Film director Mel Funn (Mel Brooks) and his two associates, Marty Eggs (Marty Feldman) and Dom Bell (Dom DeLuise) are headed to a Hollywood film studio where Mel can pitch his latest idea for a runaway hit. On the way, they give a lift to a pregnant lady who rather overbalances their yellow car, but they get her to the hospital nevertheless and while they're there Marty attempts to chat up an attractive nurse, only to receive a slap for his trouble. Still, this illustrates the trio's optimism and they reach the studio gates filled with hope; after a little trouble with the guard, Mel goes up to the office of the Studio Chief (Sid Caesar) with his script. But will it all go to plan?
Fresh from the success of Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, Mel Brooks' next venture might have seemed to some eyes a lesser work. As the characters remind us, it was the first silent film made in Hollywood for forty years and it relies heavily on this gimmick: famously, the sole word spoken in the film is uttered by celebrated mime Marcel Marceau (who, incidentally, proves that mime can be entertaining here, if only for a couple of minutes, granted). Yet Brooks the scriptwriter, working with Ron Clark, Rudy De Luca and future director Barry Levinson, proves to be consistently innovative without relying on verbal humour.
That's not to say the film has no dialogue, as the subtitle cards help us out in following the story, and provide some laughs into the bargain - we see Brooks mouthing "You son of a bitch!" to Feldman, which on the card reads "You bad boy!", for instance. But mainly the jokes are visual, and Brooks has rounded up an excellent cast in the plot that is basically the plot of how Silent Movie was made. Along with seasoned pros like Caesar and Feldman (showing himself to be an excellent physical comedian) there are a selection of big during the nineteen-seventies movie stars to brighten up the billings.
The first star Funn and his friends visit, having secured a deal as long as they can secure the name actors, is Burt Reynolds who here amusingly spoofs his image by playing it vain, reluctant to pass a mirror without admiring gazes and chucking himself under the chin. After unsuccessfully asking him in his shower, the trio do eventually get Reynolds to say yes, and so it's onto the next star, James Caan. He is on set as a boxer, and entertainingly acts as if he is somewhat lacking in the brains department; then it's Liza Minelli who is propositioned in a canteen, Anne Bancroft in a restaurant (it shouldn't have been too hard to get her to agree), and Paul Newman with a broken leg who instigates a motorised wheelchair race, a nice nod to his other career.
All the stars are good sports, and add to the goodnatured frivolity, but it's the comedians' film. When the evil multinational conglomerate of Engulf and Devour hear of the film that will save the studio they wish to buy at a knock down price, they start a campaign to stop the film being made. This involves setting reformed alcoholic Funn back on the path to self-destruction by making him fall in love with showgirl Vilma Kaplan (Bernadette Peters) and when he finds out she has been put up to it, Funn takes to the bottle (and a very big bottle, at that). Will there be a happy ending? Although there are gags included that would never be used by a Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton, and the whole thing is shot pretty artlessly, resembling a TV show, the goodwill towards a comedy tradition is deeply felt, and the jokes can be very funny which is all that matters. Silent Movie is a little neglected in the Brooks canon, but it's one of his most innocently enjoyable works. Music by John Morris.