“Our Hitler” is a flower-power groovechild with a Mein Kampf written on the barricades of consciousness, he’s financed by a lot of little old ladies without their knowledge for the sake of the Golden Age, Bialystock’s idea being to shock the audience into making him a rich man again.
Hitler makes a swinging impression as he goes with the flow, the audience is convulsed with joy, Bialystock is ruined.
A very literate screenplay marvelously turned as on a lathe, a completely devastating satire perfectly filmed, the business end of the counterculture.
Springtime for Hitler was the original title, the producers objected, hence the new title, so the story goes.
the Twelve Chairs
A museum piece, a tale that is told, and this is your life.
The Soviet Union in 1927, with the Church in the wilderness.
It resolves on the point of genius in a Dostoievsky versus a charitable consideration of his malady.
The freest and maddest of Brooks’ films, in view of the absolute position.
The film is famously summarized in the three-part conclusion as “The French Mistake” (the town overrun), the commissary pie fight (the town fights back), the shootout at Grauman’s Chinese (end of Hedley Lamarr).
Another main structural consideration is the story told by the Waco Kid, answered by Black Bart’s, they ride off into the sunset by limousine, at the last.
Isolated against “morons”, whose destruction is sought by the State Procurer, a stand is made, invoking the name of Randolph Scott, the adversary is strictly from quicksand.
The tollbooth and the replica town are the box office and Blazing Saddles.
This is the war, of course, in two parts (1914-45), the second defined by the Axis phrase, “decadent democracy”, a land grab means lebensraum.
No punches are held, neither Mongo (“Santa Maria!”) nor The Teutonic Titwillow avails the assassin of Rock Ridge, internal dissension and an army of badmen are his only hope.
Vincent Canby was unimpressed, “wanting it to be funnier than it was... insulting... rude... in bad taste... no real center of gravity... with his talent he should do much better” (New York Times).
“Spoofs oldtime westerns” (Variety).
“Its structure is a total mess... the story line... is pretty shaky” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, in otherwise a rave review).
At Edinburgh U., “the finest Mel Brooks film”, alternatively “one of the all-time greats.”
Time Out Film Guide finds, once again, a curate’s egg, so does Halliwell’s Film Guide (which cites Judith Crist, “a surfeit of chaos and a scarcity of comedy”).
The American neurologist Dr. F. Frankenstein, first seen lecturing a college class, is summoned back to Transylvania and resumes his grandfather’s work.
The upsetment of several apple-carts was meant and overlooked in the Variety and New York Times reviews (“reverently satirical”, “satirically reverent”), which didn’t find the film a consistent producer of belly-laughs.
Creature and creator have an uneasy footing to get off on, Dr. F. is thrilled but appalled by his “gorilla” with an abnormal brain, finally he babies it and gives it a spot in the show at a scientific gathering out of King Kong.
The restless joke is on the James Whale original and derived from the final implications of its sequel, The Bride of Frankenstein. Brooks’ creature sits down on the imperious girl’s teeter and her totter flies up, hurling her through the air and safely into bed (her parents were looking for her).
Frosty Elizabeth gets a lesson in manners, and later a dutiful, reliable husband. Inga the laboratory assistant also learns, thanks to Frankenstein’s generosity toward the creature, the rewards of scientific inquiry.
“The gleamingly reminiscent photography is the best of it,” says Halliwell’s Film Guide, which rarely tricks a miss. Ebert, for once, had a glimmer of it, this masterwork for madmen and artists.
This is the most intricate and articulated of Brooks’ films before History of the World: Part I, owing to a complicated structure that nevertheless resolves along the lines of Young Frankenstein, in favor of the work.
The six stars signed to Mel Funn’s silent movie are Burt Reynolds (Beverly Hills mansion, vain, sudsed by Funn-Eggs-Bell, divided from Funn by a road mender), James Caan (a delicately balanced boxer), Liza Minnelli (a gemütlich dame besieged by men in armor), Anne Bancroft with four Latin lovers brought into the act at a nightclub, Marcel Marceau fighting the wind in Paris (he says “Non!”), and Paul Newman with protruding broken leg on a motorized wheelchair pursued across hospital grounds.
The villain is Engulf & Devour, a partnership (1 Conglomerate Plaza, New York) out to engulf and devour Big Pictures Studios, suffering from profit loss.
The side material includes Harry Ritz buying a Paris Tailors suit off the demonstration dummy, and two dogs muddled at a Greater Los Angeles park, one a seeing-eye dog, the other not.
The opening gag (involving an airplane, and foretelling Airplane!) is expanded from Renoir and Allen. On the ground, where a mysterious woman and man beset him at first, Dr. Thorndyke is mysteriously photographed by his driver, Brophy (who turns out to be merely a shutterbug), and throws himself into a model’s poses. “What a dramatic airport,” he says. Brophy offers to help with the luggage, “I got it! I got it! I got it! I ain’t got it!” Thorndyke does it himself. “You got it! You got it!”, Brophy kibitzes.
The staff of The Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous (from Spellbound and My Favorite Brunette and The Cobweb) are at dinner, the camera slowly tracks in from outside and smashes one of the glass doors. They all stare as the camera sheepishly tracks out.
This might be a Your Show of Shows sketch with Caesar, Reiner, Coca and Morris. Dr. Montague capers down the stairs and into his seat, unfurls his napkin with a zesty flair and finds nothing on his plate, because Nurse Diesel’s dictum is “those who are tardy do not get fruit cup.” Later they sport in her room, when he complains of her roughness she rebukes him, “I know you better than you know yourself. You live for bondage and discipline!” He protests, “Too much bondage! Too much bondage! Not enough discipline!”
Thorndyke’s rationality (Johns Hopkins graduate, Harvard professor, Nobel Prize winner) is a calm and therapeutic relief from the regimen at the Institute, where a patient is described among doctors as “a living Looney Tune”.
When Montague learns that Thorndyke suffers from “high anxiety” (i.e., acrophobia), he turns his face away and sputters with glee. The Institute thrives by giving wealthy patients the Gaslight treatment and institutionalizing them. When Thorndyke investigates the case of Arthur Brisbane, another patient is substituted who thinks he’s a dog (a brilliant impression by Charlie Callas). Thorndyke wonders how such a wreck could have signaled him earlier. “Well,” says Montague, “cockers are very bright, you know.”
Wentworth, a staff doctor who wants out, is killed while driving his car on a rainy night not by cutting his brakes but by jamming his radio on loud screaming rock music. John Portman’s San Francisco Hyatt Regency (“Wow, talk about modren! [sic]” says Brophy) sets up the precision of a North by Northwest parody. Jack Riley as the desk clerk summons Barry Levinson as the bellboy twice with Jack Benny’s lilting “Oh, Dennis!” A painstaking re-creation of the shower scene in Psycho has Dennis repeatedly stab Thorndyke with the rolled-up newspaper he’d insisted on having brought up to his top-floor room. “Here,” Dennis shrieks, “here, here’s your paper! Happy now? Happy now? Happy?”
Madeline Kahn is brought on as Brisbane’s daughter Victoria in a parody of The 39 Steps. She resembles Lee Purcell (or possibly Ali McGraw) in a long blonde wig, as an ingénue of a type now familiar. Thorndyke is incredulous. “You’re the cocker’s daughter?”
The sublimely Marxian psychiatric seminar (Thorndyke’s middle name is Harpo) has children unexpectedly present, obliging the speaker to take questions euphemistically, “Number one, or cockydoody?” The hit man, Braces, is a parody of Bond’s nemesis, Jaws.
“High Ang! Xi-ety!” is the way Mel Brooks sings the title song in B-flat around a piano bar, a stunning spoof of Frank Sinatra. “Key change! Hey! Xi-ety!” Afterward he explains to Victoria why he never sang professionally, “The big bucks are in psychiatry.”
A complicated little tour de force involving Cloris Leachman, Harvey Korman, a glass coffee table, a silver tea set and the camera, could be a parody of Sidney J. Furie’s high style.
Brophy’s admiration for Portman’s inestimable architecture is unbounded, “Boy, this joint is really LUXUROUS! [sic]” Brooks sets up a long shot in the Hitchcock manner for the murder scene on the ground floor. Braces puts the pistol in Thorndyke’s hand, who walks through the atrium with it saying, “What does this mean? What does this mean?”
He flees to a park, where pigeons gather, then flees to a shed amidst the flock showering him with cockydoody. Victoria eventually arrives in her Louis Vuitton Cadillac and one-piece pantsuit. Brophy’s hobby comes in handy for a parody of Blowup.
Montague has an idea, but Nurse Diesel shoots it down with a phrase that’s now common, “It sucks.” Braces gets the word he can kill the good doctor, and despite his chronically blocked nasal passages he feels ecstatic, “Life is good!”
Disguised as, to use Alan King’s phrase, “old Jews” from the Salvation Army (Life Stinks), Thorndyke and Victoria try to pass through airport security, but he has the pistol tucked into his waistband. “Is this a game show? What did I win, a Pinto?” No, he beeped. “I beeped! Take me away! Put me in irons! Take me back to Russia! I beeped! The mad beeper is loose!”
A fabulous tower is devised for the Vertigo scene, where a Jerry Lewis flashback is introduced as a deus ex machina (it shows an infant Thorndyke falling out of his high chair during his parents’ quarrel). “I understand now,” he says while hanging by a finger, “it’s not height I’m afraid of, it’s parents!”
At the top, Nurse Diesel lunges at him with a broom, goes over the side, and rides it laughing all the way down.
On their wedding night, Victoria and Thorndyke are interrupted when the camera dollies out through the wall, while the crew hopes audibly that “nobody’ll notice.” The heart-shaped pool and vertical sign are the punchline.
The functionality of the script is revealed even in two non-canonical jokes, Dr. Thorndyke’s repeated phrase, “forgive me for prying,” with its echoes of Wild Strawberries, and the Blowup sequence, in which the tiny figure of Thorndyke in the hotel elevator remains tiny as the picture is enlarged, preparing the etiology of his high anxiety, which is of course reflected in the bondage and discipline of Nurse Diesel and Dr. Montague, as well as the airport disguises, etc.
History of the World: Part I
“Okay, faggot, what’s next?”
The film is structurally organized in four main parts, the two outer ones are closely related (the Stone Age critic’s piss, Count de Monet’s), the inner ones as well (Empress Nympho and the nuns), but all four are interrelated.
The first transition sequence (Moses) prepares the second (a centerpiece of the Last Supper). The later appearance of Moses robbed parting the waters carries forward the image of Jesus Emmanuel to the falsity of the Spanish Inquisition.
The prologue of wanking apes explains the trilogy of coming attractions in the epilogue.
Alphaville, Androcles and the Lion, The Devils, and The Birdman of Alcatraz are among the rarer tributes and borrowings (Russell repays Brooks in Salome’s Last Dance).
Spaceballs, mainly Assholes, from the planet Spaceball (capital Spaceball City) have squandered the air and scheme to extort ten thousand years’ worth from the planet Druidia by kidnapping Princess Vespa. Lone Starr and Barf to the rescue, in consideration of a debt owed to Pizza the Hutt (“you’re delicious,” says Vinnie).
The principal consideration is nonetheless a lineup of products bearing the Spaceballs name. These include a flame thrower (“the kids love this one”) and the Spaceballs action figures with which Dark Helmet enacts his private drama.
This is the central dramatic point, the rest of the film as explained is as nugatory as Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc around the bee-stung bull (films of the future will reach the home market before they are finished), “bupkis”, as Yogurt explains, a figure out of The Wizard of Oz.
“Nice dissolve,” Barf observes.
The function is to unsuck all the resources and cause the Spaceballs’ transformer-spaceship (“Megamaid”) to self-destruct.
The third and final structural point conflates Young Frankenstein and Alien (dir. Ridley Scott).
“Pew, pew,” says a sound effect accompanying the theme.
“Gentle, harmless satire” (Janet Maslin, New York Times). “A misguided parody” (Variety). “I did laugh” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times).
“A frigment [sic] of my imagination,” Downtown Los Angeles.
A film of the highest poetry, worthy of its subject, worthy of Chaplin and Capra and Preston Sturges.
“Where else but in America could a poor deprived boy from this very same neighborhood return one day to destroy it?”
Crasswell City, achieved by bluff and fraud, not to mention “just a shitload of money” in bribes, or nearly.
Janet Maslin (New York Times) reviewed it with disdain, finding not “much in the way of surprise or grace” (nothing in the way, as W.C. Fields would say, go ahead).
Ebert mentions Sullivan’s Travels, also “warm and poignant” (Chicago Sun-Times). “Brother, does it ever,” said Hal Hinson of the Washington Post, “the movie, that is.” Marjorie Baumgarten of the Austin Chronicle had to agree with that. Time Out Film Guide was roused to write, “extremely uneven.”
Men in Tights
This is to some extent, as the opening credits show, a return to the problem of Spaceballs.
From Jersey, Don Giovanni with a plan, the archery contest. One man at the Royal Folio Depository, tongueless.
“The old man is Loxley.”
“Are you sure? It looks like Mark Twain.”
At 12th Century-Fox, you don’t fax the villagers.
The hangman from Blazing Saddles is back (“hey, abbot!”).
The New Latin, Sheriff Mervin of Rottingham (beloved of Latrine).
Rabbi Tuckman the guillotining moyl, “special offer—half off!”
“King Richard, back from the Crusades!”
Sir Robin. A new black sheriff.
Vincent Canby of the New York Times mentioned “the Brooks chutzpah.” Desson Howe (Washington Post) said, “funnier than Life Stinks... also funnier than The Sorrow and the Pity.” His colleague on the paper, Rita Kempley, pronounced it “about as funny as a butt-load of boils.” Robert Faires of the Austin Chronicle lectured against having your head “in your BVDs.” Time Out Film Guide, “cannot unfortunately save the day.”
Dead and Loving It
The title is a shaft from the director’s own Get Smart.
A salient point is the authenticity of the Dracula legend given here. On the voyage to England, Count Dracula’s coffin slides about in the hold like the furniture in Royal Wedding, and Renfield denies snapping up beetles and grasshoppers (with one still twitching in his mouth) at Dr. Seward’s luncheon table (“give him an enema”), but no detail is omitted.
This is what fractured the critics’ poor brains. Not a spoof? What the hell then?
Peter MacNicol begins as an English solicitor abroad, and passes (by way of Stan Laurel) into Klaus Kinski. Harvey Korman luxuriates in Dr. Seward as H.G. Wells played by Nigel Bruce (“absolutely bee-zah”). Leslie Nielsen’s Lugosi is frankly superb, the girls are exquisite, Steven Weber is a perfect Jonathan Harker, etc.
It begins with a raft of images taken from engravings and paintings (Doré, Goya, Fuseli, et al.) giving the seriousness of purpose, and ends the way every Dracula ends, with a hint of immortality.
The most famous joke (viz., the one even critics could understand) has Van Helsing in Dr. Seward’s library asking for one book after another on the subject of vampires, but “we don’t have that” he’s told each time. Finally, he asks, “Do you have Nosferatu?” “Yes,” Dr. Seward exclaims, “we have Nosferatu! We have Nosferatu today! It just came in the post!”
Another beautiful setup, Van Helsing wants to know if the Count is related to Vlad the Impaler, who got his name from his penchant for mistreating the peasants and even impaling them on stakes. Count Dracula says in reply, “they had it coming!”
Brooks’ very first appearance as Van Helsing has him giving an autopsy lecture at the London Hospital, “this is where we separate the future physicians from the ones who just wanna play doctor!” One by one his students faint (the last requires a special effort) and he congratulates himself, “ten out of ten!” The joke is well-studied from the opening credits of Quincy, M.E.