How do we first encounter an icon? Most of the time we don’t remember because it seems like they always were a part of our life. Your parents talked about them, they were always on TV or the radio. Their face was part of your sister’s bedroom wall. But I do remember my first encounter with Mel Brooks. As a child, my folks took us on vacation in Paris. No matter where we went in the City of Lights, posters for Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein were plastered along the Metro stations. I was too young to see the film. The was no way my parents were taking me to see it or Mel Brook’s Blazing Saddles. But Mel had become a conspiratorial comedy legend based on the poster. When I was finally old enough to see the film, it proved as good as the image.
The Incredible Mel Brooks: An Irresistible Collection of Unhinged Comedy can only be called the bonus features to man’s life. Over the course of 5 DVDs, every element of Mel Brooks is exhumed, exposed and examined. The only thing missing is a bedroom tape with him and Anne Bancroft. This will please anyone that complained about the lack of extras on Blu-rays of Mel’s movies. Mel gives the best stories about the various productions in a five-part series. What’s else is on the DVDs? Here’s a rundown of what constitutes the life of Mel Brooks:
Hitler Rap (4:36) was made to promote To Be Or Not to Be. Mel satires the world’s most evil man who should have won a Vibe Award. The chessboard set reminds me of “One Night In Bangkok.” He revives a line or two from “Springtime for Hitler.”
Mel Brooks And Dick Cavett Together Again (56:20) is from their HBO special. The two old chat show pals reunite for a marathon conversation in front of a packed house. This aired way back in 2011. There’s nearly 13 minutes of cut footage from the evening as bonus.
Peeping Times (4:33) let’s Mel once more play Hitler. The face of evil hams it up for a home movie camera. He even sneaks in a whistle of “Springtime for Hitler.” This was from a David Frost TV series. More astounding is seeing a young James Cromwell (Babe).
Inside Danny Baker (25:28) is the pilot episode for a show Mel wrote. It’s a little boy’s version of Walter Mitty. The audio is rather rough with a slight buzz. The failed 1963 TV project. Danny and his buddy want to go deep sea fishing without paying to charter a boat. Star Roger Mobley did a lot of guest star work in the ’60s.
In the Beginning: The Caesar Years (46:26) covers Mel’s work on Your Show of Shows. There’s clips and a panel with other vets from the Sid’s show.
60 Minutes (12:51) follows Mel around before the opening of The Producers on Broadway. Mike Wallace can’t get Mel to be too serious. The $10 million production became the hottest ticket for years and won all the Tonys that mattered for musicals.
Mel and His Movies (138:48) lets him discuss every movie he directed and a few he produced through Brooksfilm. This is an elaborate oral history that explains how projects developed. Mel feels Life Stinks is underrated.
The Tracey Ullman Show (10:08) is the “Due Diligence” sketch. Mel plays a filmmaker of schlock who finally has a classy script. He stole the idea from one of his screenwriting students. The studio suit wants to make sure Mel can make Oscar material that doesn’t involve a chimp.
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (12:54) covers Mel’s visits to Johnny’s set from 1970 to 1992. He does yacks it up. The shag carpeting on the early ’70s needs mowing. Mel doesn’t age nearly as bad a Johnny during this 22 year journey.
1991 American Comedy Awards (2:35) is Mel’s tribute to pal Carl Reiner. Mel declares Reiner doesn’t deserve his tribute. There’s people picketing outside the venue. Mel reveals his dark secret.
The Critic (3:20) is the Oscar winning short film from 1963. Mel plays an old guy complaining about a modern art shapes on the screen. It’s the trailblazer for Mystery Science Theater 3000.
I Thought I Was Taller: A Short History Of Mel Brooks (40:40) is a BBC documentary from when Mel was making The History of the World: Part 1 in 1981. It aired as part of Arena. Mel has fun with his image. He arrives at the studio in a sidecar on a scooter and doesn’t park it with the employees.
The Dick Cavett Show (20:52) has the duo meet before the HBO special. The two shows are from 1970 and 1972. Mel gets a certain level of glee talking about being an Oscar winner. Gadfly critic Rex Reed is part of the couch set.
Commercials (4:56) for Fritos corn chips and Bic Banana pens. These are much more entertaining than today’s ads for boner pills. The Bic Banana pen cost 29 cents.
Mel’s Television Debut (2:34) sneaks him onto Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theater. He’s a window washer working with Sid Stone to pitch a product. Uncle Milty doesn’t call Mel out for a bow.
An Audience With…Mel Brooks (43:48) is a TV special from England shot in 1984. Mel laughs it up with a star filled crowd including Bob Geldolf before he created Live Aid. Mel should have taken this show to Broadway.
Mad About You (22:36) is the episode “The Penis.” Mel plays Crazy Uncle Phil. This time he has a last request involving Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt’s upcoming baby. Mel won three Emmys for all of his guest starring roles on the series.
Electric Company (2:24) is a cartoon with Mel talking about how Bob is tall. He has big curly blond hair in animated form. Mel cared about kids learning to read.
Free To Be…You & Me (3:50) lets Mel give voice to a baby puppet. He and a baby puppet voiced by Marlo Thomas (That Girl) discuss gender identity issues. Mel thinks he’s a girl.
Wogan (16:02) is a BBC interview where Mel gets introduced as the man who made farting in movies acceptable. Mel has a lot of fun with a metal banana.
Excavating The 2000 Year Old Man (43:51) is the PBS special that aired in 2012. They explore how Mel and Carl have adapted Mel’s ancient man and Carl’s news interviewer. It might be one of the few routines that has lasted over half a century by its original performers. There’s bonus “2000 Year Old Man” routines from Jeopardy, Colgate Comedy Hour and The Danny Thomas Variety Show. Things seem really ancient since Alex Trebek isn’t the host of Jeopardy.
My Son the Hero Trailer (2:04) is Mel narrating the preview for an Italian sword and sandal epic. He’s so proud of his “son” in the movie. This is much better than watching the actual movie. He even spoils the film by giving away the ending.
How to Be a Jewish Son (28:30) is an episode of The David Susskind Show featuring Mel, George Segal and David Steinberg. Mel gets to smoke while chatting away about his mother.
Get Smart (25:33) is the pilot “Mr. Big” that Mel co-wrote with the ultracool Buck Henry. The series spoofed James Bond with Don Adams playing Agent Maxwell Smart. The show predicts the future when people in theater will have their cellphones ring at a bad moment. Although Smart’s phone is built into his shoe. The show lasted five seasons.
Hollywood Walk of Fame (11:01) is when Mel got his star. His son Max Brooks praises Mel as a grandfather. He tells the story of how Mel would impersonate Hitler for the grandkid until the child saw the real Hitler on the History Channel and called him “Grandpa.” Max is the writer behind the upcoming Brad Pitt film World War Z. Carl Reiner swears Mel can’t rest on his laurels.
When Things Were Rotten (25:42) was Mel’s first stab at poking fun at Robin Hood before Robin Hood: Men In Tights. The show only lasted 13 episodes back in 1975. “The French Dis-connection” brings Sid Casear back to Mel’s writing ways. The network did good after the show was canceled by having Dick Van Patten on Eight Is Enough and Bernie Kopell as Doc on The Love Boat. The series needs to come out as a complete collection.
New Faces (7:11) is a segment that Mel wrote for the Broadway revue New Faces of 1952. The play was adapted to a movie. Mel’s sketch “Of Fathers and Sons” spoofs a professional pickpocket fearing he’s losing his touch. This is one of the best Paul Lynde performances you’ll ever experience. He’s upset that his son (Ronny Graham) won’t fall his life of crime. Alice Ghostley is the mother.
Even after 60 years in the public eye, Mel is a force of nature. That energy is what makes this collection seem short instead of a self-indulgent slog tribute to himself. Even after all this Mel-ness, I’m not worn out. I almost feel obligated to set a seat at the dinner table for Mel Brooks. I want to call him up just to hear him tell me when History of the World Part 2 comes out. The collection comes inside a book which is perfect since this is the best biography of Brooks. You can’t read about Mel Brooks. You must experience him which is exactly what The Incredible Mel Brooks delivers.
The video varies from 1.33:1 full frame to 1.78:1 anamorphic. The same is true of the quality which all depends on age. The news interview footage of Mel looks top notch. The audio is mostly mono for the archival footage.
BONUS CD includes a mixture of audio clips from talk shows, comedy routines, his radio commercials and songs from his movies. Included in the soundtrack work is “The Inquisition,” “Springtime for Hitler,” “Theme from Blazing Saddles,” “I’m Tired,” “Le Grand Frisson,” “Men in Tights,” “It’s Good to be the King” and “Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst”
The Incredible Mel Brooks: An Irresistible Collection of Unhinged Comedy is exhaustive without being exhausting. This is the standard for video based biographies that give the highlights of a career. You truly get a sense of the creative force behind Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein.
Shout! Factory presents The Incredible Mel Brooks: An Irresistible Collection of Unhinged Comedy. Starring: Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner. Boxset Contents: 5 DVDs and 1 CD. Released: November 13, 2012. Available at Amazon.com
Tags: Blazing Saddles, Broadway, Don Adams, Gene Wilder, Get Smart, Love Boat, Mel Brooks, Oscar, world war z, Young Frankenstein