A lot of comedies tend toward the gross, the rude, and the uncouth. However, there are some that use wit and comedic timing to generate laughs. Personally, I prefer the latter. If the laughs aren’t aimed at the lowest common denominator, then the film generally has some merit as a legitimate piece of cinema. While some of the best comedic timing comes from well-choreographed slapstick (see films by The Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, or Buster Keaton), there are cases that could be deemed “self-aware.” Mel Brooks is perhaps the master of the self-aware comedy. I’d like to make a distinction between self-aware comedies and films that are merely self-aware: the former is the exaggeration of the latter. Self-aware films are still a part of their respective genres, where the self-aware comedies of Mel Brooks are considered to be comedy in genre, but tend to poke fun at the genre they are based on. This week’s two films highlight the self-aware comedies that Mel Brooks excels in. Interestingly enough, he really doesn’t appear in either of them, which is uncommon for a Mel Brooks film.
Length: 106 minutes / 1.77 hours
Everyone is familiar with the monsters of Universal Studios. These classic black and white films set the foundation for the horror genre that we have today. Movies about Dracula, the Wolfman, and Frankenstein’s monster have stood the test of time and are now referenced as part of our collective pop culture. In Young Frankenstein (1974), Mel Brooks takes the series of Frankenstein movies from the 1930s and ’40s and pokes fun at the whole set in one masterful jab. Shot in black and white to emulate the film style of the original movies, Young Frankenstein uses the characters, themes, and motifs from the classic films and over-exaggerates them into a caricature full of comedy.
Young Frankenstein follows the plot of the first Frankenstein (1931) film but adds in a few different sections from other Frankenstein sequels. Dr. Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) has resisted his grandfather’s legacy, up until the point where he moves into the castle he inherited. After The Monster (Peter Boyle) is created, it goes on a rampage, eventually running into a blind hermit (Gene Hackman), which was a re-enactment of a scene from Bride of Frankenstein (1935). In order to keep peace in the village, Inspector Kemp (Kenneth Mars) sets out to capture the Monster (again, a reference to Son of Frankenstein (1938), especially with the artificial arm). Of course, the Monster just wants to be understood, which helps the film end on a happy note.
Length: 88 minutes / 1.47 hours
While the last film of this post made fun of classic horror movies, The Producers (1968) is Mel Brooks’ parody of musicals. Or, more accurately, what it takes to produce one. Broadway can be a strange place, especially with what becomes a successful smash-hit and what doesn’t even make it to the stage. What’s somewhat ironic about the whole thing is that The Producers was eventually turned into a Broadway musical, and then turned into a movie again in 2005. So, by the end, it had become a movie about a musical, based on a musical about making musicals, which was based on a movie about making a musical. Are we clear? No? Great.
When accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) starts his job working for Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel), he discovers something interesting about some of the musicals Max has produced. They both learn that, while Max is not a successful producer by any means, for the musicals he produces which flop, he doesn’t have to pay the investors. With this revelation in place, the two men start planning the most unsuccessful musical ever seen on the stage. With the unique biographical premise of Franz Liebkind’s (Kenneth Mars) Springtime for Hitler, played by the most un-Hitler like actor (Dick Shawn), they’ve got a sure-fire flop on their hands. Or do they?
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Mel Brooks masterpieces
Bacon #: 2 (Spaceballs / John Candy -> Planes, Trains and Automobiles / Kevin Bacon)