Before High Anxiety, Mel Brooks starred in and directed Silent Movie (1976). The ultimate silent movie, it’s a silent film about creating a silent film. Aided by his two loyal associates, Dom Bell (Dom DeLuise) and Marty Eggs (Marty Feldman), Mel Funn (Mel Brooks) takes a silent film script to Hollywood, where he was once revered. The studio has just received word that the treacherous Engulf and Devour plan to take over their studio. Mel Funn declares that his silent film will save the studio, and he sets off to find big stars for the film (including Burt Reynolds, Liza Minnelli, and Paul Newman).
Engulf and Devour try desperately to stop them, but they could have spared themselves the trouble. Bell, Eggs, and Funn wreak havoc on all of their stars perfectly well on their own, and the stars still agree to participate in the film. Engulf and Devour hire seductress Vilma Kaplan (Bernadette Peters) to distract Funn from his mission, but as a matter of course, she falls in love with the director/recovering alcoholic for real.
The comedy is brilliantly, ridiculously slapstick, true to a Mel Brooks film. To make this film special, they perform variations of the traditional gags of the master comedians (think Buster Keaton, who was Marty Feldman’s idol), and speed up the film to mimic the early rapid, jerky frames in addition to showing frantic behavior. Then there’s the comedy hallmarks that make a Mel Brooks film: irony, quotes, and absurdity. A few of my favorite examples:
Quoting his own plot: Distracting seductive lounge singer–Blazing Saddles (1974), anyone? Not to mention, her routines are just bizarre …
Marty Feldman: physical comedy, can’t catch a break, and awkward, unspoken dialogue. I love Marty Feldman. You may know him as Igor in Young Frankenstein (1974). He is a great character with odd quirks as a “mild-mannered pervert,” wearing a fighter pilot’s cap even with formal wear, and always hopping out of the convertible to open the door for Bell, even though Marty sits in the middle. Watch Marty- he has a lot of little behaviors in big scenes that are hilarious. Details, details, details.
Hiring Bernadette Peters to be the musical star in a silent film: Just in case you aren’t familiar with her, she’s well-known for her musical talent as well as acting, and has spent a lot of time on Broadway as well as film.
Mime Marcel Marceau having one of almost the only sounds: they call a mime on the phone (ha ha), and he answers his resounding “non/no” to being in the film, which is funny, because he’s in the film …
While I wouldn’t call this my favourite Mel Brooks piece, it’s definitely funny and worth a watch if you haven’t seen it. Being silent, it doesn’t work at all if you multitask during the movie (a habit I tend to have), so watch it when you have time to actually sit down and watch it. I recommend lemonade and some sort of light finger food with this one–perhaps peanut butter and jelly cut into fourths.
This post is the second entry in Carrie’s ongoing tribute to the filmography of Mel Brooks. You can find more entries in that series here.