There are few that would deny the comic genius of Mel Brooks. And while he does have impeccable comic timing and definitely knows what’s funny, I think the thing Brooks was best at was picking the perfect cast. In each and every one of these films, the best person was picked for each part. There isn’t a bad performance in one of these films.
While there are an impressive nine films in this collection it does not include every film he directed. Sadly, it’s missing his first film, The Producers and, not so sadly, it’s also missing two of his later films, Life Stinks and Dracula: Dead and Loving It. But enough on those, let’s take a look at what is included.
The Twelve Chairs (1970) Sadly, this collection starts out with its weakest film. Based on a ’20s Russian novel, Chairs is the story of an ex-nobleman (Ron Moody) of the Czarist regime who learns that his family fortune was sown into one of their twelve dining room chairs. Now he, along with the help of a poor con man (Frank Langella in his first big film role) are in a race against a crooked priest (Dom DeLuise also in his big screen debut) to track down the chairs and find the one with the hidden fortune. The story is cute, but the jokes aren’t the strongest. There are still some pretty good laughs and it’s great to see Langella so young. He’s very charismatic and the best part of the film.
Blazing Saddles (1974) Here it is, the film that would set the bar for the rest of Brooks’ career. This hilarious film “broke ground and broke wind” in Brooks own words. While spoofing the western genre in ways never seen, and tackling the oh so touchy subject of racism with a crass abandonment, Brooks and crew delivered one of the funniest films of the century. The top-notch cast including Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Slim Pickens, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn and Brooks himself serve up wall-to-wall laughs. This film also widened Brooks repertoire of actors who would begin to pop-up time and time again in his films.
Young Frankenstein (1974) After ripping up the old west, Gene Wilder brought Brooks another great genre to spoof: horror. Specifically, Frankenstein. So Wilder and Brooks wrote a script and in the same year another comic classic was created. This is easily Wilder’s greatest performance, and he is backed by a most stellar cast including Peter Boyle as the Monster, Marty Feldman as Igor, Cloris Leachman as Frau Blucher Teri Garr as Inga and Madeline Kahn as Elizabeth. Gene Hackman even shows up as the Blind Man. This film is a cornucopia of memorable lines that just get funnier and funnier every time you watch it.
Silent Movie (1976) For his next film Brooks did would few would even dare to think of. He made the first silent film in 45 years. And what better film to make silent than that of a film director trying to make a silent film? When Mel Funn (Brooks) and his pals Marty Eggs (Feldman) and Dom Bell (DeLuise) learn that the studio is about to be bought out they set out to make the film that will save the studio and to do that they get all the stars they can. With cameos by Burt Reynolds, James Caan, Liza Minelli, Anne Bancroft, Marcel Marceau and Paul Newman all as themselves and a slew of classic silent film jokes this really is a clever and fun film. Not so much a spoof as his previous two films were, but an homage of sorts to the films that he grew up loving. It’s not quite one of Brooks’ classics, but it’s still a very entertaining film.
High Anxiety (1977) Now the King of Comedy what better place to sink his talons next than in the neck of the King of Suspense? After receiving an okay on the script from Hitchcock himself, Brooks made this fantastic spoof on the Masters films and Brooks’ other love, psychiatry. Richard H. Thorndike (Brooks) becomes the new administator of the Psychoneurotic Institute for the Very, VERY Nervous, where things aren’t all right. Nurse Diesel (Leachman) has devious plans afoot with Dr. Charles Montague (Korman) and Dr. Wentworth (Dick Van Patten) at her side. But luckily Thorndike has his own sidekick, Brophy (Ron Carey) and the lovely Victoria Brisbane (Kahn) to help him out. But when he is framed for a murder he didn’t commit he must prove his innocence and save the institute. While it doesn’t have as many laughs as his early films, it does have some fantastic performances and a solid Hitchcock-esque story to make it yet another great film.
History of the World – Part 1 (1981) Stepping away from film, Brooks put his focus on history with this series of hilarious shorts. From the Dawn of Man to The Roman Empire, from the Spanish Inquisition to Jews In Space, this is another true classic. With Brooks, DeLuise, Kahn, Korman, Leachman, Carey, Gregory Hines and a narration by Orson Welles this film is filled with historic talent and historic laughs. The Spanish Inquisition musical number alone is enough to make this one of the funniest films ever, but the rest of it is damn good too. “It’s good to be the king.”
To Be or Not to Be (1983) Stepping out of the writer/director chair, Brooks stars for the first time with his beloved wife Anne Bancroft as Frederick and Anna Bronski. They are polish acting team right around the time The Third Reich comes pounding on Poland’s door. As if that weren’t enough, a young soldier, Sobinski (Tim Matheson) makes his intentions known to Anna who doesn’t quite say no. But when an opportunity for all of them to escape arises they must put their personal differences aside and use their acting skills to fool the Nazis. This film is about as serious as Brooks ever gets with a lot of serious issues covered in the film, nonetheless, it’s still a very funny film and it’s great if only to see Brooks and Bancroft on screen together like this.
Spaceballs (1987) Now I have a personal affinity to this film making it my favorite Brooks comedy which is saying a lot and I know a lot of people probably won’t agree with that. However, when I was a kid I LOVED Star Wars and this was not only my first Brooks film, but my first spoof as well. I’d never seen a film like this and to see the characters I loved, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Yoda, Darth Vader and the like satirized in such away blew my mind. From the opening shot of the never-ending space ship I was in love and that love has never faltered. Dark Helmet. Yogurt. The Schwartz! C’mon! It really doesn’t get funnier than this. And all these years later the film only makes me laugh more. John Candy, Rick Moranis, Bill Pullman… they are all hilarious.
Robin Hood: Men In Tights (1993) Not Brooks last film, but he last good film (I’m sure they didn’t include Dracula for a reason.) Brooks once again turned his sites on a classic: Robin Hood. With Cary Elwes in the titular role (and the only one that could really speak in an English accent) along with Blinking (Mark Blankfield), Ahchoo (Dave Chappelle in his first big screen role) and the rest of the merry men take on Prince John (Richard Lewis) and the Sheriff of Rottingham (Roger Rees). It’s the classic tale with Brooks wonderful humor throughout. You also get great appearances from Isaac Hayes, Patrick Stewart, Dick Van Patten, Tracey Ullman and Dom DeLuise. Not as strong a film as his previous ones, but still really funny.
Well there you have it folks. Nine films. Four Classics. Three really good films. One pretty good film. Hours and hours of laughs in beautiful Blu-ray. Mel Brooks is a comic genius and this collection brings you just about everything you could want from him. What else is there to say?
The Twelve Chairs, Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie, High Anxiety, To Be or Not to Be, Spaceballs and Robin Hood: Men In Tights are presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Blazing Saddles is presented in 2:40.1 and History of the World is presented in 2:35.1. All films are presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio Dolby Digital surround sound. Various other language tracks and subtitles are available on all films (Even Silent Movie has subtitles!). Mel Brooks has never looked better: the tights are greener and the schwartz’s are brighter. All the films sound great too.
First off, you get a fantastic 120 page hardbound Book that talks about Brooks’ early career, how he met Anne Bancroft, then each of his films. Then you get a plethora of special features on the discs:
The Twelve Chairs
Trailers:Trailers for six Mel Brooks films.
Commentary: Sadly, Mel Brooks doesn’t provide the most interesting commentaries. You get some good information, but it’s very slow and dry. The same goes for the other commentaries in this collection.
Back In The Saddle: (28 min.) A reflection on the making of this groundbreaking film by the cast and crew. A lot of really great interviews.
Black Bart TV Pilot: (24 min.) In 1975 a pilot was shot for a TV show based on Blazing Saddles with Lou Gossett playing Black Bart. This is entertaining to watch, but it’s pretty bad and it’s a good thing the show was never picked up.
Intimate Portrait: Madeline Kahn: (4 min.) A short piece on the genius that is Madeline Kahn.
Deleted Scenes: (10 min.) These are pretty good. The best are the cut scenes of Bart besting Mongo Looney Tunes style.
Inside The Lab: Secret Formulas in the Making of Young Frankenstein: using Picture-in-Picture technology, a small window appears on your TV while watching the film that provides interviews and behind the scenes info throughout. It’s not constant though; it comes and goes as you watch.
Deleted Scenes SD: (16 min.) These are pretty good. They provide a little more story and are entertaining but it’s understandable why this stuff was cut.
Deleted Scenes HD: (25 min.) This looks like a bunch of footage that was left on the cutting room floor, literally. But it’s got some really interesting stuff in it.
It’s Alive! Creating A Monster Classic: (31 min.) A great look at the making of this film with fantastic interviews. They even interview Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant for some reason.
Making FrankenSense of Young Frankenstein: (42 min.) This featurette doesn’t cover much new ground after watching the other ones, but this one is the only one with interviews with Gene Wilder, which definitely makes it worth watching.
Transylvanian Lullaby: The Music of John Morris: (10 min.) This film certainly has a beautifully haunting and memorable cast and composer John Morris (who did most of Brooks films) is definitely worth of this featurette.
The Franken-Track: A Monstrous Conglomeration of Trivia: Provides all sorts of interesting tid-bits in text for while watching the film.
Blucher Button: Press this to hear the horse neigh until your hearts content.
Outtakes: (5 min.) Watching Gene Wilder crack up is a glorious thing.
Isolated Score Track
Mexican Interviews: (6 min.) An interview with Marty Feldman and Gene Wilder and Cloris Leachman for Mexican TV.
TV Spots, Production Photos and Trailers:
Silent Laughter: The Reel Inspiration of Silent Movie: (25 min.) A great look at the making of this hilarious film and the Silent Film masters who inspired it.
Speak Up! Historical Hollywood Trivia Track: Text Trivia throughout the film.
Hitchcock And Mel: Spoofing The Master Of Suspense: (29 min.) Another great making of with more great interviews. The best is when Mel talks about when he and Hitchcock met. Apparently Hitchcock loved the film.
The “Am I Very Nervous” Test: Find out just how nervous you really are with this high accurate test while watching the film!
Don’t Get Anxious! The Trivia Of Hitchcock: Get some great inside info on the film and learn exactly which Hitchcock films Brooks spoofed in this film.
Isolated Score Track
History of the World – Part 1
Musical Mel: Inventing “The Inquisition”: (10 min.) “The Spanish Inquisition” is certainly the most memorable and hilarious moment of this film and this is a nice little piece about how it came about.
Making History: Mel Brooks on Creating the World: (10 min.) And here’s the making of the rest of the film. Some fun info about Orson Welles narration and who was supposed to play Gregory Hines role.
The Real History of the World Trivia Track: An informative trivia track that provides the real history behind the great jokes in this film.
Isolated Score Track
To Be or Not to Be
Brooks and Bancroft: A Perfect Pair: (14 min.) The best thing about this film is that husband and wife finally got to star in a film together and this lovely little piece reflects on their relationship and their time together on the set.
How Serious Can Mel Brooks Really Get?: ( 3 min.) A vintage promo piece for the film.
Profiles: (7 min.) More vintage interviews. This time with Mel Brooks, Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning. The best is the interview with Bancroft cause it’s the only one here. The Durning interview is pretty good too.
To Be or Not to Be: That is the Trivia!: Yet another informative trivia track.
Isolated Score Track
Spaceballs: The Documentary: (30 min.) Another great making of. Sadly, no interview with Rick Moranis.
In Conversation: Mel Brooks & Thomas Meehan: (20 min.) This is a meandering conversation with Brooks and co-writer Meehan. They basically just recap the plot of the film occasionally expanding on where some of the jokes came from.
John Candy: Comic Spirit: (10 min.) A very nice tribute to a very funny man.
Watch the Movie In Ludicrous Speed: Want to watch the film but you only have thirty seconds to spare? Then this is the special feature for you!
Film Flubs: Six moments where production mistakes were made are pointed out. Pretty funny stuff.
Storyboard To Film Comparisons:
Robin Hood: Men In Tights
Commentary by Mel Brooks: This is the same commentary from the Laserdisc.
Funny Men In Tights: (14 min.) Another great behind the scenes with interviews with cast and crew talking about the film and sharing great stories.
Robin Hood: Men In Tights: The Legend Had It Coming: (26 min.) This HBO Special hosted by Cary Elwes gives more behind the scenes info on the film.
Isolated Score Track
This box set manages to be both amazing and frustrating. It’s frustrating that The Producers is not included and the box isn’t designed that well. The DVD pages started falling apart the first day I opened it. However, these are some of the funniest films ever made and they never looked or sounded this good. Regardless of the problems, if you’re a Mel Brooks fan then this box set is a must own.
The Mel Brooks Collection. Box Set contains 9 films on 9 discs. Released on Blu-ray: December 12, 2009. Available at Amazon.com
Tags: alfred hitchcock, Bill Pullman, Blazing Saddles, Blu-ray Reviews, Cary Elwes, Cloris Leachman, Frank Langella, frankenstein, Gene Hackman, Gene Wilder, John Candy, Mel Brooks, Orson Welles, sci fi, Spaceballs, spoof, Star Wars, Westerns, Young Frankenstein