Pop 5: Mel Brooks Movies

bill bodkin looks at five of his favorite mel brooks films…

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Mel Brooks is one of America’s true pieces of comedic gold. His work starting with the 2,000 Year Old Man to his last (acceptable) film Robin Hood: Men in Tights, has influenced not only generations of Hollywood creatives but also made generations of people literally double over in their seats, roll on the floor and cry with laughter.

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Personally, Mel Brooks was my introduction to modern comedy. I had been raised on a strict diet of The Three Stooges, Abbott & Costello and Laurel & Hardy shorts that aired in syndication on FOX, TBS and AMC when I was a wee lad. Then when I entered my tween years, WPIX Channel 11 aired a weeklong Mel Brooks marathon. My dad, a devout Brooks fan, sat me down in front of the TV as if he were passing the torch of comedy down to me.

My first Mel Brooks film? The amazing Blazing Saddles. The first line that got me? Slim Pickens exclamation of “What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here?” I was immediately hooked — I got that joke and I was only 12. Then came the campfire scene — one of the most famous instances of potty humor ever caught on film. I can remember my dad loosing his breath laughing so hard, tears in his eyes, every single time this scene came on TV.

So, when HBO announced they were airing a one hour special dubbed Mel Brooks Strikes Back! I made it a priority to be parked on my couch to catch every second of it. Sadly, the special was a poor homage to a man who’s career was so influential to so many. It spent more time on his early childhood days than going in-depth about his career as an actor, director and producer or even about his famed marriage to legendary actress Ann Bancroft.

So in my own way I’d like to pay homage to a man that taught me how to laugh, who taught me how intelligent and low brow humor can exist in the same film and a man who brought father and son to their knees with tears in their eyes as their sides split with uncontrollable laughter.

[Also don’t forget to check out our interview with Mel’s son, Max Brooks, author of The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z.]

#5: Robin Hood: Men in Tights
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Starring: Cary Elwes, Amy Yasbeck, Dave Chapelle, Richard Lewis, Roger Rees, Tracey Ullman
Release Date: 1993
The Gut Busting Moment: The famed “Men in Tights” song and chorus line
The Best Line:
Prince John: Such an unusual name, “Latrine.” How did your family come by it?
Latrine: We changed it in the 9th century.
Prince John: You mean you changed it TO “Latrine”?
Latrine: Yeah. Used to be “Shithouse.”
Prince John: It’s a good change. That’s a good change!
Why Is It On the List: After catching the WPIX Mel Brooks marathon, Robin Hood: Men in Tights was the first unedited Brooks comedy I ever saw. Seeing Brooks with the gloves off for the first time was eye-opening as his humor can get tastefully risque. Cary Elwes absolutely steals this movie as the charmingly smug and sometimes clumsy Robin of Loxley. Also, it’s a bit of a kick to see Dave Chapelle in his earliest screen roles. Roger Rees and Richard Lewis are also wonderful as the film’s villains.

#4: History of the World: Part 1
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Starring: Mel Brooks, Ron Carey, Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn, Gregory Hines, Harvey Korman
Release Date: 1981
The Gut Busting Moment: The Inquisition dance number was probably one of the most absurd parts to a delightfully absurd movies.
The Best Line:
Dole Office Clerk: Occupation?
Comicus: Stand-up philosopher.
Dole Office Clerk: What?
Comicus: Stand-up philosopher. I coalesce the vapors of human experience into a viable and meaningful comprehension.
Dole Office Clerk: Oh, a *bullshit* artist!
Comicus: *Grumble*…
Dole Office Clerk: Did you bullshit last week?
Comicus: No.
Dole Office Clerk: Did you *try* to bullshit last week?
Comicus: Yes!
Why Is It On the List: History of the World: Part 1 is one of Brooks most unique films — it’s more of an anthology or series of sketches put together into the framework of an oddball retelling of history. Gregory Hines, Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn and Mel Brooks all shine during the ‘Ancient Rome’ segment of the film — they are all sublimely off kilter, in a excellent madcap way. Brooks is the main star of this film and really steals every scene he’s in — something he tremendously in High Anxiety and Silent Movie (both of which just missed my cut).

#3: Spaceballs
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Starring: Bill Pullman, Rick Moranis, Daphne Zuniga, Joan River, Mel Brooks, John Candy
Release Date: 1987
The Gut Busting Moment: Hale Skroob! Classic.
The Best Line:
Dark Helmet: Before you die there is something you should know about us, Lone Star.
Lone Starr: What?
Dark Helmet: I am your father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate.
Lone Starr: What’s that make us?
Dark Helmet: Absolutely nothing! Which is what you are about to become.
Why Is It On the List: For those of us raised on Star Wars, Spaceballs is the perfect comedy. We can lovingly take all the gags and spoofs — because they’re so brilliantly done. John Candy, as always, is loveably hilarious while Rick Moranis is terrific as Lord Helmet.

#2: Blazing Saddles
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Starring: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, Mel Brooks
Release Date: 1974
The Gut Busting Moment: The infamous campfire scene.
The Best Line:
[Bart is bidding farewell to the people of Rock Ridge]
Bart: Work here is done. I’m needed elsewhere now. I’m needed wherever outlaws rule the West, wherever innocent women and children are afraid to walk the streets, wherever a man cannot live in simple dignity, wherever a people cry out for justice.
Crowd: [in unison] BULLSHIT!
Bart: All right, you caught me. To speak the plain truth, it’s getting pretty damn dull around here.
Why Is It On the List: This is one Brooks most madcap and zany films and we mean this in the best way possible. The ending where Wilder and Little chase Korman through a modern day film backlot is one of Brooks’ best ‘wink and nods’ to the audience ever. Also, the film deals a lot with racial issues and did so intelligently.

#1 Young Frankenstein
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Starring: Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Teri Garr, Peter Boyle, Cloris Leachman
Release Date: 1974
The Gut Busting Moment: The scene where Frankenstein meets the blink monk (Gene Hackman).
The Best Line:
Igor: Dr. Frankenstein…
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: “Fronkensteen.”
Igor: You’re putting me on.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: No, it’s pronounced “Fronkensteen.”
Igor: Do you also say “Froaderick”?
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: No… “Frederick.”
Igor: Well, why isn’t it “Froaderick Fronkensteen”?
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: It isn’t; it’s “Frederick Fronkensteen.”
Igor: I see.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: You must be Igor. – [He pronounces it ee-gor]
Igor: No, it’s pronounced “eye-gor.”
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: But they told me it was “ee-gor.”
Igor: Well, they were wrong then, weren’t they?
Why Is It On the List: It’s one of the best comedies of all-time. The comedy is taken so seriously (something Brooks mentioned in the HBO special) that the hilarity is made even bigger. Wilder delivers his absolute best performance as the reluctant mad scientist. Madeline Kahn is the picture of what every comedic actress should aspire to be. And Marty Feldman — the ultimate comedic sidekick.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site’s podcast, The BreakCast.┬áHe is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites