At Film Comment, Grady Hendrix traces the rise and fall of MAD Magazine’s film parodies:
…the arrival of Mort Drucker in 1957 changed everything. Initially no one saw Drucker’s talent. Then in 1959 he drew the television parody The Night Perry Masonite Lost a Case and the basic movie parody format for the next 44 years was born.I was one of the young readers Hendrix writes about, being introduced to movies I couldn’t see and in many cases hadn’t heard of through their MAD parodies. Years before I saw The Godfather movies, for example, I knew the plot of the first and how the second one jumped back and forth in time.
Opening with a splash panel that took up two-thirds of the page, it was all cartooning, used square word balloons, and the dialogue was copy cast. Playing to Drucker’s strengths, The Night Perry Masonite Lost a Case opted for an extremely tame design, mandated by art directors John Putnam and Leonard Brenner, who gave Drucker his panel layouts. The panels were mostly two-shots and medium shots, usually showing the characters from the waist up.
The comedy came from Drucker’s uncanny ability to capture the likeness of an actor and then blow it up to the point where it started to deform but didn’t quite tip over into caricature. The cartoonist’s equivalent of an actor’s director, Drucker was a master of drawing hands, faces, and body language, and his approach (he wound up creating 238 movie satires) became the house style.
Sometimes the MAD writers parodied movies as musicals, and that provided a double education: not just the movies but the songs the writers felt were in the American canon. Even now I remember lines from a song for James Bond set to “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” more surely than I remember the plots of any early Bond film or Oklahoma!