THE MEL BROOKS COLLECTION
THE TWELVE CHAIRS
THE TWELVE CHAIRS finds Mel Brooks attempting to mine satirical Russian literature for belly laughs, with decidedly mixed results. Perhaps the overbearing and oppressive qualities of post-revolutionary Russia sucks the life out of the comedy, or maybe the sense of the ironic just isn’t as funny as straight on parody- either way, THE TWELVE CHAIRS is my least favorite Mel Brooks movie. The premise of THE TWELVE CHAIRS is concerned with an impoverished former Russian aristocrat Matveevich Vorobyaninov (Ron Moody), who learns that from his dying mother-in-law that she had sewn a fortune in jewels into the seat cushion of one of the twelve chairs from her dining room set, in an effort to hide them from the Bolsheviks. Unfortunately, the twelve chairs, along with all other private property, had been confiscated by the State, with the chairs having been split up and disposed of individually. Also on the trail of the hidden gems is a Russian Orthodox priest Father Fyodor (Dom DeLuise) and con artist Ostap Bender (Frank Langella). As you might guess, THE TWELVE CHAIRS follows our would-be fortune hunters as the track down the far-flung remnants of the dining room set for the seat cushion containing the jewels.
BLAZING SADDLES is unquestionable one of the greatest of all American comedies, featuring moments of unbridled hilarity that are certain to have folks rolling on the floor. Of course, BLAZING SADDLES is not exactly a genteel comedy, but that factor is probably one of the biggest factors as to why the film still gets the big laughs. On the surface, BLAZING SADDLES is a rib tickling parody of the western genre, but it also something of a message film that does make a statement about racism- however, the message never obscures the comedy. The familiar premise of BLAZING SADDLES involves the railroad coming through fresh western territory, and the inevitable land grab for the soon-to-be valuable real estate. The chief villain is the unscrupulous State Attorney General Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman), who controls an outlaw gang and uses them to terrorize the citizens of Rock Ridge in an effort to drive them off their property.
However, the populace appeals Governor William J. LePetomane (Mel Brooks) to appoint a new sheriff. Counting on pervasive bigotry, the crafty Hedley Lamarr convinces the dim-witted Governor to appoint a black railroad worker named Bart (Cleavon Little) to the position of sheriff, assuming the outraged townspeople will lynch their new lawman before he can help them. However, Bart proves himself smarter than the bigoted townspeople… and with a little help from a drunken former gunslinger known as The Waco Kid (Gene Wilder), Bart manages to win over the residents of Rock Ridge- but not before Lamarr unleashes German seductress Lili von Shtupp (Academy Award nominee Madeline Kahn) on the lawman. The cast of BLAZING SADDLES also features Slim Pickens, Burton Gilliam, Alex Karras, David Huddleston, Liam Dunn, John Hillerman, George Furth, Jack Starrett, Carol Arthur and Richard Collier.
Of all the film parodies Mel Brooks has made in his career, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN stands out as an absolute triumph. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is a film that lovingly recreates the atmosphere of the 1930’s Universal Frankenstein movies, while at the same time, skewering the horror genre with Marx Brothers like precision. Gene Wilder, who originated the idea for YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN and shares the screenplay credit with Mel Brooks, stars as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein- the grandson of the infamous Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Frederick is so ashamed of his heritage that he purposely mispronounces the family name and forces every one else to do the same. While teaching at an American medical school, Frederick learns that he is the sole air of the family estate and must travel to Transylvania to claim his inheritance. Upon his arrival at his ancestral home, Frederick discovers his grandfather’s notes and becomes convinced that "it could work!" Thus, Frederick sets forth to carry on the family tradition and bring a creation to life. Of course, Frederick meets with the same mixed results that damned his grandfather. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN follows the basic premise of the Universal horror classics, as well as Mary Shelley’s novel. However, Wilder and Brooks never miss a single opportunity for humor, whether it is high or low.
While the screenplay for YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is filled with jokes, the film would be nothing without its brilliant cast. The late Marty Feldman is the heart and soul of YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. Feldman was truly a comic genius, and his performance as Igor is out-and-out hilarious. Peter Boyle brings a childlike quality to the role of The Monster, however his facial expressions are priceless. One tends to forget that Cloris Leachman is an Academy Award winning actress, however her performance as the housekeeper Frau Bluecher truly deserved an award of its own. Teri Garr is sexy, sweet and very funny as Inga, the naïve laboratory assistant. Madeline Kahn steals every scene she’s in as Frederick’s spoiled self-centered fiancée Elizabeth. As Inspector Kemp, Kenneth Mars does an amazing parody of Lionel Atwill’s one-armed policeman from SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. Mars has seldom been better, except as the author of "Springtime For Hitler" in Mel Brook’s brilliant THE PRODUCERS. Special credit has to go to Gene Hackman, who proves with the role of The Blind Hermit that he could have had a long and fruitful career in comedy.
With SILENT MOVIE, Mel Brooks took a stab at spoofing a type of cinema that had been largely defunct for nearly fifty years. Without dialogue, SILENT MOVIE is an ode to slapstick and sight gags, which were the mainstay of silent comedy. The premise of SILENT MOVIE finds down on his luck director Mel Funn (Brooks) attempting a comeback and pitching a silent movie to the head of Big Picture Studios, which is facing a hostile takeover by the conglomerate known as Engulf & Devour. While the pitch the silent movie is initially rejected, Funn convinces the studio boss that if he can get Hollywood’s biggest names behind the project, it could save the studio from the takeover. So Funn, and his two sidekicks, Marty Eggs (Marty Feldman) and Dom Bell (Dom DeLuise) set out to convince Burt Reynolds, James Caan, Liza Minnelli, Anne Bancroft, and Paul Newman to appear in their upcoming silent movie. Of course, the heads of Engulf & Devour want Funn to fail, and so they engage the services Vilma Kaplan (Bernadette Peters) to distract the director from his comeback project. The cast of SILENT MOVIE also features Sid Caesar, Harold Gould, Ron Carey, Liam Dunn, Fritz Feld, Chuck McCann, Valerie Curtin, Yvonne Wilder, Harry Ritz, Charlie Callas, Henny Youngman, Al Hopson, Rudy De Luca, Barry Levinson, Howard Hesseman, Lee Delano, Jack Riley and Marcel Marceau (who, ironically, has the film’s only spoken dialog).
HIGH ANXIETY is Mel Brooks’ deft homage to the Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock. Sure some bits in the film have relatively little to do with Hitchcock, and more to do with Brooks adding some throwaway humor into the piece, but HIGH ANXIETY does perfectly nail a number of iconic moments that truly belong to the Master of Suspense. While borrowing elements from a lot of the Hitchcock catalog, the plot of HIGH ANXIETY owes its biggest nods to SPELLBOUND and VERTIGO. Dr. Richard H. Thorndyke (Mel Brooks) arrives at The Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous as its new chief administrator, much to the distain of longtime staff members Dr. Montague (Harvey Korman) and Nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman). Also at the Institute is Thorndyke’s former mentor, Professor Lilloman (Howard Morris), who uncovers that his pupil still suffers from a disorder know as high anxiety.
During his short tenure, Thorndyke becomes aware of a number of irregularities at the Institute, which is followed by "accidental" death of a staff member. Traveling to San Francisco to speak at a psychiatry conference, Thorndyke encounters Victoria Brisbane (Madeline Kahn), the concerned daughter of one of the institutes more hopeless patients. However, during his meeting with Victoria, Thorndyke becomes aware that the patient identified to him as Brisbane at the institute, was someone else… Thorndyke’s attempts to return to the Institute to confront Dr. Montague and Nurse Diesel are thwarted (in typical Hitchcock fashion) when he is falsely accused of murder and forced to flee the authorities. The cast of HIGH ANXIETY also features Ron Carey, Dick Van Patten, Jack Riley, Charlie Callas, Ron Clark, Rudy De Luca and Barry Levinson.
HISTORY OF THE WORLD, PART 1
Featuring a few moments of unbridled hilarity and invention (amongst some less inspired clowning), HISTORY OF THE WORLD, PART 1 is a spoof of both religious and historic epics. Broken up into five sections, HISTORY OF THE WORLD, PART 1 offers a number of vignettes and extended sequences that flesh out various periods in human existence. The Dawn Of Man takes humanity from its primitive ape like ancestors through the caveman days and development of culture. The Old Testament shows Moses (Mel Brooks) coming down from Mount Sinai and delivering unto his people at least Ten Commandments. The Roman Empire is one of the longer sequences and features a stand-up philosopher named Comicus (Mel Brooks) who is booked at Caesar's Palace, where he is to perform for Emperor Nero (Dom DeLuise) and Empress Nympho (Madeline Kahn). Of course, a funny thing happens on the way to the palace… with Comicus hooking up with an Ethiopian slave named Josephus (Gregory Hines) and a Vestal Virgin named Miriam (Mary-Margaret Humes). The Spanish Inquisition offers the film’s most inspired sequence… with the comedy playing out in the form of a Busby Berkeley style production number. The French Revolution is another of the longer sequences that shows the impoverished peasantry on the verge of overthrowing the aristocracy. Mel Brooks portrays the lecherous King Louis, as well as his double- Jacques le Garcon de Pisse. Harvey Korman is nobleman Count de Monet, whose name is a mispronounced play on words. Finally, Cloris Leachman is Madame Defarge, who incites the people of France into revolt. The cast of HISTORY OF THE WORLD, PART 1 also features Ron Carey, Pamela Stephenson, Shecky Greene, Sid Caesar, Mary-Margaret Humes, Orson Welles, Rudy De Luca, Howard Morris, Charlie Callas, Dena Dietrich, Paul Mazursky, Henny Youngman, Fritz Feld, Hugh M. Hefner, Pat McCormick, Barry Levinson, Sid Gould, Ronny Graham, John Myhers, John Hurt and Bea Arthur.
TO BE OR NOT TO BE
TO BE OR NOT TO BE is the only film in the collection not actually directed by Mel Brooks, although he did star in and produce this remake of the Jack Benny/Carole Lombard/ Ernst Lubitsch classic. While certainly entertaining and fun in its own right, this remake just lacks the kind of magic that made the original TO BE OR NOT TO BE a genuine movie classic. The plot of TO BE OR NOT TO BE takes place on the eve of the Nazi invasion of Poland. Hambone stage actor Frederick Bronski (Mel Brooks) performs Hamlet excerpts nightly, while his wife actress Anna Bronski (Anne Bancroft) entertains Polish airman Lt. Andre Sobinski (Tim Matheson) during her husband’s extended soliloquy. Unfortunately, as soon as the Germans take up residency, Bronski’s anti-Nazi leanings result in his theater company being shut down. The shuttering of their theater causes our acting troop to find a new outlet for their talents… and inadvertently, they join the Polish resistance. Charles Durning garnered an Oscar nomination for his role Colonel Erhardt, while Christopher Lloyd adds to the Nazi buffoonery as Captain Schultz. The cast of TO BE OR NOT TO BE also features José Ferrer, Ronny Graham, Estelle Reiner, Zale Kessler, Jack Riley, Lewis J. Stadlen, George Gaynes, George Wyner, James 'Gypsy' Haake and Earl Boen.
As a parody of the STAR WARS franchise, SPACEBALLS appeared a little late in the game to be fully relevant, and considering all the extra years they had to flesh out the jokes, this movie shows more than a bit of evidence that Mel Brooks and company were beginning to run out of gas. Of course, I don’t want to give the impression that SPACEBALLS isn’t funny, just that this movie pales in comparison to earlier films like YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN and BLAZING SADDLES. The thin plot revolves around the planet Spaceball, which has just about used u all of its available air and intends to steal the atmosphere of a planet Druidia. However, a planetary shield protects Druidia’s atmosphere, so President Skroob (Mel Brooks) of Spaceball unleashes Lord Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) to kidnap runaway Druish Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga), and use her as a bargaining chip against her planet. Vespa's father, King Roland (Dick Van Patten), hires Captain Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and his mawg (half-man, half dog) sidekick Barf (John Candy) to rescue his daughter from the evil Spaceballs. The cast of SPACEBALLS also features George Wyner, Michael Winslow, Joan Rivers, Lorene Yarnell, John Hurt, Sal Viscuso, Ronny Graham and Jim J. Bullock.
ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS
While there are laughs to be had in ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS, the film really finds Mel Brooks repeating himself, in more ways than one. Not only does ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS leave one feeling like Brooks has spliced Robin and his merry men into one of his earlier films, but already Mel tried to milk this same premise once before, on a short lived television series entitled WHEN THINGS WERE ROTTEN. Perhaps there were a few jokes left over WHEN THINGS WERE ROTTEN that Mel didn’t want to waste, and so ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS was built up around them. The very familiar plot of ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS places Cary Elwes in the role of Robin Of Loxley, who returns from The Crusades to discover that Prince John (Richard Lewis) is abusing his power and the people of England, while King Richard (Patrick Stewart) is still off fighting in The Holy Land. As Robin raises an army of Merry Men (in tights) to depose Prince John, the Sheriff of Rottingham (Roger Rees) plots against our hero, while at the same time, Maid Marian (Amy Yasbeck) falls for the man with the key to her chastity belt. The cast of ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS also features Mark Blankfield, Dave Chappelle, Isaac Hayes, Megan Cavanagh, Eric Allan Kramer, Matthew Porretta, Tracey Ullman, Patrick Stewart, Dom DeLuise, Dick Van Patten, Robert Ridgely and Mel Brooks.
THE MEL BROOKS COLLECTION ($140) has been released on Blu-ray Disc by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, but is comprised of movies that span the studio libraries of 20th Century Fox, MGM and Warner Bros. Other than 1080p, VC-1 encoded BLAZING SADDLES, all of the films are presented in the AVC codec at 1080p resolution. All the films appear in their correct aspect ratios; the majority of which were produced at 1.85:1, with 2.35:1 BLAZING SADDLES and HISTORY OF THE WORLD, PART 1 being exceptions. THE TWELVE CHAIRS looks remarkably good, when the cinematography allows. There are wonderfully sharp and rich looking shots; with terrific fine detail- then there are shots that appear softer and less defined. Colors are rather nicely saturated and provide natural flesh tones. The elements do show some signs of age, but the noticeable grain structure keeps it very film-like. BLAZING SADDLES is one of the visual highlights of the collection, displaying a very crisp and film-like image, with fairly impressive fine detail. Colors have strong saturation and attractive flesh tones. Blacks, whites and contrast are all strong performers. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN impresses because it is a grainy black and white movie, which hasn’t been processed into a waxy video. The filmic quality remains in tact, with the picture delivering impressive sharpness, fine detail and texturing. Optical processing introduces some softness in places. Blacks and whites are accurate, but contrast does show a push in certain sequences that can diminish apparent detail.
In general, SILENT MOVIE looks very good, with the image appearing crisp and very nicely defined, most of the time. There are the expected number of soft shots that usually appear in relation to an optical effect. Colors are bright and vibrant and produce attractive flesh tones. Blacks and whites look fine, as does the level of contrast. HIGH ANXIETY has the most diffuse look of any movie in the collection, and therefore demonstrates the softest appearance. Some shots are crisper and better defined than others, and considering the grain in the image; I would have to say this is the intended look for the film. Colors appear somewhat subdued, but never faded. Blacks, whites and contrast all look correct. HISTORY OF THE WORLD, PART 1 has always been one of Mel Brooks’ more attractive looking films, and therefore, it should be no surprise that it comes across exceedingly well on Blu-ray. Image sharpness, fine detail and dimensionality make this film another of the visual highlights of the collection. Color reproduction is excellent, with the sets and costumes displaying richly saturated hues. The blacks, the whites and the level of contrast are all spot on. Apparent grain keeps it all very film like.
TO BE OR NOT TO BE has an intentionally diffuse image that harkens back to old style Hollywood glamour cinematography. Of course, this also means that TO BE OR NOT TO BE never crackles with visual detail. Colors also have a slightly dusty quality that gives the film an antiqued visual flavor. Blacks appear reasonably accurate, with clean looking whites. Contrast can be a little off, but for the most part, appears fine. SPACEBALLS looks better on Blu-ray than it ever has in any other format, but the film is still no visual stunner. The picture is usually resolved with respectable sharpness and detail, with some shots popping a bit more than others. Colors occasionally appear fully saturated, but the neutral tones used in much of the production design give a bland impression. Blacks and whites are accurate, but the sitcom caliber lighting seems to lessen the contrast and flatten the image. ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS looks fairly spiffy demonstrating good levels of sharpness and fine detail, which should be no surprise, as this is the newest film in the collection. Colors are wonderfully ripe and render attractive flesh tones. Blacks are deep and the whites are clean. Contrast is very good, which does add some dimensionality to the proceedings.
Other than the 5.1 channel Dolby Digital 640kbps soundtrack attached to BLAZING SADDLES, the films that comprise THE MEL BROOKS COLLECTION are offered with 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks. Considering the timeframe during which many of these films were produced, it should come a no surprise that one will not find any sonic marvels in THE MEL BROOKS COLLECTION. Only SPACEBALLS and ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS offer true envelopment and purposeful distinct channel separations. Many of the other films are either upgraded from monaural, or from standard Dolby Surround, so the upgraded tracks are limited by their respective films’ original production values. Also, even in 5.1, talky comedy mixes fail to impress. That said, I have to admit that just about all of these tracks sound better than the have in the past, especially where their musical components are concerned. The works of Books’ long time musical collaborator, John Morris, sound better in this collection than they ever have before, thanks largely to the lossless soundtracks offered therein. I can’t say there are any concerns with dialogue reproduction anywhere in the collection. French and Spanish language tracks are offered across the collection, with additional language tracks being offered per individual film. Similarly, English and Spanish subtitles are offered across the board, with additional languages being added to individual films.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the disc's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some the supplements that have been spread through the collection. THE TWELVE CHAIRS comes with a Six Film Mel Brooks Trailer Gallery. BLAZING SADDLES comes with a running Audio Commentary with director Mel Brooks, plus the following programs: Back In The Saddle (twenty eight minutes) Intimate Portrait: Madeline Kahn (four minutes) and Black Bart: 1975 Pilot Episode Of The Proposed TV Series Spin-Off. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN comes with a running Audio Commentary with director Mel Brooks, an Isolated Score (in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1), the Bonus View picture-in-picture feature Inside The Lab: Secret Formulas In The Making Of Young Frankenstein (requires a Profile 1.1 player), the pop-up Franken-Track: A Monstrous Conglomeration Of Trivia, plus the following programs and features: It's Alive! Creating A Monster Classic (thirty one minutes), Making FrankenSense Of Young Frankenstein (forty one minutes), Transylvanian Lullaby: The Music Of John Morris (ten minutes), Production Photographs, Mexican Interviews, a Blucher Button, Outtakes, TV Spots and Trailers.
SILENT MOVIE comes with Speak Up! Historical Hollywood Trivia Track, plus the following programs and features: Silent Laughter: The Reel Inspirations Of Silent Movie (twenty five minutes), American and International Trailers, in addition to Mel Brooks Trailers. HIGH ANXIETY comes with an Isolated Score (in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1), Don't Get Anxious! The Trivia Of Hitchcock, plus the following programs and features: Hitchcock And Mel: Spoofing The Master Of Suspense (twenty nine minutes), The "Am I Very Very Nervous?" Test, a Theatrical Trailer, and Mel Brooks Trailers. HISTORY OF THE WORLD, PART 1 comes with an Isolated Score (in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1), The Real History Of The World Trivia Track, plus the following programs and features: Musical Mel: Inventing The Inquisition (eleven minutes), Making History: Mel Brooks On Creating The World (ten minutes), a Theatrical Trailer, and Mel Brooks Trailers.
TO BE OR NOT TO BE comes with an Isolated Score (in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1), To Be Or Not To Be: That Is The Trivia!, plus the following programs and features: Brooks And Bancroft: A Perfect Pair (fifteen minutes), How Serious Can Mel Brooks Really Get? (three minutes), Vintage Interviews, a Theatrical Trailer, and Mel Brooks Trailers. SPACEBALLS comes with a running Audio Commentary with director Mel Brooks, plus the following programs and features: Spaceballs: The Documentary (thirty minutes), In Conversation: Mel Brooks & Thomas Meehan (twenty one minutes), John Candy: Comic Spirit (ten minutes), Watch The Movie In Ludicrous Speed, Storyboard To Film Comparison, Still Galleries, Film Flubs and Trailers. ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS comes with a vintage running Audio Commentary with director Mel Brooks, plus the following programs and features: Funny Men In Tights: Three Generations Of Comedy (fourteen minutes), Robin Hood: Men In Tights- The Legend Had It Coming (twenty six minutes), a Theatrical Trailer, and Mel Brooks Trailers.
Blu-ray makes all of the films in THE MEL BROOKS COLLECTION look and sound better than they have in the past. If you like to laugh and love Mel Brooks, then this collection is a must have. Recommended.
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