Closer Course

After toiling in the mines of live television, Mel Brooks brought his talents to celluloid. This comedy genius made it big with a string of movies that are both funny and classic. From Zero Mostel bedding grannies to Gene Wilder robbing frontier towns, this director is one of the funniest of all time. His first movie to reach the top 10, Blazing Saddles has by far the sharpest satirical bite of any of his work.

1. Silent Movie (1976)

Silent Movie is the first film that solidified Mel Brooks’ reputation as one of cinema’s great comedic auteurs. This satire is about a Broadway producer (Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder) trying to make the worst play of all time in order to keep his company afloat. It’s a hilarious premise that makes for some earth-splitting laughs.

Keeping in the vein of skewering modern day Hollywood, the movie features some fantastic cameos from silver screen stars like Burt Reynolds, James Caan and Paul Newman. And if that wasn’t enough, the solarmovie film is also home to a hilariously over the top performance from legendary Borscht Belt comedian Henny Youngman. Brooks would go on to direct more movies like this in the future. A must-see for any fan of comedy. Or just a fan of movies in general. This is a true classic.

2. High Anxiety (1977)

Getting his start as a writer for the TV series Get Smart, Brooks adapted this over-the-top sketch-based comedy about a washed-up film director and his strange friends in their attempt to make the first silent movie in forty years. With sight gags and a cast led by Sid Caesar (who has one of the most memorable roles of his career), High Anxiety marks the beginning of Brooks’ penchant for skewering genre films.

While it’s an important film in his body of work, it’s not as successful as his later farces. Nevertheless, it showcases his talent for creating characters that are both funny and human. He also shows his knack for parodying genres with this satire of Freudian therapy and Alfred Hitchcock movies, aided by an impressive cast that includes Cloris Leachman, Harvey Korman and Madeline Kahn.

3. History of the World Part I (1981)

After the double-punch of Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, Brooks was handed what he called a blank check — a once-in-a-career opportunity to make whatever he wanted. Unfortunately, he used it to make Silent Movie, which is a hilarious silent comedy that uses sight gags and physical work for its humor.

It’s not his best film, but it is a fun one, with Gene Wilder stealing the show as a man who is reborn as a space pilot named Frederick Fronkensteen. While it doesn’t have the anything-goes bravado of Blazing Saddles, this is a fine comic entry into the Universal horror-inspired sci-fi genre.

4. Spaceballs (1987)

On paper, a Mel Brooks film spoofing Dracula and starring Leslie Nielsen as the vampire lord and Cary Elwes as Van Helsing would be a comedy fan’s dream. However, sadly, the finished result is a painfully unfunny mess.

The script doesn’t quite have the wit of Young Frankenstein and the gags fall flat more often than not. Still, it’s a great vehicle for Gene Wilder and provides an opportunity for Brooks to showcase his trademark visual style.

It’s not a perfect movie, but the concept is a lot of fun and there are some great gags. Plus, it’s the first time that Brooks had a massive budget which allowed him to make Lucas-sized gags. Hence, the big star cruiser and all the pratfalls that would have Buster Keaton smiling. It’s an acquired taste, but if you like it, this one is well worth watching.

5. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

Errol Flynn sets the standard for swashbuckling charm that has not been surpassed in our more cynical times. The movie is campy, yet it has a true gung-ho sense of adventure that makes it fun for all.

Brooks’ trademark humor is evident throughout & his character’s tussle with Claude Rains as Guy of Gisborne is one of the great cinematic sword fights. Other highlights include a delightful performance by Richard Hearne as an eccentric old lady, Frances Rowe as Maid Marian & Reg Varney as a menacing Friar Tuck.

The film’s only weaknesses are Costner as a dandified dufus of a Robin and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as a pretty but vacuous Maid Marian. Brooks’ spoof Robin Hood: Men In Tights, released two years later, perfectly mocks this one-of-a-kind movie.

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