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Young Frankenstein (1974) – Mel Brooks countdown #3

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Concept: A funny sequel to the Universal 1930s version of Frankenstein

Dr Gene Wilder is the grandson of the infamous mad scientist of the Frankenstein family. He is not proud of this, to the point of insisting that his name is pronounced 'Fron-kon-steen', but when he inherits the family castle, he goes off to Transylvania where the lure of attempting to recreate the work of reanimating dead tissue proves too strong.

What’s good: The script by Wilder (who had the idea of doing the story of the grandson wanting nothing to do with the family) and Brooks is wonderful.

The leading cast is also very good, especially Wilder, but also Marty Feldman as Igor, Peter Boyle as the Monster, Teri Garr as the assistant Inga, Cloris Leachman as Frau Blücher, Madeline Kahn as Wilder's girlfriend Elizabeth and Kenneth Mars as the local police inspector.

What’s not so good: You won't realise just how good this is unless you've seen the original and there's not enough of Madeline Kahn, but that's about it.

Music: Another wonderful score by John Morris.

Miscellany: Lots of the props were originally made for the 1930s films.

Apparently, there was an argument between Wilder and Brooks about including the most memorable scene – the song – but fortunately Wilder won and it stayed in.

The title and main phrase for Aerosmith's 'Walk This Way' comes from the band having seen the film and liked one of Feldman's lines.

Overall: The most loving of the Brooks spoofs, this also has the fewest low points in any of his films. Partly, that's because they were deleted before release, but the script that remains is fabulous, working both as a story and a spoof. A bit(e) like Dracula…, except much better.

You can get an idea of how good Brooks used to be by the way that, great as this is, it's still only the second best film he made that year.

TL;DR Most directors have never made a film as good, never mind as funny, as this.

Film: 4.5/5
DVD: 4/5

On the one I have, there are some rightly deleted scenes – the reading of the Frankenstein will goes on for seven far too long minutes, but has two good jokes – a commentary from Brooks, a 'making of', etc.

Written by Ian

November 15th, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Posted in Cinema,Countdown,DVDs

High Anxiety (1977) – Mel Brooks countdown #4

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Concept: Do a spoof of Hitchcock's thrillers

Vertigo (the 'high anxiety'!) sufferer Dr Mel Brooks is appointed as the new head of the Psychoneurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous. Dr Harvey Korman expected to get the job and it is soon clear that he and his chief nurse (and BDSM Mistress) Cloris Leachman are up to no good, including framing Brooks for murder…

What’s good: What makes this work so well are the characters, particularly Leachman's Nurse Diesel and Korman's Dr Montague.

Most of the Hitchcock spoof elements.

The script generally.

What’s not so good: I can't think of anything.

Music: Another good one from John Morris, with one particularly good musical joke.

Miscellany: Films specifically made fun of include The 39 Steps, Spellbound, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, and The Birds.

Overall: This is another one which works in its own right, as well as working as a parody. You can laugh at the shower scene without having seen Psycho, for example.. it'll just be better if you have.

What went wrong after this one? The scripts weren't as good and comedy had moved on. By the time of Brooks' next film, the dire History.., the instant classic Airplane! had happened.

TL;DR The last of his great films

Film: 4/5
DVD: 2/5

Trailer only, again.

Written by Ian

November 11th, 2013 at 10:48 am

Posted in Cinema,Countdown,DVDs

Silent Movie (1976) – Mel Brooks countdown #5

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Concept: Make a… silent movie!

Director Mel Brooks ('Mel Funn') hasn't been able to get a studio interested in making a film for years – he's seen as a drunk. Fortunately, he has an appointment with a studio in desperate need of a hit, to save them from being taken over by the 'Engulf and Devour' conglomerate.

Unfortunately, his big idea is to make a silent movie. But if it had enough big stars in, it could be a hit…

What’s good: Many of the visual jokes: the sign in E&D's bathroom is a personal favourite.

What’s not so good: With so many jokes thrown in, not all are good. In particular, some of the humour – like the repeated use of 'fags' – has dated.

Some modern viewers are also not going to know how big the 'as themselves' stars in the film were at the time and some of the humour depends on that.

Music: One of John Morris's best – with almost no dialogue, the music's particularly important.

Miscellany: The 'talkie' film with the fewest spoken words: one.

The end claims it's a true story. I can see that getting a studio to make a silent movie would have been an issue, and I can imagine that the search to get stars to agree to be in it would have been done, but I think it's more about his time before Blazing Saddles, when no studio was interested in his ideas.

Overall: Bits of it have dated, but this is one of the films he'll be remembered for.

If nothing else, it's..

TL;DR Funnier and more innovative than The Artist

Film: 3.5/5
DVD: 2/5


Written by Ian

January 10th, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Posted in Cinema,Countdown,DVDs

Life Stinks (1991) – Mel Brooks countdown #6

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Concept: Be serious for once.

Billionaire developer Mel Brooks owns part of a poor area of a US city. He wants to own the whole it, so he can throw its residents out and make more money from rebuilding it all. His rival developer wants the same.

So they have a bet: if Brooks can survive there with no money for thirty days, he can have it all. If he fails, the rival gets it.

Unsurprising, he doesn't find life with no money easy…

What’s good: The introduction of Brooks' character, establishing how nasty he is at the start, is great.

The argument with 'J Paul Getty' and the love scene.

The message of the film.

What’s not so good: You know what's going to happen at the end from the opening credits onwards, and most of the laughs stop not much later than that.

Music: This was the last time John Morris did a score for him. As with most, it's good without being great.


Overall: I said that Twelve Chairs was his least typical comedy, and this is less typical than that.. because it's not really a comedy.

If you treat it as a drama with some laughs as a bonus, it's fine. Unfortunately, the audience wanted (and still wants, from its IMDb rating) a comedy. It failed badly at the box office.

Once you get over the way that you know what's going to happen and that it's a sanitised version of homelessness, it's very watchable.

TL;DR Brooks last film since the 1970s that you could call 'good'

Film: 3/5
DVD: 2/5


Written by Ian

January 10th, 2013 at 8:29 pm

Posted in Cinema,Countdown,DVDs

The Twelve Chairs (1970) – Mel Brooks countdown #7

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Concept: An adaptation of a satirical novel on Soviet Russia.

Impoverished former aristocrat Ron Moody is called to the deathbed of his mother-in-law. Before she dies, she reveals that the family's fortune in jewels was hidden from the Bolsheviks by being sewn into one of the twelve chairs from the family's dining room set.

Unfortunately for Moody, she has just told this to her priest, Dom DeLuise, and he's already searching for them. Fortunately, Moody meets up with conman Frank Langella and he manages to get DeLuise to go off on a wild goose chase to Siberia.

But it has turned out that the set has been broken up, and they have their own wild goose chases to make…

What’s good: It's a classic plot that has been used many times.

The performances of Moody and, especially, Langella are good.

What’s not so good: For the first time in this countdown, there's nothing bad. But there's also nothing in the comedy that's great either.

Music: John Morris again. Its song 'Hope for the best, expect the worst', written by Brooks, sums up the attitude of the film.

Miscellany: In the original book, when they get to the last chair, the nobleman murders his conman partner in order to avoid having to split the loot.

Despite the success of his other 1970s films, it took many years before this one was shown in UK TV.

Incredibly, this has a lower rating on IMDb than History.

Overall: This is the least typical Brooks comedy and it's suffered because of that. While it's not a classic, and it looks like the people who love the book don't like it, it's better than his later comedies because the characters and story are stronger.

An early post here was on It's a Mad (etc) World and this is like a low budget version of that: the search for the hidden legacy consumes everyone.

TL;DR Brooks' most subtle film

Film: 3/5
DVD: 2/5


Written by Ian

January 8th, 2013 at 11:38 pm

Posted in Cinema,Countdown,DVDs

Spaceballs (1987) – Mel Brooks countdown #8

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Concept: Make fun of Star Wars

A Druish princess – as ever, some of the humour is at that level – escapes from an unwanted marriage and a bounty hunter plus his part-dog accomplice is hired to get her back.

Meanwhile the evil empire is plotting to steal her planet's atmosphere…

What’s good: There are more laughs than in Dracula. I liked Dark Helmet's incompetence, along with the long-suffering Colonel Sandurz, and several good visual jokes.

The non-Star Wars jokes are usually good (being teleported next door or the Alien scene etc), and it breaks the fourth wall nicely several times.

Some of the targets – like the attack on merchandising being more to studios important than the film – are on the right things..

What’s not so good: .. but they're not very well done.

Some of the other jokes also fall very flat. Sorry, having a Winnebago for a spaceship isn't funny. (If you disagree, you'll probably love this film.)

Music: More good work by Brook's favourite composer, John Morris.

Miscellany: As already mentioned, this has been a big hit on video.

Overall: At the time, it was sold as a Star Wars spoof, but coming a decade after the original, it was several years too late.

It's an, at times messy, mix of stuff specific to Star Wars, mostly, and a fairy tale. I think it works better as the latter than the former, but it's not quite enough to have me want to see it again. Apparently, children like it as the fairy tale.

TL;DR Your children will probably like it more than you

Film: 3/5
DVD: 4/5

A look back at the film's history, a look at various mistakes in the film, a 'wasn't John Candy great?' and Brooks and his co-writer talking about how good it all is. There's also a commentary by Brooks, plus trailers etc.

Written by Ian

January 8th, 2013 at 10:36 pm

Posted in Cinema,Countdown,DVDs

Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995) – Mel Brooks countdown #9

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Concept: Be rude about Francis Ford Coppola's version of Dracula

You know the story: a vampire comes to England, and starts biting posh people. Only Professor Van Helsing knows what's happening…

What’s good: The staking scene.. done with blood.

The 'if you want to be a doctor' autopsy scene.. done without blood.

It looks and sounds good, and all the performances are fine, including Leslie Neilsen's accent…

What’s not so good: … but again using him reminds us that he's done much, much better.

Music: It's a fine score, and there are no songs to mess it up.

Miscellany: This is Mel Brooks' last film as a director.

Overall: The basic problem is that, as a comedy, it's not funny enough. The script means there are plenty of smiles, but there are more actual laughs in the opening line of Love at First Bite* than this.

It also doesn't really work as a spoof of any particular film. Why's Nielsen got such silly hair at the start? Because that's what Gary Oldman had. But rewatching the Coppola version (on fast forward, because it's rubbish) there's not much else taken from that film. There could have been a bad acting Harker to mock Keanu Reeves…

On the other hand, it's good as a family version of the Dracula story with added silly bits. For that reason, I rate it above Men in Tights. Not everyone agrees: this has the lowest rating of all his films on IMDb.

TL;DR See Love at First Bite instead

Film: 2.5/5
DVD: 2/5

It depends on which version you get, but my R2 import doesn't have any extras.

* Wolves howl in the distance. Dracula enters and says "Children of the night… shut up!"

Written by Ian

December 6th, 2012 at 8:29 pm

Posted in Cinema,Countdown,DVDs

Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) – Mel Brooks countdown #10

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Concept: Be rude about Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Two years earlier, RHPoT had been a huge success, despite various laughable elements, such as star Kevin Costner's accent and the geography. So why not do a spoof?

What’s good: The Robin Hood vs Little John fight, where the quarterstaffs keep breaking in two.

There are a few smiles, such as the spoof of the Errol Flynn vs Basil Rathbone shadows on the wall, or the Godfather section.

The performances are fine, and as Cary Elwes says at one point, at least he can do an English accent…

What’s not so good: … but his presence reminds us that The Princess Bride is much better than this in every single way.

And Alan Rickman was a funnier Sheriff while still being more evil.

Music: Nowhere near as good as Erich Korngold's score for The Adventures of Robin Hood, but at least it doesn't have (Everything I Do) I Do It For You on the soundtrack.

There's a song about how men wearing tights is not in anyway gay, honest, but it's not funny.

Miscellany: According to the commentary on Spaceballs, that film and this have had by far the best sales on video of any of Mel Brooks' films.

Overall: There's nothing really bad about it, but there's nothing really good about it either.

It's also too specifically rude about one film rather than the whole genre. Patrick Stewart's impression of Sean Connery doing King Richard is going to be bemusing at best if you haven't seen RHPoT.

TL;DR Nowhere near as good as what it's spoofing

Film: 1.5/5
DVD: 2/5

Nothing special, apart from the trailer and a short 'behind the scenes'.

Written by Ian

December 6th, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Cinema,Countdown,DVDs

History of the World: Part I (1981) – Mel Brooks countdown #11

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Concept: Be funny

After a string of critically acclaimed hits through the 1970s, Mel Brooks' next was a collection of historical sketches.

It opens with a 2001-style scene, except here the ape men are masturbating. In the next sketch, the first art critic pees over the first cave painting. It goes downhill from there, and not in a good way.

What’s good: Erm…

Slave Gregory Hines, pouring wine into Madeline Kahn's cup: "Say when.." "Half past eight", comes the reply.

Albert Whitlock's matte paintings.

What’s not so good: Everything else.

Music: John Morris has written some great soundtracks and Mel Brooks has written some great lyrics, but none are in this one.

Miscellany: It made money. It has a surprisingly high rating of 6.7 on IMDb. Both of these are amazing.

As with Monty Python's Life of Brian, this originated as a joke response to the question 'What film are you going to do next?' Spike Milligan appears in both, but only one is any good.

Overall: I remember going to see this at the cinema when it came out, full of anticipation. I'd seen and loved all his previous films, so this was clearly going to be great – look at the cast list!

It wasn't. Seeing again for the first time in over thirty years confirms I was right to hate it the first time.

The problem starts with the script. It's a series of sketches but it's a series of unfunny ones. Comedy had moved on, and as a sketch film, the Kentucky Fried Movie of a few years earlier crapped all over this.

The direction and production aren't much either (the budget was very unevenly spent with some parts clearly not getting any of it, which others got plenty for no effect, and the use of many of the same cast as in the hits remind us that they were better)

Who did all these? Ah, Mel Brooks himself.

TL;DR Mel Brooks' first stinker

Film: 1/5
DVD: 2/5

Trailer (itself desperately unfunny, which should have been a big clue) and nothing else.

Written by Ian

December 4th, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Posted in Cinema,Countdown,DVDs

Mel Brooks countdown

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OK, I still haven't put the Coen Brothers films in order. But when it comes to the films of Mel Brooks, it's easier and not just because there are fewer of them 🙂

Like John Carpenter, the early films include some complete masterpieces, and the later ones some utter disasters.

In 1981, my favourite Carpenter was released. Also coming out that year was…

Written by Ian

December 4th, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Posted in Cinema,Countdown