Sunday, June 23, 2013

Steal of the week

Doing Best Buy research for this edition, led us to purchase The Mel Brooks Collection.

It's not something we're ashamed of but it wasn't until Sunday that we mentioned this.  "You got it too!"

The Mel Brooks Collection is an $89.00, nine film, Blu-Ray collection that Best Buy's currently selling for $39.99 or, in one instance, $29.99.

So you get all of his films?

No, you don't.

You don't get The Producers (the first film he directed), Life Stinks or Dracula: Dead and Loving It.

But you still have a plentiful serving.

You have more than enough, in fact, to trace the downfall of Mel Brooks.

Following his first two films, Mel Brooks did a string of parodies -- in fact, the only other non-parody he did was Life Stinks.

This destroyed his talent.

At least that's the popular lie.

Mel Brooks was funny and could direct a funny movie today -- if he'd seen his own work objectively.

Of all the films on the boxed set, The Twelve Chairs is the one most probably haven't seen or heard of.

It's cute and charming and more like someone else's film (Rob Reiner's) that it is like a Mel Brooks' film.

Blazing Saddles kicks off Brooks' comedic streak and remains a classic.  The 1974 western parody was one of three classic films Brooks made in the 70s.

Even more successful was Young Frankenstein.   Gene Wilder was the star of both films. As Meg Ryan brought Nora Ephron's writing to life, so Wilder did with Brooks.

Silent Movie is more than watchable but it's not classic.  Part of the problem?

While Gene Wilder's gone, everyone else in the world appears to be in it -- including, James Caan, Liza Minelli, Burt Reynolds, Anne Bancroft, Bernadette Peters and Paul Newman.

The most serious problem may be Anne Bancroft who is seriously miscast and too stiff in the role.

High Anxiety follows and is a classic film.  This one takes off on several Alfred Hitchcock films.  Mel Brooks is better as a lead in this film than he was in Silent Movie.  But something else happens as well.

The 80s find Mel offering History of the World Part I which disappointed on release. The best moment in the movie was Madam Defarge (Cloris Leachman)  stirring up a mob, followed closely by Empress Nympho (Madeline Kahn) during the Roman Empire.

There was your answer if you were paying attention.

To what?

Why no other films are classics.

To Be or Not To Be is a remake of a classic.  Anne Bancroft had many acting strengths but coimedy really wasn't among them.  Spaceballs is funny but it's not a classic. Robin Hood Men in Tights has its moments.

So what went wrong?

Brooks' films starring Gene Wilder weren't hits because of Gene.  They were hits because of strong casts.  They were hits because men and women went to Mel Brooks films to laugh.

And they could laugh at the men and women onscreen.

But Mel began to appeal to males only when he stopped working with Cloris Leachman and Madeline Kahn.   Kahn appears in all three of Brooks' 70s classics, Leachman in two of them.

These were strong actresses.

As time progressed, Brooks went for Anne Bancroft (also his wife) who was  a strong actress but really didn't do comedy so tended to be the 'straight man' in the proceedings.

The History of the World Part I is the last time Mel Brooks works with Leachman and Kahn (Leachman would try to get Brooks to let her recreate her role in Young Frankenstein when the film was turned into a Broadway musical but Brooks said "no").

After that, a strong comic role for a woman happens in only one film: Spaceballs.  Joan Rivers plays a robot who's onscreen far too little.

That's what destroyed Mel Brooks' films.  He was a comic playing to men and women and then, suddenly, women were these cheescake straight men.

None of his females ever looked as lovely on film as Teri Garr in Young Frankenstein but Garr wasn't just pretty to look at, she brought strong comedy chops to the table.

Madeline Kahn was a zany high point of Blazing Saddles and came close to stealing Young Frankenstein.  In High Anxiety, she is hilarious trying to sneak through airport security or on the phone with Brooks.  And Cloris Leachman was hilarious and sporting the cone bra long before Madonna.

It's a shame it happened because first the female leads became simplistic and then all the characters did.  It didn't have to be this way.  Just as he's losing interest in funny women, three of the funniest are kicking off their film careers:  Gilda Radner, Jane Curtain and Laraine Newman were all departing Saturday Night Live and hoping to find film careers. Maybe if they'd left in 1977, Brooks could have found roles for them?

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