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OPENS DEC. 19

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“I think the film helped heal the nation,” says Karen Kramer about her late husband’s comic masterpiece It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. “President Kennedy was coming to the opening of Mad World. But he had to go to Dallas.” Mrs. K notes that the 1963 film played for more than a year at the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles, a theater Mr. K had helped build for just such spectacles. Best known for such earnest work as High Noon and Judgment at Nuremberg, Stanley Kramer was lunching with critic Bosley Crowther, his wife remembers, when the noted New York Timesman goaded him, “You could probably never make a comedy.” There was a long pause, after which the director of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner countered, “Oh, yeah?” Wisely, and unprecedentedly, Kramer went out and hired almost every funny person living at the time, from vaudevillians Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante to newcomer Jonathan Winters. The result is the ultimate film comedy: three hours of nonstop gags, stunts, and dizzy dialogue. A professor of mine once scoffed that “the cars do all the acting,” and though it’s true they do some excellent work, they’ve got nothing on Benjy, Dingy, Lennie, and Capt. Culpeper. A new 70 mm print screens daily to Jan. 1, 2004 (except Monday, Dec. 22; see Showtimes for a full schedule) at the American Film Institute’s Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. $8.50. (301) 495-6700. (Dave Nuttycombe)