Wednesday, December 26, 2012

#863. History of the World: Part 1 (1981)

Directed By: Mel Brooks

Starring: Mel Brooks, Gregory Hines, Dom DeLuise

Tag line: "IN MEL WE TRVST"

Trivia: Richard Pryor was originally cast but had to pull out of the picture

Mel Brooks’ History of the World: Part 1 has a few things in common with another movie I watched recently, Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, namely: 1. Both are ‘80s comedies that never deliver on their title’s lofty promise (this is no more a “history of the world” than the Python’s outing was a dissertation on the greater purpose of life), and 2. They are both incredibly funny films.

While not an extensive journey through the history of civilization, History of the World: Part 1 does touch on several high points, starting with a trip back to the days of the Neanderthals, where we follow the exploits of a caveman played by Sid Caesar. Then, after a brief layover in Old Testament times, watching as Moses (Brooks himself) delivers God’s fifteen… er, make that Ten Commandments to the masses, the film whisks us away to Imperial Rome, which is under the rule of the slovenly Emperor Nero (Dom DeLuise). It’s here we’re introduced to Comicus (Brooks again), a stand-up philosopher (read “Bullshit Artist”) who’s been invited to perform at the palace. Unfortunately, his act doesn’t go over too well, and before he knows what’s hit him, Comicus is being hunted down by Nero’s Praetorian Guard, and has joined forces with an Ethiopian slave named Josephus (Gregory Hines), who’s also on the run for his life. We’re then treated to a musical interpretation of the Spanish Inquisition before heading off to 18th century France, where King Louis XVI (Brooks, yet again) is in danger of losing his crown, as well as his life, to an angry mob of peasants. History of the World: Part 1 even drops in on the Last Supper, with Jesus (John Hurt) delivering his message to the apostles, then pausing to allow artist Leonardo Da Vinci (Art Metrano) to paint this most auspicious event.

Having already taken on a number of genres (westerns, horror, silent movies, and even Alfred Hitchcock), History of the World: Part 1 is clearly Brooks’ spoof of the epics of the ‘50s and ‘60s, such as The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur and The Fall of the Roman Empire. The humor is often crude (the opening shot of the film shows early man standing upright for the first time, then proceeding to jerk off), yet even the occasional lapse into bad taste is hilarious, like the way Brooks portrays King Louis XVI as if he were a sexual deviant (“It’s good to be the King!”). Many of the writer / director’s normal stock players are on-hand, including DeLuise, Caesar, Madeline Kahn (as the oversexed Empress Nympho), Harvey Korman (as the French Aristocrat, the Count de Monet, a name every bit as confusing as his Hedley Lamaar’s was in Blazing Saddles) and Cloris Leachman (as a rather disgusting French peasant). But the most memorable of the supporting characters is Hines’ Josephus, who’s given a number of great scenes (my favorite being the one where he’s trying to evade capture by pretending to be a Eunuch). Surrounded by comedy legends, Hines manages to outshine them all on several occasions.

I saw History of the World: Part 1 when it was first released to theaters in ‘81, and was almost certainly too young to be seeing it. Being only 11 years old at the time, I knew it was a funny movie, but, admittedly, some of the jokes went right over my head. Well, I get them all now, and it’s even better than I remember!

So, when do you think Mel will be making Part 2?


fred said...

Dave, have you seen Mel Brooks Strikes Back? It's on HBO now. I've watched it 2x so far...

Anonymous said...

I'm still hoping for Part 2 before I become a Senior citizen. Good review!

DVD Infatuation said...

Hello, and thanks to you both for the comments!

Fred: Hello, sir! how are you? I haven't seen that yet, but I really want to now! I've been a Brooks fan ever since this movie came out in '81. Hope all is well with you, and I wish you and your family a Happy New Year!

vicsmovieden: Thanks for the kind words, and I'm with you... I'd love to see a new one!

Barry P. said...

I remember seeing this in the theater when it came out, as well, so I guess it dates us both. I've been on a Mel Brooks kick lately, so I I think it's about time to revisit this.