Thursday, May 22, 2014

Movie #255: History of the World, Part 1

History of the World, Part 1 is a Mel Brooks film with a huge ensemble cast, including Madeline Kahn, Shecky Greene, Gregory Hines, John Hurt, Sid Caeser, Dom Deluise, Pamela Stephenson, Cloris Leachman, Mary-Margaret Humes, Bea Arthur, and of course Brooks himself.

The movie progresses through human history in short segments, starting off in the days of cavemen inventing fire, music, and forced marriage (there's a bit of problematic material here), and progressing through the Old Testament, the Roman Empire, the Spanish Inquisition, and the French Revolution.

You get the feeling that that this was basically Brooks coming up with some sketches about various points in history and hanging a movie on it to hold them together. And that's fine; it's a Brooks film, and as such it runs the gamut between physical comedy (my favorite: the Roman soldiers marching in a bobby sort of way, smashing into each other, and then reversing direction), lame puns ("You can't Torquemada anything!"), lame plays-on-words ("You made some...big decisions."), and some pretty darned clever bits (To Oedipus: "Hey, motherfucker.").

Brooks looks like he's having fun playing multiple roles, though I rather prefer his later movies where he sticks to bit parts, just for diversity's sake. The supporting cast is, predictably, fantastic, and it pained us to see how many of them (Kahn, Deluise, Hines, Leachman, Caeser, Harvey Korman, etc.) are no longer with us. The movie light and extremely fast paced, at the expense of any kind of character development or investment.

The ending is weak. Anachronisms abound (having Leonardo da Vinci actually arrive at the Last Supper to paint it, and so forth), but the end pulls characters from one segment into another, which raises the question of where the characters from the first segment went (perhaps Jacques is the reincarnation of Comicus?). Don't know if that was a joke that didn't work or if someone ran out of money, but fortunately there's the "coming attractions" to tie it together a little better.

It's good, and it's watchable, but it's not nearly as quotable, edgy, or interesting as Blazing Saddles or as tight as Spaceballs. Probably outdoes Men in Tights, though, and I know I like it better than Dracula: Dead and Loving It.

My grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium High

Next up: Hollow Man