Pop Rocks: Rating Mel Brooks' Movies (The Ones That Count, Anyway)
Mel Brooks, the venerable writer/director/producer of some of the greatest comedies of all time, gave a nifty interview on NPR's "Morning Edition" this week. The occasion was the release of The Incredible Mel Brooks: An Irresistible Collection Of Unhinged Comedy, a self-described "anarchic" collection of bits, songs, interviews, and other stuff. There's plenty of stuff to choose from, as Brooks' career has lasted more than 50 years and he's one of only 11 people who've completed an "EGOT," meaning he's won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony award.
The sheriff is a [winner].
Like a lot of people, I came to know Brooks through his movies. Blazing Saddles was one of the first movies I ever saw that made me laugh so hard I thought I was going to have a heart attack, before knowing what a heart attack was.
The others were Monty Python's Life of Brian and Animal House. In retrospect, apparently my parents were the permissive kind.
But he's 86 years old, and the last movie he directed was in 1995. He's been busy with Broadway versions of two of his classic films and still does voice work (did you know there was an animated Spaceballs series?), but as much as it pains me to say it, I suspect we've seen the last of Mel Brooks: Director. So I decided to rank his movies. Or at least, the seven of them people acknowledge.
Sorry, Life Stinks.
For those not up on their Brooks lore, the titles excluded from this exercise are:
The Twelve Chairs (1970) - I didn't even know this movie existed until a couple days ago.
Life Stinks (1991) - Some defend this as an "experimental" film of Brooks'. That's fair; any experiments fail to produce desired results.
Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) - The first indication that Brooks wasn't really trying anymore.
Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995) - The final indication that Brooks wasn't really trying anymore.
Now then, as Lili Von Shtupp might day, why don't you loosen your bullets?
7. History of the World, Part I (1981)
There are some inspired bits (the Spanish Inquisition, and "Don't get saucy with me, Béarnaise" still makes me snort 30 years later), but too much feels forced (the entire Roman Empire segment) as Brooks and company lay off the satire for much broader shtick. And too much Ron Carey was only ever a good thing in Barney Miller.
6. Silent Movie (1976)
This almost would've been better as a sketch in History of the World, Part 1. There's just not enough to sustain the premise, and I'll bet money barely any modern viewers will even get the Marcel Marceau gag.
5. Spaceballs (1987)
Would probably rank closer to the bottom if not for three things:
1. John Hurt's cameo at the end.
2. "How many assholes do we have on this ship anyway?"
3. Pizza the Hutt
But still, Joan Rivers.