Directed by: Mel Brooks
Starring: Mel Brooks, Marty Feldman, Dom DeLuise, Sid Caesar, Bernadette Peters
For me a little Mel Brooks goes a long way, and even the smallest amount of Sid Caesar goes way too far, so there’s a chance you’ll find Brooks’ 1976 Silent Movie more palatable than I do. Actually, as a Mel Brooks movie, it’s one of his better works, coming at the end of his brief hot streak that began in 1974 with Blazing Saddles. Since he’d just defied one convention by making Young Frankenstein (1974) in black-and-white, it probably seemed like a great idea to defy another by making exactly what the title declares, a silent movie. So armed with Marty Feldman and Dom DeLuise as his sidekicks, Mel presents himself as washed-up alcoholic director Mel Funn, who’s out to prove himself by making “the first silent movie in 40 years.” In the process, it’s Brooks’ attempt to prove that slapstick isn’t dead. The problem with this is that there are moments in the film where he nearly kills it by indulging his mugging cast to the hilt.
The movie is nearly plotless. It mostly consists of Brooks and company driving around Hollywood in a snazzy yellow Morgan sports car trying to get stars—Burt Reynolds, James Caan, Liza Minnelli, Paul Newman, Anne Bancroft (I guess she had no choice), Marcel Marceau—to be in his movie, which is the only hope Sid Caesar’s studio has from being taken over by evil conglomerate Engulf and Devour (a parody of Gulf+Western?). Parts of the movie are inspired with the little jokes working best (like the difference between what’s said and the title card early in the film). The problem is that nearly everything is done in that special Mel Brooks brand of broad comedy that quickly palls for all but the faithful. It’s certainly interesting as a curio, especially if you’ve seen the 1943 Olsen and Johnson comedy Crazy House, the ending of which is remarkably similar to Silent Movie.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show Silent Movie at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community, 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville. (From Asheville, take I-26 to U.S. 64 West, turn right at the third light onto Thompson Street. Follow to the Lake Point Landing entrance and park in the lot on the left.)