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 reviewed recently, Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.

1. They 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) 


2. Both are absolutely hilarious

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 the great Sid Caesar. 

Then, after a brief layover in Old Testament times, where Moses (Brooks himself) delivers God’s fifteen… er, make that Ten Commandments to the masses, the film journeys to Imperial Rome, which is under the rule of a slovenly Emperor (Dom DeLuise). 

It’s here that we’re introduced to Comicus (Brooks again), a stand-up philosopher (read “Bullshit Artist”) who has 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 by the Emperor’s Praetorian Guard, and must join forces with an Ethiopian slave named Josephus (Gregory Hines), who is also on the run. 

History of the World: Part 1 then treats us to a musical interpretation of the Spanish Inquisition before whisking us off to 18th century France, where King Louis XVI (Brooks... yet again) is in danger of losing his crown - as well as his head - to an angry mob of peasants.

History of the World: Part 1 even takes a moment to drop in on the Last Supper, with Jesus (John Hurt) delivering his message to the apostles, then pausing to give artist Leonardo Da Vinci (Art Metrano) a chance to paint this monumental event.

Having already taken on a number of genres (westerns, horror, silent movies, and even Alfred Hitchcock), History of the World: Part 1 sees Brooks spoofing the epics of the ‘50s and ‘60s, movies like The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur and The Fall of the Roman Empire

The humor is often crude (the opening shot features early man standing upright for the first time, then proceeding to jerk off), yet even the film's occasional lapses into bad taste are 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 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). 

Yet the most memorable of the supporting characters is Hines’ Josephus, who has a number of great scenes (my favorite being the one where he’s 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 1981, a time when I was certainly too young to be seeing it. Being only 11 years old, I could tell it was a funny movie, but, admittedly, some of the jokes went right over my head. 

Well, I get them all now, which makes the movie funnier than it's ever been!

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.