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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Mel Brooks' History of the World: Part 1
Directed by Mel Brooks
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment 06/81 DVD/VHS Feature Film
Along with Woody Allen, Mel Brooks has helped sustain the comedy genre in contemporary films. As Allen has turned more serious, Brooks has gotten more outrageous. He is the sole proprietor of vaudevillian yuks built around sexuality, scatology, and religion. His elemental energies are unleashed in spades with the release of History of the World Part I. Brooks panders to the public's continual demand for the kind of bad taste humor that made burlesque popular in its heyday.
He begins with "Dawn of Man" (a lampoon of 2001), moves on to "The Stone Age" during which the first art critic is satirized, and then pokes fun at Moses in an Old Testament vignette. Brooks really has a ball with "The Roman Empire." He plays the part of a stand-up philosopher who, along with a black slave (Gregory Hines) and a wayward vestal virgin (Mary-Margaret Humes), brings chaos to the court of Emperor Nero (Dom DeLuise) and his empress (Madeline Kahn), a nymphomaniac.
For "The Spanish Inquisition" segment, Brooks is featured as Torquemada, who enjoys torturing Jews who refuse to become Christians. The whole shtick is rendered as a Busby Berkeley set piece replete with music, singing, and a water ballet. A sidetrip explains everything you always wanted to know about how Leonardo Da Vinci painted the Last Supper.
Harvey Korman steals center stage from Brooks in a funny takeoff on "The French Revolution." He plays a foppish nobleman who comes along with a clever scheme to save King Louis XVI from death at the hands of the rabble by substituting the King's look-alike at the critical moment.
As in all movies by the ambitious Brooks, there are dull patches where the farce and the gags just don't work. But fans of this energetic comedian are sure to get plenty of belly shaking laughs out of this one. Other notables in the large cast include Bea Arthur, Cloris Leachman, Jackie Mason, Ron Carey, Howard Morris, and Hugh Hefner.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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