Mel Brooks is a former stand-up comic who, together with Woody Allen and Bill Cosby, set the stage in the 1960s for the entire postburlesque, TV generation of comedians. Allen was personal and self-deprecating, Cosby eschewed shtick in favor of witty commentary, and Brooks — often working with Carl Reiner — embraced the craziness at the root of all ethnic burlesque and reshaped it for decades to come.
Brooks graduated from 1950s TV writer (Sid Caesar’s YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS) to successful 1960s series creator (GET SMART!) before breaking into features with THE PRODUCERS (1968), which set the zany, comedic tone of all his subsequent films and brought him an Oscar for the screenplay. His two greatest commercial successes, BLAZING SADDLES and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (both 1974), were broad send-ups of the Western and horror genres, respectively. As with other comedy performers who also made their own films — Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, Tati, Allen — the persona was more important than the filmmaking regardless of its degree of sophistication and expressiveness.
In 1979, Brooks formed his production company, BrooksFilms, Ltd., which has been responsible for such diverse works as David Lynch’s THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980), Graeme Clifford’s FRANCES (1982), Freddie Francis’ THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS (1985), David Jones’ 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD, and David Cronenberg’s THE FLY (both 1986).
HIGH ANXIETY (1977), an engaging if imprecise homage to Hitchcockian thrillers, was his last largely acceptable film. Since the early ’80s, Brooks’ track record as a writer-director has been less distinguished than his work as an executive producer. There has been a marked and depressing decline in quality, freshness, and relevance in his films. HISTORY OF THE WORLD PART I (1981), a scattershot parody of overblown historical epics, had some undeniably funny gags and sequences, but these were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of comic misfires and relentless scatological material. Six years elapsed before the release of the regrettable SPACEBALLS (1987), a small-minded and uninspired spoof of the STAR WARS films. Obviously not a labor of love, SPACEBALLS felt like a desperate attempt to connect with the youthful audience he no longer understood. Brooks aimed higher with his next feature, LIFE STINKS (1991), an admirable if wildly uneven attempt to tackle homelessness in a satirical format. The film, however, died at the box office.
Brooks returned to the familiar ground of movie parody with ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS (1993), starring Cary Elwes and Richard Lewis. In the film’s press kit, Brooks stated, “I think you must have affection for whatever you tease. I love Westerns. I love monster movies. And I love the story of Robin Hood.” While certainly not in the league of BLAZING SADDLES and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, this spoof was buoyed somewhat by this good-natured approach. Reviewers, however, thought otherwise, as apparently did the public.
- "All American"
- Lee Adams
Source: Excerpted from Baseline. BaselineStudioSystems — A Hollywood Media Corp. Company.
Photo credits: Photofest and Paul Kolnik