Tag Archives: Madeline Kahn

The Set of 400: #5 – My Favorite Sadly Temporary Side Effect

Today! Because it’s not often you see a guy that green have the blues that bad –

The Muppet Movie (1979)

Directed by James Frawley

Starring Jim Henson (x3), Frank Oz (x10), Dave Goelz (x7), Richard Hunt (x3), Jerry Nelson (x6), Charles Durning (x4), Austin Pendleton (x2), Orson Welles (x5), Cloris Leachman (x6), Dom DeLuise (x8), Steve Martin (x7), Richard Pryor, Bob Hope, Milton Berle (x3), Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy, Elliott Gould (x5), James Coburn (x4), Carol Kane (x6), Madeline Kahn (x9), Mel Brooks (x6), Telly Savalas, Paul Williams (x3), Bruce Kirby (x2), Caroll Spinney (x2), Scott Walker

The gold standard of Muppet productions. The zenith of the entire franchise. The culmination of nearly 25 years of Mr. the Frog’s place in the cultural landscape, beginning way back with Sam & Friends in 1955. After this, and the subsequent completion of The Muppet Show’s dynamite five year run, the felt gang would achieve superstardom few puppets have entertained before or since. A groundbreaking, world-altering comedy/musical motion picture unduplicated in success or popularity through the entire course of human history. The Muppet Movie is the greatest thing ever produced by anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Kermit, for one, is stunned by this adulation

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The Set of 400: #30 – My Favorite Brain Depositary (After 5:00 Slip Brains Through Slot in Door)

Today! Because my grandfather’s work was doo doo!

Young Frankenstein (1974)

Directed by Mel Brooks (x7)

Starring Gene Wilder (x6), Marty Feldman (x3), Peter Boyle (x3), Teri Garr (x3), Cloris Leachman (x5), Madeline Kahn (x8), Kenneth Mars (x2), Gene Hackman (x4), Richard Haydn, Liam Dunn (x2), Oscar Beregi Jr., Danny Goldman

No one can be dead certain about what movie they’ve seen the most times in their life. How could they be? Unless you’ve undertaken some quest to make a film your most watched – like the stories of people watching Pirates of the Caribbean on Netflix every day for a year, or my wife with the first X-Files movie – how could you possibly know? And while I believe I’ve thrown out contenders for this title in this list so far – and am still fairly confident I haven’t seen anything more than the original Star Wars – quite possibly second or third is this, Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder’s crowning achievement. I can’t even say for sure why or how this happened – sure, my parents really liked this movie, that helped to get it on the television a lot growing up, but why did we want to watch this black and white horror film parody, when we couldn’t possibly understand the references, and the jokes were likely over our heads as well?

Well, being a Mel Brooks movie, there is a bunch of kid-appealing stuff in this send-up of the old Universal Frankstein pictures, most directly the often overlooked third movie, Son of Frankenstein. Lots of funny accents, lots of throwaway sight gags and sound cues (The cat getting hit by the dart!), some pretty zany characters who are funny no matter what they say (pretty much everyone in this movie, but especially Marty Feldman’s Igor and Kenneth Mars’ one-armed Inspector Kemp), plus the generally cool design. Even if there’s a fair amount of shtupping going on – even in the edited TV version, apparently! – and some old timey references (“Pardon me, boy – is this the Transylvania station?”), we still liked it well enough. Like Blazing Saddles, this strikes me as something that was kind of forced on us until we grew to enjoy it.

Everything Mars does in this movie is amazing

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The Set of 400: #58 – My Favorite Bicycle Powered Sword Fighting Dummy

Today! Because unless I’m very much mistaken, chaderd is the Egyptian word meaning “to eat fat”! Now we’re getting somewhere!

The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975)

Directed by Gene Wilder

Starring Gene Wilder (x4), Marty Feldman (x2), Madeline Kahn (x7), Leo McKern, Dom DeLuise (x7), Roy Kinnear (x3), John Le Mesurier, Nicholas Smith, Douglas Wilmer, Thorley Walters, John Hollis, Aubrey Morris (x2), Susan Field, Albert Finney (x4), George Silver

This movie was such a bedrock staple of childhood that I was amazed to learn of its relative obscurity as I got older. I mean, it’s not completely unknown, but it certainly isn’t widely discussed or regarded. Information about its general success upon initial release is a little tough to come by – I’ve seen it ranging anywhere from the 24th to 48th highest grossing movie of 1975, and it may or may not have been the #1 film the weekend before Christmas – but it certainly hasn’t had the staying power of the ’70s Mel Brooks films it is clearly patterned after.

Which is a shame, because while it doesn’t function overly well as a Sherlock Holmes parody – à la the more direct take off of #220 Without a Clue, say – it is a pretty solid Sherlock-esque comedy. Lifting an alias Holmes employed in the first Conan Doyle story after the character’s supposed death (“The Adventure of the Empty House”), Wilder plays Sherlock’s bitter younger brother Sigerson, not – as you may have guessed sight unseen – his famously smarter elder brother Mycroft. Sherlock (played by frequent Sherlock, Douglas Wilmer) directs a vitally important case to his brother through Feldman’s Scotland Yard Sergeant Orville Sacker (named very similar to Doyle’s early draft Dr. Watson – Ormond Sacker). Before long they are facing off with a comically volcanic Moriarty (the terrific Leo McKern), a habitually lying chanteuse (you can never go wrong giving Madeline Kahn musical numbers), and a horse-and-carriage chase/fight through the streets of London unlike any ever made.

Thanks for coming through, heavily watermarked stock photo!

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The Set of 400: #70 – My Favorite Horse Punch

Today! Because I must have killed more men than Cecil B. DeMille –

Blazing Saddles (1974)

Directed by Mel Brooks (x5)

Starring Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder (x3), Harvey Korman (x3), Madeline Kahn (x6), Mel Brooks (x5), Slim Pickens (x2), Alex Karras, David Huddleston (x2), Dom DeLuise (x6), Burton Gilliam, John Hillerman (x2), Jack Starrett, Carol Arthur, Liam Dunn, Robyn Hilton, Count Basie, Robert Ridgely (x5), Charles McGregor

When people say “They wouldn’t make a movie like this today,” I find that they are normally talking about major studio output. Oh, they’d need a bigger star, they wouldn’t tackle this topic, it doesn’t have blockbuster potential. But in reality, someone somewhere would probably still make whatever movie they’re talking about, if they were able. Quality trumps a lot of financial obstacles, for just the right producer. All that being said, no one anywhere would make Blazing Saddles today.

It’s still funny, ballsy, and wonderful, but I can’t think of a movie aging more uncomfortably than this film. Case in point – you might watch this in your house and think “Oh, some of these jokes are a little rough, but overall it comes out okay.” However, a few years ago I saw this movie in a fairly crowded theater, and no one knew how to react. Was laughing at this wrong? But then why were we all there? It’s not an inherently racist movie, but my God, it goes to some dicey lengths. Richard Pryor’s work on the screenplay is pretty evident, but even at the time the studio was uneasy enough to vote against him also playing Sheriff Bart.

Cleavon Little does make a terrific Bart, though

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The Set of 400: #135 – My Favorite Rolling Papyrus

Today! Because I asked ’em nicely! I said pretty please! They wouldn’t convert, so I’ll bang on their knees!

History of the World: Part I (1981)

Directed by Mel Brooks (x4)

Starring Mel Brooks (x4), Gregory Hines, Madeline Kahn (x5), Dom DeLuise (x5), Sid Caesar (x2), Harvey Korman (x2), John Hurt (x3), Cloris Leachman (x4), Ron Carey (x3), Pamela Stephenson, Mary-Margaret Humes, Rudy De Luca (x3), Orson Welles, Spike Milligan (x2), Shecky Greene, Bea Arthur, Charlie Callas (x2), Paul Mazursky, Jack Riley (x3), Art Metrano (x2), Henny Youngman, Jackie Mason (x3), Fritz Feld (x2), Barry Levinson (x3), John Hillerman

Almost certainly the movie I understood the least when I saw it dozens of times as a child, History of the World: Part I isn’t exactly the most beloved of Mel Brooks movies, is it? I mean, yeah, it’s all over the place – quite literally, what with scenes in the French Revolution, Prehistoric Times, first century Rome, and the Spanish Inquisition, never mind Hitler on Ice and Jews in Space. And while a lot of it is just a straight stream of gags, not bothering to try and hold together into anything meaningful, it’s still a really entertaining movie, with a load of great comedians.

But it does have a ton of jokes and puns that kids will not understand. Hell, they aren’t supposed to! This is an R-rated movie! “Don’t get saucy with me, Bearnaise!” “But the servant waits while the master baits.” “Do I have any openings that this man might fit?” Jeez! And really, there’s a lot more inappropriate sex gags littered throughout. And yet, I’ve seen this movie a hundred times, easily. What is the appeal here for kids?? I’ve asked this before, but what do you suppose gets children to latch on to movies and watch them endlessly? My guess is that my parents interspersed these movies that they liked in with the cartoons and whatnot, and we just took them all as films for us, and kept watching them. I’m not even sure if we watched a TV edit of this movie, or the full film. Cripes! Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #154 – My Favorite Singing Telegram

Today! Because communism was just a red herring –

Clue (1985)

Directed by Jonathan Lynn

Starring Tim Curry (x3), Lesley Ann Warren, Eileen Brennan (x3), Christopher Lloyd (x5), Madeline Kahn (x4), Michael McKean (x4), Martin Mull, Colleen Camp (x3), Lee Ving, Bill Henderson, Jeffrey Kramer (x2), Howard Hesseman

In the very limited realm of Movies Based on Board Games, Clue is far and away the king. It’s not a genre that should’ve necessarily been encouraged to expand, and thankfully it hasn’t managed to in the three plus decades hence. On the other hand, why not? While most board games don’t present enough characters or plot to facilitate a real story to emerge, I’m sure they could come up with something halfway decent for, say, Candyland. Who do you see playing Plumpy in that one? Someone get a treatment together!

Yikes – I didn’t make this graphic – this was actually in development at some point. Gah.

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The Set of 400: #157 – My Favorite Enlarged Photograph

Today! Because it’s very clear to me/I’ve got to give in/High Anxiety – you win!

High Anxiety (1977)

Directed by Mel Brooks (x3)

Starring Mel Brooks (x3), Madeline Kahn (x3), Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman (x3), Ron Carey (x2), Howard Morris, Dick Van Patten (x4), Jack Riley (x2), Rudy De Luca (x2), Barry Levinson (x2), Robert Ridgely (x4), Charlie Callas, Lee Delano

If Mel Brooks could be said to have a forgotten movie, well, it’s The Twelve Chairs. But if it could be conjectured that he has another forgotten film, more surprising due to the legion of classic Brooks players involved, it’s almost certainly High Anxiety. Perhaps because it’s the only of his films from the era to be set in the era itself, it doesn’t have the more timeless qualities of a Young Frankenstein or even a Spaceballs. The jokes aren’t necessarily dated to the ’70s either – they are just sorta dated in that Catskills Mel Brooks way many of his jokes feel now. However, the other main thing working against this movie might be its focus of parodying Hitchcock movies – a terrific idea that really comes off well in the film, but does forever land it squarely in the purview of cinema nerds who also might enjoy Borscht Belt comedy. It’s a group I fear dwindles by the day, to the point that I worry no one will watch this movie twenty or thirty years from now, except Brooks completionists and Hitchcock-o-philes.

It’s not the greatest pic of Hitch, but Brooks and Bancroft are thrilled by his presence!

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The Set of 400: #214 – My Favorite Big Screen Tuberculosis

Today! Because there’s a cancer in the presidency and it’s growing –

Nixon (1995)

Directed by Oliver Stone (x2)

Starring Anthony Hopkins (x5), Joan Allen (x2), James Woods (x2), Paul Sorvino, Ed Harris, Powers Boothe (x3), Bob Hoskins, E.G. Marshall, David Hyde Pierce, David Paymer (x3), J.T. Walsh (x3), Mary Steenburgen (x2), Kevin Dunn (x3), Brian Bedford, Fyvush Finkel (x2), Annabeth Gish, Tony Goldwyn (x2), Larry Hagman (x2), Edward Herrman, Madeline Kahn (x2), Dan Hedaya (x3), Tom Bower, Tony Lo Bianco, Saul Rubinek, John C. McGinley, Michael Chiklis, George Plimpton, Marley Shelton (x2), James Karen (x2), Donna Dixon (x2), Sam Waterston, John Diehl, Robert Beltran

The last good-to-great movie Oliver Stone has made, Nixon is a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of the beleaguered 37th president, even while taking him to task for his many shortcomings as a politician and as a person in general. Throw in a bit of wild Oliver Stone-esque conspiracy speculation and a run time so bloated it manages to encompass decades of Tricky Dick’s life rather effortlessly, and you get a bombastic, overblown, sorta wonderful, sorta insane biopic unlike any other.

The performances carry through some of the more gymnastic directing – it’s a movie drowning in technique and style – with Hopkins’ amazing transformation into Nixon at its center. Many others have taken on this idiosyncratic role – Langella is fine in Frost/Nixon, Spacey a little less so in Elvis & Nixon, Dan Aykroyd’s terrific SNL take – but none were able to capture the manic nuance of the man, while also attempting to physically resemble him, the way Hopkins did. It’s magnificent. Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #273 – My Favorite Cabbie Bias

Today! Because I’m using rented bullets for my gun. We’ve all got problems –

The Cheap Detective (1978)

Directed by Robert Moore

Starring Peter Falk, Madeline Kahn, John Houseman, Stockard Channing, James Coco (x2), Eileen Brennan, Dom DeLuise (x3), Louise Fletcher, Marsha Mason, Abe Vigoda, Vic Tayback, David Ogden Stiers, Scatman Crothers (x2), Nicol Williamson, Paul Williams, Phil Silvers, Fernando Lamas, Sid Caesar, Ann-Margret, James Cromwell, Jonathan Banks (x2)

A spiritual sequel to the zany Neil Simon comedy Murder By Death, The Cheap Detective is a more direct parody than its predecessor, taking Peter Falk’s twisted Bogart impression and slamming Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, and The Big Sleep together into one silly 1940’s San Francisco mystery, replete with Nazis, secret identities, Romanians, stolen treasure, and an acronymed pseudo-villain named Vladimir Tserijemiwtz, which works out to Ezra C.V. Mildew Dezire Jr.!

Many members of the large cast appeared in Murder By Death as well, including Coco, Brennan, and Cromwell, but Falk’s is the only character transplanted over more or less intact, even with a different name (Lou Peckinpaugh here, Sam Diamond in Murder). These movies are in the rare group of Neil Simon screenplays that weren’t adapted from his stage plays, which includes The Out-of-Towners, The Goodbye Girl, and Seems Like Old Times. They do, however, have that indefinable Neil Simon-ness about their jokes, which mostly land, even if they can verge into mild racism here and there. Ah, the 1970s!

And some vintage Sid Caesar shtick!

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