MEL BROOKS FILMS: BEST TO WORSTI agree with the general consensus that Mel Brooks best films are 'The Producers' (1968), 'Blazing Saddles' and 'Young Frankenstein' (1974), they're certainly his most popular and definitely his funniest.
I also really enjoy Brooks more dramatic and sentimental films like 'The Twelve Chairs' about a pair of displaced Russians who share pure avarice, sweet camaraderie and are both desperate to find a fortune that's been hidden in a lost antique chair.
I'd also put Brooks' 'To Be Or Not To Be' in this category. Starring Mel Brooks and his real life wife Anne Bancroft as a pair of Polish Theater Troupe performers on the eve of the Nazi invasion. There's lots of mistaken identities and improvising to try and save the Polish Underground and their marriage.
If I'm listing which Mel Brooks movies I like most to least, next I'd put a couple of Mel Brooks parody films 'Silent Movie' and 'High Anxiety', satires of silent movies (imagine that) and Hitchcock films.
Both are fun comedies with some truly inspired gags but that's really all there is to them because that's all they have to say, they aren't trying to be souldul and reflective, they're simply funny, unlike the two I mentioned above which are still very funny but also have something to say about real people and the humor of the human condition.
I'd put 'History of the World Part I' and 'Spaceballs' in the middle of my Brooks-o-meter. These two both have a decent share of laughs but not enough consistently to sustain the movie. 'History' has an extremely weak thread of a story to hang it's gags on and 'Spaceballs' is a pretty uninspired Star Wars parody. Brooks himself said it's the one genre he parodied he probably didn't have enough respect for to effectively satirize. Not to mention, even back then, Star Wars parodies were completely worn out.
I like 'Life Stinks' less than the last two I mentioned, like I said I'm working my way from best to worst. I feel bad for Life Stinks, I think this was Mels attempt make a film that evokes pathos from us the way '12 Chairs' and 'To Be Or Not To Be' did. He was also probably tired of growing criticism of his movie parodies. The movie is an original story by Brooks about a rich man who finds himself penniless in an urban ghetto and can't figure out who to make a buck. Unfortunately the movie feels a lot like flat soda tastes.
The Two Brooks films I haven't seen and choose not to are 'Robin Hood Men in Tights' and 'Dracula Dead and Loving It'. Poor Mel couldn't catch a break at this point in his career. His attempt to do a heartwarming non-parody movie 'Life Stinks' didn't work, so he went back to what he thought was his winning formula. Unfortunately Robin Hood and Dracula were just more big all-too-obvious targets for parody and couldn't sustain themselves on Brooks thinning material. These, unfortunately, were Brooks last movies. Dracula was the last nail in the coffin.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED FROM BROOKS
Brooks best films are built around ingeniously funny premises, while his lesser films are merely parodies of big, obvious targets. Yes, Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles are satires of two well-known and portentous film genres and their conventions but there's more to them than just that. They have something beneath the run of the mil comedy-western or horror film pastiche, they have funny concepts.
- Young Frankenstein premise: The great grandson of the original doctor Frankenstein is ashamed of his mad families experiments and wants nothing to do with those wackos. He insists his name is pronounced "Fronk-en-steen"
- Blazing Saddles premise: set in the 1800s, the white, God-fearing citizens of an old western town are shocked to discover their newly appointed sheriff is a black man.
- And perhaps the best of all, The Producers premise; Two scheming Broadway producers want to produce a sure-fire Broadway flop in order to embezzle investors money. They chose the worst play they can find, entitled 'Springtime for Hitler'.
The Inquisition song is hilarious and Brooks has his brand of humor all over the lyrics but it isn't nearly as strong as Springtime for Hitler because there is no situation built around it. It's just a bunch of chorus-line monks and swimsuit nuns. They're funny but there's nothing else to it. We laugh much harder at Springtime for Hitler because of the glee the Producers take in their vulgarity, we laugh at the neo-nazi who wrote the song welling up with tears of joy at the spectacle and we laugh especially the silent horror on the audiences faces.
To round out the post here's a few bona fide Brooks Clips...
Since the the slow, painful death of his theatrical film career Mel has gone on to produce Broadway shows of some of his better works, including a wildly successful musical stage adaption of the Producers which itself became a movie (not directed by Brooks) soon after.
And these days he does a lot of interviews since he's mostly retired and new projects seem ever less likely. Here's Mel on Conan O'Brien divulging some sundry secrets of 'Blazing Saddles'
Try this clip from Mel Brooks and Carl Reiners famous 2000 Year Old Man Sketch. A sketch Edward G Robinson told them could sell millions on record.
And here's Mel doing a brilliant bit of improvisation as an
I mentioned in a post recently how much I'd like to own a copy of the original theatrical poster of Young Frankenstein. Well, it's just arrived and it really brings my bedroom wall to life, so to speak.