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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Satire > Musical > Silent > Mel Brooks Box Set Collection (Blazing Saddles/Young Frankenstein/Silent Movie/Robin Hood: Men in Tights/To Be Or Not To Be/History Of The World, Part 1/Twelve Chairs/High Anxiety/Fox DVD)

The Mel Brooks Collection (20th Century Fox)


Fox's new Mel Brooks Collection is a compilation of 8 Brooks comedies, 7 of which he did for 20th Century Fox, with Warner Bros.' Blazing Saddles also available in this DVD set.  The Brooks films not included are The Producers (1968), Spaceballs (1987), Life Stinks (1991), Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995) and the 2005 musical version of The Producers.



Here are capsule reviews of the 8 titles in the new Brooks collection:



The Twelve Chairs (1970)


Picture: B-     Sound: C+     Extras: D     Film: C+


Brooks second film as writer/director is a hit or miss spoof of Communism set in 1920s Russia.  Ron Moody stars as a one-time aristocrat whose wealth was confiscated after the Communist revolution.  When his dying mother tells him of some expensive jewels sewn into one of twelve chairs, he sets out on a madcap cross-country journey in hopes of finding the treasure.  He joins forces with a handsome con artist (Frank Langella), while a priest (Dom DeLuise) also pursues the chairs.  The Twelve Chairs was not a hit when released in theaters, and it's not among Brooks' best.  However, the film is saved by the zany performances of Brooks, in an all-too-brief role as Moody's former servant, and DeLuise, who is hilarious when Brooks lets him go.



Blazing Saddles (1974)


Picture: B-     Sound: C     Extras: C+     Film: B-


Brooks' first smash hit is a spoof of the movie Western that pushed the comedy envelope back in the mid-1970s.  Here Brooks lampoons the hypocrisy of a lily-white town in the Old West when a black man (Cleavon Little in a role originally intended Richard Pryor, who gets a co-writer credit) becomes sheriff.  Blazing Saddles still provides a few chuckles, but once you know the big jokes (farting around the campfire, Mongo punching the horse, Lili Von Shtupp, etc.), it doesn't have the same effect.  Blazing Saddles is the favorite of many Brooks fans, but I find it somewhat overrated.  One interesting tidbit discovered on Brooks' 55-minute audio commentary is that Gig Young was originally cast as the Waco Kid, and filmed for a day, before Young's real-life drunkenness forced Brooks to replace him with Gene Wilder.



Young Frankenstein (1974)


Picture: B     Sound: C+     Extras: A     Film: B


With Gene Wilder as his co-writer, Young Frankenstein has a much sharper script than Blazing Saddles.  Spoofing the original Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, and smartly photographed in black & White to capture the spirit of those 1930s horror films, Wilder stars as the title character, who pronounces his last name "Fronk-en-steen" because he's ashamed of his grandfather's infamous regeneration experiments.  But after accepting an invitation to Transylvania, young Frankenstein resumes his grandfather's experiments.  Bug-eyed Marty Feldman steals the show as Igor, who pronounces it "Eye-gor," and Wilder gives an inspired comedic performance. The rendition of Puttin' on the Ritz by Frankenstein and his creature (Peter Boyle) is the most amusing of the musical numbers that always pop up in Brooks' movies.



Silent Movie (1976)


Picture: B     Sound: C+     Extras: C     Film: B-


Brooks took a risk with this comedy that's silent except for one word of dialogue delivered by an ironic source.  The film is largely a success thanks to some very funny sight gags, but even at a brief 87 minutes, Brooks seems to be stretching things to feature-film length in the last half-hour.  Brooks plays Mel Funn, a has-been producer who travels everywhere with two clumsy cronies (a la The Three Stooges).  Funn convinces a desperate studio chief (Sid Caesar) that he can save his dying studio with a new silent movie, and sets out to cajole some of the biggest stars in Hollywood to appear in it.  Some of the biggest stars of the middle '70s, Burt Reynolds, James Caan, Paul Newman, Liza Minnelli and Brooks' real-life wife, Anne Bancroft, have cameos as themselves.



High Anxiety (1977)


Picture: B     Sound: C+     Extras: C     Film: B+


A riotous spoof of Alfred Hitchcock thrillers that doubles as a loving tribute to the master of suspense, Brooks reached his comedy peak with High Anxiety.  Smartly spoofing scenes from the likes of Psycho, North by Northwest, The Birds and Vertigo, right down to Hitch's famous camera angles, High Anxiety is my personal favorite in the Brooks' canon.  As the newly appointed head psychiatrist at the Psycho Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous, Dr. Richard Thorndyke (Brooks) battles his own phobias as he finds himself embroiled in a sinister plot involving a resentful fellow shrink (Harvey Korman), a homely nurse (Cloris Leachman) and a blonde in jeopardy (Madeline Kahn).  Hitchcock himself reportedly loved High Anxiety and sent Brooks a case of wine as a thank you.  Hitch’s one hobby was collecting vino, so it was meant as high complement indeed.



History of the World: Part I (1981)


Picture: B     Sound: C+     Extras: C     Film: C-


A favorite of 10 year olds across America in the summer 1981 -- the ones who saw it despite its R rating -- Brooks once again tried to push the envelope with this raunchy comedy, but proved that increasing the vulgarity level doesn't necessarily translate into more laughs.  In the fact, there are only a couple of mild chuckles to be found in what's a huge come down from High Anxiety.  Gag after gag falls flat in this parody of famous periods of history, which ends up feeling a lot longer than its 92-minute running time.  Brooks' decline as a writer/director clearly began right here.



To Be or Not to Be (1983)


Picture: B     Sound: C+     Extras: C     Film: B


Interestingly, this is the one Brooks film that he didn't officially write or direct.  But considering his previous movie and most of his subsequent efforts, maybe it was just as well.  Written by Thomas Meehan and Ronny Graham, and directed by Broadway choreographer Alan Johnson, To Be or Not to Be is a remake of the 1942 Jack Benny comedy of the same name.  It gave Brooks and his longtime wife, Anne Bancroft, a chance to star on-screen as a married pair of stage performers in 1939 Poland, who must use their acting skills to help the Polish resistance when the Nazis invade.  Brooks and Bancroft are wonderful here, and Charles Durning (who received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor) is terrific as a buffoonish Nazi officer.  This remake is a very well-executed farce, and Brooks' most underrated movie.



Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)


Picture: B     Sound: B-     Extras: C+     Film: D


Rivaling the equally lame Dracula: Dead and Loving It as Brooks' worst film, Robin Hood: Men in Tights is a painfully unfunny spoof where Brooks continued what he had already tried in a short-lived 1975 sitcom about Robin Hood called When Things Were Rotten.  In one of his audio commentaries on another film, Brooks said he never met a cheap joke he didn't like.  Problem is by the time he did Robin Hood: Men in Tights, all he had left were cheap jokes that turned stale long ago.  Even Brooks in a cameo as circumcision-loving Rabbi Tuckman and a Dom DeLuise cameo spoofing Marlon Brando's Don Corleone aren't as funny as they should be.  Brooks also made the mistake of casting Cary Elwes as Robin Hood, when someone like Gene Wilder was needed.




Overall, this 8 DVD set is worth it for anybody who appreciates at least some of Mel Brooks' work, especially since four of these titles (Silent Movie, High Anxiety, To Be or Not to Be and Robin Hood: Men in Tights) are available on Region 1 DVD for the first time, and not sold separately.  I was satisfied with the color and sharpness of the picture quality on each title and all are anamorphically enhanced at 1.85 X 1, except Blazing Saddles and History of the World: Part I, both shot in Panavision and 2.35 X 1.  All were processed in DeLuxe color, except Blazing Saddles was three-strip dye-transfer Technicolor in its time and this DVD is somewhat close here, while Young Frankenstein is real black and white.  Some fans might feel a 1.33 X 1 presentation of the film should have been an option in keeping with the Universal horror classics its spoofs, but this version still looks very good.  The Twelve Chairs was produced in a non dye-transfer color and still looks very good.


As for sound, Blazing Saddles is the poorest at Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono, but the Dolby 2.0 Mono on Young Frankenstein is not bad though it is supposed to be in stereo from the optical Westrex masters and the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track on The Twelve Chairs is decent for its age.  Silent Movie is in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo from the four-channel magnetic stereo release it originally had, while High Anxiety was Brooks first Dolby Stereo release, even if it was the old analog A-type.  Both films have Dolby Pro Logic surrounds, but are a bit compressed.  Of course, Silent Movie is limited to its music and sound effects for the most part.  History of the World: Part I was actually a monophonic release, but is Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo here with some Pro Logic surrounds.  To Be or Not to Be went back to Dolby A-type analog noise reduction and is Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo here with the best regular Pro Logic surrounds in the set.  That leaves Robin Hood: Men in Tights, which was released in Dolby’s better Spectral Recording (SR) analog system and has a 3.1 configuration on this DVD.  This is odd, but that is the set up.


In terms of extras, the theatrical trailer or trailers are included on each film, with Blazing Saddles containing a 55-minute audio commentary by Brooks (this doesn't have all the extras of the 2-disc 30th Anniversary Edition from Warner Bros., though that set has the same Dolby 1.0 Mono), To Be or Not to Be containing just part of an old featurette and brief on-set interviews with Brooks, Bancroft and Durning, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights having a 30-minute HBO special from 1993.  The only title loaded with extras is Young Frankenstein, which includes a full-length audio commentary by Brooks, a making of documentary with up-to-date interviews, old on-set interviews with Feldman, Wilder and Cloris Leachman, 7 deleted scenes, outtakes and bloopers and production stills.  A great set in slender cases and one of the big movie boxes of the year, The Mel Brooks Collection is a winner.



-   Chuck O'Leary


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