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  History of the World Part I The Good Old Bad Old DaysBuy this film here.
Year: 1981
Director: Mel Brooks
Stars: Mel Brooks, Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, Ron Carey, Gregory Hines, Pamela Stephenson, Shecky Greene, Sid Caesar, Mary-Margaret Humes, Orson Welles, Rudy De Luca, Paul Mazursky, John Hurt, Spike Milligan, Bea Arthur
Genre: Comedy, Historical
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Twenty million years ago, the dawn of mankind occurred as the apes learned to walk erect on two legs, whereupon as the sun cast its light on the landscape they began masturbating furiously. Then, a few million years later, they had evolved into cavemen where their culture was in its most nascent form, as the leader of this tribe (Sid Caesar) led his people into a new way of thinking, bringing them to understand humour, art and music, although this also gave rise to the critics who were wont to piss on the art if they didn't approve. Now we have established the human race, we can settle on the story of Moses and the fifteen commandments...

Writer and director Mel Brooks' previous film to this had been his exacting Alfred Hitchcock spoof High Anxiety, which had gone down well with the public but those critics he always had a grudge against did not appreciate his attempts to take on and send up the Master of Suspense. A lot of that was down to Brooks' liking for the most obvious, broadest gags he could invent, which if you were not among his legion of fans could elicit more of a groaning eye roll than a hearty laugh, but the benefit of going that obvious was that there was more of a chance for anyone to get the joke, no matter what their sense of humour was, though whether they would appreciate it was another matter.

Still, Brooks aficionados continued to make his movies successful, and History of the World Part I was one of his movie parodies more than it was a takedown in his inimitable fashion of historical events, as if Hollywood's attempts to go highbrow and court glowing responses from the more intellectual, or would-be intellectuals, in the audience was something he had seen straight through. Essentially, Brooks didn't trust Hollywood to be classy when he had experience of precisely how crass it could really be. Translating this to a script he penned himself, he took a variety of eras that movies had depicted, and proceeded to take the mickey mercilessly. But was he quite as funny as he thought he was being?

For those fans, that question hardly needed to be asked, they loved the jokes and the dirtier the better, bringing everything down to the basest level as Brooks suspected everyone was able to relate to. If you were not among that coterie, it wasn't so much a matter of not getting the historical references, for while he was keen to show off his erudition, if you'd paid attention in history classes or had read a book or two - not watched a movie, though, definitely not - you would see what he was getting at no problem. No, it was all to do with Brooks' irreverence, nothing wrong with that, but there was plenty oddly cynical about dragging everything under his gaze here through the mud of lampooning, putting across the notion there really was no point in aspirations to culture.

For the Roman segment, for example, Brooks played a stand-up philosopher, equating the idea that working through some high-falutin' thought processes to divine the meaning of life was better off the province of comedians, after all they were no less observers of existence than serious-minded writers. But with jokes straining for giggles about slavery, circumcision, eunuchs and a punishing class system among others, you would have a better time with Asterix. Next up, the brief but lavish Spanish Inquisition musical number again showed Brooks and company had been given an impressive budget, yet the material was relentlessly upbeat when you may well have the impression that adding a layer of depth, even darkness, to the injustices of the past would have offered a richer prospect. By the time the French Revolution is upon us, you could complete your scorecard of the director's regulars, and be impressed how well designed this was, but lament the lack of zingers. The Jews in Space trailer was better than Spaceballs, however. Music by John Morris.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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