Flashback Friday: History of the World: Part I (1981)

Mel Brooks is a legend for a reason. His comedy is hilarious, gut-busting, not exactly politically correct, and has kept generations of fans entertained.

His 1981 film, History of The World: Part I is a series of short stories about various times in world history told as only Brooks can. The list of co-stars is impressive (many of whom starred in multiple Brooks movies): Gregory Hines, Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, etc.

Like all Mel Brooks productions, the movie is highly laughable and highly quotable. Every time I put this one on, I know that I will have a good time. Though I bristle at the extreme sexism in the French Revolution section (even when I know it is satire), I love Madeline Kahn’s character during the Roman era. It is Kahn at her best.

The other section that I look forward to every time is the Inquisition. As he did in The Producers, he mocks and takes the power away from the haters while making the viewer laugh.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Madeline Kahn GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

All About Me!: My Remarkable Life in Show Business Book Review

The word “genius” is often thrown around without anything to back it up. One of the few people who can legitimately be given that title is Mel Brooks. He has made audiences laugh for 70+ years, taking comedy in a direction that few have dared to.

His new autobiography, All About Me!: My Remarkable Life in Show Business, was released last November. The youngest of four boys, Brooks was born to a Jewish immigrant family in 1926. Raised in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn by his widowed mother, he grew up during the Great Depression and served his country during World War II. After the war, he joined one of the greatest comedy writing teams of all time as a co-writer of Sid Ceasar‘s Your Show of Shows.

Married to actress Anne Bancroft for five decades, Brooks directed (and in some cases starred in) such classics as Young Frankenstein, To Be or Not To Be, The Producers, Spaceballs, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, History of the World: Part I, etc. Telling his story as only he can, Brooks reveals his heart, his humor, his work ethic, and his acute ability to use laughter to delve into topics that many would not dare to touch.

In his mid 90’s, he has more energy and gusto many are half his age. It was an incredible insight into a man who has made generations of audiences laugh. What I loved was the revelation of the man behind the jokes. He reminds me of someone’s old uncle who is not quite politically correct. They know that they are crossing the line. But it is not out of spite or to cause trouble. It’s to make the audience laugh and while they are laughing, perhaps think about the message behind the joke.

As I read the book, two things jumped out at me. The first was that there was no mention of his first wife and not a lot of time focused on his older children. The second is that he refers to almost every woman first by her looks and then by her talent. Maybe it’s me or maybe it’s a generational thing. I get that it could be construed as a compliment, but I would rather be known for my abilities first and my looks second.

Other than that, do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Mel Brooks Comb The Desert GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

All About Me!: My Remarkable Life in Show Business is available wherever books are sold.

RIP Carl Reiner

Anyone can tell a joke. Anyone can attempt to be funny. But it takes a truly gifted comedian connect with the audience.

The late Carl Reiner was one of those gifted comedians. He passed away yesterday at the age of 98. Born to a Jewish family in New York City in 1922, Reiner was also a writer who worked on early 1950’s classics such as Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour. His collaboration with Mel Brooks on the 2000 Year Old Man was and still is comedy gold. Creating, producing, writing, and starring in The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966), he introduced the audience to characters are still beloved decades after they left the air.

In the entertainment industry, he was a jack of all trades. Writer, director, actor, comedian, etc. He will be fondly remembered as both a human being and an entertainer whose work made millions laugh.

In the words of our mutual ancestors, may his memory be a blessing. Z”l

Teri Garr Retrospective At BAM-Part II-Young Frankenstein (1974)

It takes a smart actor to play a dumb character. Teri Garr is one of those actors.

This weekend, the Brooklyn Academy of Music or BAM for short, is having a Teri Garr retrospective.

Earlier today, I saw Young Frankenstein (1974). A satire of Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein, as only Mel Brooks can conceive of, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) is the American grandson of the infamous scientist, Victor Frankenstein. Frederick will do anything to prove that he is not his grandfather’s grandson, but when push comes to shove, the blood and the infamous history of Frankenstein’s takes over.

Teri Garr plays Inga, Frederick’s assistant.

Inga may appear to be just a dumb blonde speaking in a faux Eastern European accent and wearing a low-cut dress, but her character is vital to Frederick’s development from the beginning of the film to the end of the film. Along with Igor (Marty Feldman), they travel with Frederick from his denial of who he is to his acceptance of his DNA and his fate. Inga also gets some of the best lines in the film, as per the scene above.

I recommend this film, if nothing else, for Teri Garr’s performance.

 

Thoughts On The 30th Anniversary Of Spaceballs

Mel Brooks has made a career out of lovingly satirizing our sacred cows. Whether it is history (History of the World: Part I), The Nazis (The Producers) or classic horror films (Young Frankenstein), he has knack for finding the satire in the sacred.

30 years ago, he satirized Star Wars and other science fiction films in his own version of a space adventure: Spaceballs. The planet Druidia has an abundant amount of fresh air. President Skroob (Mel Brooks) from the very polluted Planet Spaceballs send his henchmen, Lord Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) to capture the Druidian princess, Vespa (Daphne Zuniga). King Roland of Druidia (Dick Van Patten) must either give his planet’s air to the Spaceballs or lose his daughter. Enter Lone Star (Bill Pullman) who is sent by the king to rescue Vespa.

This movie is like most Mel Brooks movies. It borders on the absurd, takes easy pot shots at the revered and most of all, it makes us laugh.

30 years on, this movie is just as funny as it was in 1987.

May the schwartz be with you!

Happy Birthday Mel Brooks

Today is the 90th birthday of the legendary comedian Mel Brooks.

Born in Brooklyn, New York on June 28th, 1925, Melvin Kaminsky would grow up to be one of the greatest comedians of the 20th century.

What can I say about this man? He is a comedic genius. His movies are completely quotable and his characters are outlandish. His characters say and do things that many writers and filmmakers would shy away from. There is no genre that remains untouched by his unique form of satire.

Mel Brooks has also had the good fortune to see two of his movies, Young Frankenstein and The Producers become hit Broadway musicals. Not bad for a Jewish kid from Brooklyn who was born right before the great depression.

I could go on and on, but I will let his movies do the talking.

Happy Birthday Mel Brooks, thanks for the laughter.

Throwback Thursday-The Producers (1967 & 2005)

For many movie fans, Mel Brooks has a unique sense of humor and a unique comedic sense. Slightly bawdy, not so politically correct and perhaps, a little naughty.

In 1967, he was the brains behind The Producers. Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) is a down on his luck Broadway producer, who has to finance his shows by pretending to romance much older women to gain access to their money. Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) is an accountant who jumps at the sight of his own shadow.  Max convinces Leo to join him as a producer. Their idea is to bring a show to Broadway that is sure to be one of the biggest flops in theater history. The name of the show: Springtime For Hitler.

38 years later, after a very successful run on Broadway, The Producers once again returned to the big screen. Reprising they’re on stage roles were Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.

The 1967 movie is a typical Mel Brooks film. The 2005 film, while it  remains true to both the original film and the stage production, lost some of the luster of the previous incarnations.

Do I recommend it? Let me put it this way. If you have never seen either film, first see the 1967 version. Then see the 2005 version. Me, I prefer the original film, but someone else may not.

 

The Critics Were Wrong (Maybe)-Dracula-Dead And Loving It (1995)

Hollywood and science have a lot in common. When an experiment or a movie is a success, they repeat the formula and hope that the success will be repeated.  Sometimes, the experiment or movie is not as successful as it is hoped to be.

Mel Brooks has developed a reputation over the years to have a unique comedic sense. Not quite politically correct, but insightful, satirical and for the most part, entertaining.

His success in satirizing classics such as Frankenstein (Young Frankenstein, 1974) and Robin Hood (Robin Hood: Men In Tights, 1993) did not extend with the same success to Dracula-Dead And Loving It (1995).

When Dracula (Leslie Nielsen) starts to terrorize London, Harker (Steven Weber) must work with Dr. Seward (Harvery Korman) and Professor Van Helsing (Mel Brooks) to kill the vampire and save his fiance, Mina (Amy Yasbeck).

Were the critics wrong? I hate to say it, but no, they were right.  As much as I adore Mel Brooks as a comedian and a filmmaker, this movie is just not good.

Do I recommend it? No.

 

Flashback Friday-Robin Hood Triple Feature-Robin And Marian (1976), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) & Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)

Robin Hood is the immortal outsider. A former aristocrat who returns from the Crusades to find that his family is dead, his lands have been confiscated and the woman he left behind, Maid Marian may have moved on with her life.

His story has been immortalized on screen multiple times over.

In 1976, audiences were introduced to a middle aged Robin and Marian in a movie of the same name. Years after the original story ends, fate has again separated our lovers. Robin (Sean Connery) returned to the Crusades to find that Marian (Audrey Hepburn) is now the abbess of a priory. It seems that she is content to live out the rest of her days as a nun. But when the Sheriff Of Nottingham tries to arrest Marian on religious grounds, Robin must step in and fight for the love of his youth.

I like this movie. But then again, I always like when we see old, familiar characters in new situations and in different places in their lives. Another quality that makes this movie an excellent film is the two leads, who are age appropriate and have excellent chemistry.

Fifteen years later, in 1991, a traditional film of adaption of Robin Hood premiered. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves starred Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.

I like this movie. There is something about the traditional re-telling of a familiar story that never gets old, no matter how many times one has read the story or seen the movie. And of course, there is the Bryan Adams song that gets stuck in your head, no matter how many times you try to get rid of it.

Finally, in 1993, Mel Brooks, as he always does, put his own spin on the Robin Hood story in Robin Hood: Men in Tights. This time, Cary Elwes stepped into the role of Robin Hood with Amy Yasbeck as Marian and Roger Rees as his longtime nemesis, The Sheriff of Rottingham.

This movie is a solid Mel Brooks production. As he did with Young Frankenstein, he lovingly satirized and altered the story of Robin Hood. And like most Mel Brooks movies, this movie is incredibly funny and quotable.

I recommend all three.

Flashback Friday- Spaceballs (1987)

Mel Brooks has a very specific type of humor. Low brow, possibly crude and potentially politically incorrect. But without a doubt, the man knows how to make audiences laugh.

In 1987, he threw his movie making hat into Spaceballs.

King Roland of Planet Druidia (Dick Van Patten) is about to see his daughter, Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) marry Prince Valium. But Vespa wants nothing to do with her groom to be. She runs away and is kidnapped by the evil race of Spaceballs led by President Skroob (Mel Brooks, who always seems to find parts in his movies) and Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis). They will return Vespa to her father, if he will give them Druidia’s clean air to replace the Spaceball’s polluted air.

King Roland contacts Lone Star (Bill Pullman) and Barf (the late John Candy) to rescue Vespa and her loyal servant Dot Matrix (voiced by the late Joan Rivers). After the foursome escapes the Spaceballs, they land on Yogurt’s (also Mel Brooks) planet. Yogurt knows the truth about Lone Star’s past. At the same time, he is selling everything he can with his likeness.

This is another Mel Brooks gem. He knows how to lovingly riff on the science fiction genre, especially Star Wars with it’s variety of memorabilia. It is incredibly funny and incredibly quotable.

Happy Friday and may the schwartz be with you!

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