Tag Archives: Mel Brooks

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: #44 – My Favorite Prince Myshkin Shoutout

Today! Because he was a better dresser than Churchill! He had more hair! He told funnier jokes! And he could dance the pants off of Churchill!

The Producers (1968)

Directed by Mel Brooks (x6)

Starring Zero Mostel (x3), Gene Wilder (x5), Dick Shawn, Kenneth Mars, Lee Meredith, Christopher Hewett, Andreas Voutsinas, William Hickey (x4), Renee Taylor (x2), Estelle Winwood (x2), Barney Martin, Madelyn Cates

You know I love me some movies about plays, and really stagey ones at that, and so – The Producers! While it would take decades for Mel Brooks’ classic to actually make it to Broadway, it should come as no surprise that it made the leap pretty seamlessly. The entire first half hour of the movie is just Zero and Gene’s one room shtick to set up the plot – and wildly funny shtick it is. And with the exception of a handful of NYC street scenes, it’s just one room after another hosting wacky characters and even wackier theatrics. A few of his other films would grab Oscar nominations, but The Producers is the reason Mel is rocking that EGOT – winning Best Screenplay in 1968, as well as Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score for the stage version in 2001 (He also won Grammys for Producers related work, but already had one on the shelf for The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000 as Best Comedy Album).

Just to wrap this up, he also won three Emmys for Guest Comedy Actor on Mad About You, and one for writing on a Sid Caesar special in the ’60s

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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: #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: #198 – My Favorite Plaid Light Show

Today! Because that’s the same combination I have on my luggage!

Spaceballs (1987)

Directed by Mel Brooks (x2)

Starring Bill Pullman (x2), Daphne Zuniga, John Candy (x6), Rick Moranis (x2), Mel Brooks (x2), George Wyner (x3), Dick Van Patten (x3), Joan Rivers, Michael Winslow, Jim J. Bullock (x2), Dom DeLuise (x4), John Hurt (x2), Leslie Bevis, Stephen Tobolowsky (x4), Jack Riley, Rudy De Luca, Rick Ducommun (x3)

No higher than the fourth best Mel Brooks movie (no higher, I tell you!), Spaceballs is the one that landed squarely on my generation, and functioned as a decent balm for the end of the Star Wars trilogy. I doubt that was the intention – was Young Frankenstein supposed to be the missing eleventh Mary Shelley adaptation that never was? – but when I was a kid, I was starved for more Jedis and Wookies and droids, plus I liked comedy, so Spaceballs fit nicely. Realize, I was like three and a half when Return of the Jedi came out, so I don’t remember a world before that – new Star Wars movies seemed like an impossible dream, even by the time I was eight, so what if a couple of ex-SCTVers and the governor from Blazing Saddles were in it – this was essentially another, albeit twisted, chapter.

It takes things in an arguably better direction than Attack of the Clones, anyway

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The Set of 400: #395 – My Favorite Medieval Malcolm X

Today! Because we didn’t land on Sherwood Forest, Sherwood Forest landed on us –

Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)

Directed by Mel Brooks

Starring Cary Elwes, Richard Lewis, Dave Chappelle, Roger Rees, Tracey Ullman, Amy Yasbeck, Mark Blankfield, Patrick Stewart, Mel Brooks, Isaac Hayes, Dom DeLuise, Dick Van Patten, Robert Ridgely, Eric Allan Kramer, Megan Cavanagh, Matthew Porretta, Avery Schreiber, Clive Revill

While far from the best Mel Brooks outing, it is the last good movie he’d direct (in fairness, this was only followed by the thoroughly meh Dracula: Dead and Loving It), and it was on TV constantly in the early/mid nineties. But I’m not trying to make excuses for its inclusion here – there is a lot to like about Men in Tights. Cary Elwes was perfect for this sort of comedy – only really on display here and in Hot Shots! – and effortlessly carries the mayhem along. I also can never keep straight whether he appeared in Mel’s Dracula or Coppola’s Dracula that inspired it, so solid is he at both types of movies. Sure, it revels in the dated, Catskills-style jokes Mel would lean more and more into as the years wore on, but between Chappelle’s great early work here as Ahchoo, Tracey Ullman uglying it up as the witch Latrine, and Richard Lewis doing his best Richard Lewis impersonation as Prince Johnthere is plenty to enjoy. Does it have the laugh-out-loud highs of Mel’s early films? Not really, but it also pushes harder on parody, and really dials up the number of jokes per minute. So what if the success rate is 50/50? I still really enjoy Men in Tights. Continue reading

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