One of the most common themes of this blog is a recurring meta-narrative chock full of self-reflection on how my continually expanding knowledge base of movies and television has affected how I analyze these mediums and also, generally, a continuing trend to more in-depth and detailed critiques than the more shallow and vague ones that begin this blog. To wit, the first two films that I gave the rare movie score of A+ to (I haven’t given one since August for a movie) were Fellini Satyricon and Conversations with Other Women. The reviews for those films are shorter and less detailed than films like Breaking Dawn Part 1 or Scream 4 which I didn’t like at all (Twilight) or nearly as much (Scream). This all just comes with the amount of time and effort I’ve put into this blog. Wednesday, I worked the numbers and found I had written nearly 6000 words just that day alone, and I essentially do this blog just for shits and giggles. If you write that much every day (or more like every other day), you’re bound to learn more and more about entertainment analyses. The only problem with the heavily self-reflexive nature of my writing is that it often leads to reviews that are completely unfit for me to submit as writing samples when I’m trying to get freelance jobs as a film critic (I’m still praying [metaphorically since I’m an atheist] that I’ll get a break in that department). I’m not sure what any of that has to do with my review for Mel Brook’s cult classic, History of the World: Part 1, other than this was the stuff I was thinking about when I was taking a shower preparing myself to write this post. Perhaps, it relates to how when I was younger and saw this film for the first time, I thought it was one of the funniest movies of all time, and while I still find segments of it to be spectacularly hilarious, I also know now that some sections drag and Mel Brooks couldn’t make the laughs last the whole picture.

History of the World: Part 1 is a spoof along the lines of Mel Brooks’ earlier films like Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, but rather than satirizing a specific type of film, Brooks sets his sights on the slightly more amorphous concept of the whole of human history (or at least those eras he specifically takes aim at). With narration played hilariously straight by Orson Welles (yes, that Orson Welles), the film begins by lampooning the iconic opening scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey though it quickly delves into a more generic Stone Age comedy. A quick jaunt to Moses receiving the 10 Commandments, segues into the most involved section of the film which involves a Roman “stand-up philosopher” named Comicus (Mel Brooks) who is performing at Caesar’s Palace (complete with the casino’s moving walkway) for Julius Caeser (Dom Deluise) himself. With a little help from former slave Josevus (Gregory Hines), Comicus finds himself hunted by Roman centurions for upsetting the Emperor. My favorite section of the film (and possibly my favorite Mel Brooks set period) is a lavish homage to 1940’s Hollywood movie musicals set during the Spanish Inquisition. The last part of the film includes a massive flash-forward to the eve of the French revolution where a French peasant (Mel Brooks) is forced to be the doube for King Louis (Mel Brooks) to protect the king from angry revolutionaries.

The only Mel Brooks regular this film is missing is Gene Wilder because this is as fine a Mel Brooks cast as you could hope to achieve. As usual, Mel Brooks finds himself in a multitude of roles (Torquemada in the Spanish Inquisition being the best of the bunch). Madeleine Kahn is a scene stealer as usual as Emperess Nympho during the Roman Empire segments and the moments where she is surveying a group of half-naked centurions as her escorts for an orgy is comedy gold. Dom DeLuise is a riot as Julius Caesar, and his mastery of physical comedy makes me sorely miss the late comedic legend. Cloris Leachman has a small but funny part as one of the leaders of the French Revolution and it serves as a reminder that she wasn’t always the ancient (but hilarious) relic she is these days. John Hurt (the villain of V for Vendetta) has a small role as Jesus Christ at the famous Last Supper scene. Gregory Hines made his film debut as Josevus and he was an instant comedy smash. He made me laugh nearly as much as the seasoned pro Mel Brooks. Sid Caesar is great as the lead cave man in the early Stone Age segments. I could go on at lengths about the absolutely fabulous huge ensemble cast (including a Jackie Mason cameo), but I’ll just leave with the statement that this film’s cast is one of the best ever comedically.

For the most part (the French Revolution business a bloated and unfortunate exception), Brooks manages to keep the laughs rolling the entire film. While the only moments where I was seriously laughing out loud was the Spanish Inquisition number, I was still chuckling virtually the entire film. I can’t begin to state how brilliant that whole Inquistion segment is. The systematic torture and mass murder of Jews (my people are always getting our asses kicked) and Muslims doesn’t seem like it would be the source of comedy fodder, but Brooks (a Jew) manages to make it look easy. The notion that you can combine water ballet, a big Broadway musical number, and the Spanish Inquisition would never occur to a normal person, but thank god for Mel Brooks because it remains one of my favorite comedy memories of all time. Those opening Stone Age segments were also a hoot thanks to Orson Welles sandpaper dry delivery and Sid Caesar’s deliciously campy cave-man performance. While I enjoyed the Roman empire moments, it probably ran a little too long though the inclusion of Leonardo Da Vinci (who wouldn’t be born for 1500 more years) at the Last Supper was a great comic touch. My only real problem with the film was the French Revolution which contained far fewer laughs than the rest of the film and was an unfortunate way to draw this otherwise hilarious film to a close. I keep praying Mel Brooks will make one last movie before he dies and make it History of the World Part 2 so we can finally see “Jews in Space!”

For fans of classic comedies, this is a no-brainer. Mel Brooks is the undisputed champ of the spoof film, and much like Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, this film is a timeless artifact from this legend’s storied career. Not every joke hits and it wasn’t nearly as laugh out loud funny as I remember as a child, but it’s still refreshingly smart and witty humor from an early 80’s when that was unfortunately rare. Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles are the films he is most remembered for, but History of the World: Part 1 will probably always claim the special place in my heart as my favorite Brooks film. The only people that should avoid this film are those that are easily offended because as you can imagine from a film that makes light of the Spanish Inquisition, no group is safe from Brooks’ razor sharp wit. I don’t know when another Brooks film will actually end up on this list though I know there are several others still to be watched. I can’t wait to get there cause the man almost always puts out comedy gold.

Final Score: B+

 

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