Silent Movie (1976)

“Mel Funn — once Hollywood’s greatest director, until drinking destroyed his career — is trying to make a comeback.”

Synopsis:
A has-been director (Mel Brooks) and his friends (Marty Feldman and Dom DeLuise) convince the ailing head (Sid Caesar) of a major movie company to take a chance on their latest project — a silent film featuring several big-name stars — as a last-ditch attempt to prevent a take-over by the greedy corporation Engulf & Devour.

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Review:
Film fanatics will likely get a kick out of Mel Brooks’ affectionate homage to silent movies, given how cleverly he recreates so many of the era’s classic tropes while keeping his film’s storyline (and actors) squarely grounded in modern times. Indeed, a surprising number of Brooks’ sight gags remain enjoyably humorous, with only a few representing Brooks’ more traditionally low-brow humor (i.e., a running joke in which Brooks, DeLuise, and Feldman repeatedly find themselves huddled together in a compromising position, and jeered at by passers-by as “fags”). Examples of effective scenes include Brooks and Bernadette Peters (as vampish singer “Vilma Kaplan”) running through a field and stripping off their clothes in wild abandon, only to find themselves leaping over hurdles as unexpected rivals in a race (a sequence that reminds me of something Woody Allen would attempt); Feldman playing around with Caesar’s life support machine at the hospital; and Brooks et al.’s visit to James Caan’s teetering trailer, where they find that even the sprinkling of pepper on a bun puts everything off balance. Speaking of Caan, all the “big name” stars elicited to participate in the film through cameo roles (Caan, Burt Reynolds, Liza Minnelli, Paul Newman, Anne Bancroft, and Marcel Marceau) seem to be having a great time, which adds to the overall festive mood.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Numerous enjoyable sight gags



  • Amusing cameos by game film stars

Must See?
Yes, as an enjoyable homage to the silent film era.

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One Response to “Silent Movie (1976)”

  1. Not must-see.

    My rewatch of this just now was only my second viewing; I saw the film on its initial release. Most of it really didn’t work then – and it doesn’t work now.

    Sad to say but, for the most part, Brooks’ creative career ended (on the highest note possible) with ‘Young Frankenstein’. He should have gained more than just confidence after that singular experience. ‘SM’ certainly exudes confidence – but little else.

    The decision was apparently made to go in a ‘gentler’ direction this time out – and, true, ‘SM’ does look like Brooks’ happiest and least offensive film. And, yes, the cast does seem to be having a fun time. But, unfortunately, the comic bits that genuinely work (and, yes, a few of them land well – as the assessment brings out) are few and far between. ~which lodges the film in a sad state of imbalance.

    I think the one cast member who comes off best is Bernadette Peters. She appears late in the film – but, once she’s there, she’s given a fair amount to do and takes full advantage of it. She’s rather a joy to watch.

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