: By turns, they end up in plane crashes, blowing up gas stations, nearly drowned, and ultimately in the hospital prior to getting shipped off to jail. They are blamed for all manner of unfortunate mishaps when really it was the circumstances that drove the outcomes, and the comedy lies in the unfairness of their punishments.