Last week I tweeted that no filmmaker has a bigger disparity between their best films and worst films than Mel Brooks. Some of the films in Brooks’ canon are undeniable classics while others deserve to be forgotten. I was happy to pay homage to some of Mel Brooks’ better films during the month of May. However, career appreciation has encouraged me to explore some of his lesser known films and now I hate to say I almost wish that I hadn’t.
For the countdown of Brooks’ best films I’ve only included 8 of the 11 films that he has directed, largely because I haven’t seen them all and some are so bad they don’t deserve to be on any top movies list (Dracula: Dead and Loving It). Let’s close out Mel Brooks month with a tribute to the man’s best works:
Top 8 Mel Brooks Films of All-Time
8) High Anxiety (1977)
I posted the tweet that I mentioned above moments after I watched Brooks’ Hitchcock spoof High Anxiety, a film so dry that I stopped it to see if there was director’s commentary just to hear something interesting. It’s incredibly difficult to spoof a filmmaker like Hitchcock whose films are already self-deprecating and witty. It seemed that Brooks was so caught up in paying tribute to Hitchcock that he lost a lot of what makes Brooks the comedian we love.
7) Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)
Overall, Men in Tights is not a good movie, but it has enough individual moments to make for an entertaining hour and a half. The “Men in Tights” musical number is quite hilarious and Dave Chapelle can carry just about any scene. It also does an above-average job of spoofing Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Most Brooks’ films fail to have a direct reference point and instead of spoofing a particular movie, they spoof a genre in general. Since “Robin Hood” movies isn’t a genre (yet), the film does a nice job at skewering a well-known story.
6) Silent Movie (1976)
After two huge Box Office hits in a row with Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, Brooks was able to get some of the biggest names in Hollywood to sign on for a silent film. The result wasn’t as successful as many hoped, but entertaining nonetheless. (My Full Review)
5) Spaceballs (1987)
Many greater Star Wars parodies have come about since this film’s release, but as one of the first of its kind, Spaceballs does a nice job. For the film, Brooks assembles a cast of comedians that he hadn’t worked with before including Rick Moranis and John Candy. Even for a film set millions of years ago in another galaxy, Brooks is not above his characteristic racial and religious humor. The use of Jewish and African American stereotypes set against a cast of non-human characters makes the jokes particularly biting and topical.
4) History of the World: Part I (1981)
In a film that has one of the best movie titles ever the laughs are definitely not sparse. Brooks’ background as a sketch comedy writer for television really shows through as the narrative seemingly has no connective thread. Nevertheless, this film blessed us with such classic lines as “it’s good to be the king” and one of my all-time favorites “the Lord Jehovah has given unto you these fifteen” *SMASH* “oy…ten commandments…”
3) Young Frankenstein (1974)
The idea for Young Frankenstein came from frequent Mel Brooks collaborator Gene Wilder. Brooks then took the idea and made it his own and one of the best horror movie spoofs ever made. It’s also probably Brooks’ greatest technical achievement as the cinematography, editing, and blocking perfectly replicate the great horror movies of the 1930s. Not only that, but it simultaneously manages to spoof Fred Astaire with the greatest ever performance of an Astaire dance number not performed by Astaire himself.
2) Blazing Saddles (1974)
In my opinion, this Western spoof is the funniest film of all Mel Brooks’. It’s a chaotic film, but its so full of laughs that can be discovered time and again. (My Full Review)
1) The Producers (1968)
Brooks never quite achieved the same level of satirical genius that he did with his first feature film The Producers. The concept alone is so brilliant that after a musical adaptation, a film remake, and a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” homage it still manages to be hilarious. Not only is it Brooks at his satirical best, but this film also has my favorite performances of Gene Wilder as the neurotic Leo Bloom and Zero Mostel as the eccentric, sex-crazed Max Bialystock. It’s obvious that in every film after The Producers, Brooks was trying to re-create the magic that he created in his first movie, but as the saying goes – lightning doesn’t strike twice.
Those are my top 10. Feel free to share yours in the comments and don’t forget to VOTE on the Mel Brooks movie poll.