Thursday, July 31, 2014

Silent Movie

TCM has another night of Mel Brooks, just like they did a month or two ago. The only difference is that while that feature looked at the films Brooks produced, tonight's lineup has a bunch of movies he starred in and/or directed. This includes what I think is the TCM premiere of Silent Movie, at 9:45 PM.

Brooks plays Mel Funn, a down-on-his-luck movie director in modern Hollywood. He needs a hit, and has a radical idea: make a silent movie. So he goes with his two assistants Eggs (Marty Feldman) and Bell (Dom DeLuise) to see the studio bosses. Nobody really wants to take a chance on this, of course. It seems a daft idea, and not only because it's coming from a washed up guy like Mel Funn. But, there's one studio head (Sid Caesar) whose studio is in trouble, and he agrees to it on condition that Funn can get stars contracted to do it.

And so, Funn and his assistants go off and try to get those stars under contract, while our Studio Chief tries to keep the big non-Hollywood business from taking over the studio. The outside business, however, wants to take over the stuido, so that have every interest in making sure that Funn doesn't make the movie, and if he does, that it not be a success. This being a Mel Brooks comedy, however, you know that there's likely to be a happy ending....

The one thing Silent Movie decidedly is not is a silent movie in the traditional sense. Oh, there's no spoken dialog with one exception that's the ponchline to a joke, but the movie doesn't feel like any of the old silent movies, mostly because it's not supposed to be. Mel Brooks had previously done spoofs of the horror genre with Young Frankenstein and westerns with Blazing Saddles before turning his sights on silent films. Silent Movie is first and foremost a parody of the silent genre with its broad slapstick humor, overwrought gestures, and melodrama, with the added conceit that they weren't going to have spoken dialog but use intertitles instead.

Mel Brooks is one of those moviemakers where whether you like his movies is going to come down to whether you like his style, much more than other actors or directors. Silent Movie, like Brooks' other parodies, is filled with sight gags and homages to movies and stars of the past. But as with many of his other movies, the material often seems overcooked, as though he's hitting us over the head with his jokes. We get it already, Mel. Silent Movie has good sequences of course, many of them having to do with the various stars Funn is trying to get to star in his movie. In the end, though, I think I'd recommend something like The Producers to somebody who doesn't know much of the Mel Brooks style. Those who like Brooks already will probably very much enjoy Silent Movie, however.

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