Blu-ray review: ‘History of the World Part I’

Blu-ray review: ‘History of the World Part I’

History of the World Part 1 Blu ray

It’s good to be the king – of scattershot movie parodies.

Mel Brooks’ 1981 film “The History of the World Part I” hits Blu-ray for the first time this week, a not-so-subtle reminder of the comedy legend’s chops.

“History” is Brooks at his bipolar best, delivering classic bits one moment then stumbling over hopelessly stale gags the next.

But if you still can’t get “The Inquisition” number out of your head, then it’s time to revisit this R-rated romp.

“History” plays hopscotch over your kid’s social studies textbook, letting Brooks string a series of sketches together under one comic banner.

And as soon as you see Early Man in a pique of self stimulation you know Brooks is working Blu, or rather blue.

The film later jumps to the Roman era, with Brooks playing a stand-up comedian (or B.S. spewing philosopher) who runs afoul of Emperor Nero (Dom DeLuise in fine form).

We get a barrage of ancient puns – ba-dum-dum – and endless sight gags featuring the letter “V” replacing “U” in Roman signs.

It’s uneven, to be gentle, but with Brooks’ regulars like Madeline Kahn and Ron Carey at full bluster it’s impossible to gripe over the crusty jabs.

The film strikes comic paydirt during The Spanish Inquisition, which Brooks turns into a zany song and dance spectacle. It’s the best scene in the movie and a showcase for Brooks’ genius at fusing music and humor.

The French Revolution segment which ends the film is anything but inspired. It feels more like a Monkees episode spiked with scatalogical gags to reinforce the R-rating. When our heroes reach The End, you’ll be more than happy to see this journey end.

The Zucker comedies – “Airplane!” and “The Naked Gun” – took Brooks’ kitchen sink approach to comedy and ramped up the gags, which makes watching “History” anew a bit of an antiquated experience even when the jokes hit the mark.

The Blu-ray presentation looks spectacular, and it includes a pair of smart featurettes on the film’s creation. Brooks tell us Richard Pryor was set to star in the role that eventually went to Gregory Hines, but health complications got in the way.

Brooks’ way with a song is saluted detailing his musical numbers. The interviews let some of today’s Broadway kings comment on the ageless master of the form.

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Related posts:

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  3. ‘The Express’ – Gripping gridiron history
  4. ‘An American Carol’ – A brave new world
  5. ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ – Goldthwait grows up … a bit

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

OpusNo Gravatar May 13, 2010 at 3:46 am

The film would have worked better for me if the Rome and French sections had been much shorter and sketches covering different time periods included instead.
I’d also be willing to bet the gay jokes in the Rome section wouldn’t have been put in if the film had been made today.
Even though Brooks went on to make other comedies I feel this film marked the begining of a steady decline in quality. To me his high point was Young Frankenstein.
In regards to Blu-Ray, is it really worth it to get older films in the format? I’m not a techie but if they’re starting with something low-res how can they make it hi-res and look good?

cftotoNo Gravatar May 13, 2010 at 3:52 am

I completely agree that “History” marked the start of Brooks’ descent as a top flight comedy director — I wish I had included that in my initial review.

The “F” word was used once or twice here – and that wouldn’t fly today, that’s for sure.

Sketch wise, shorter is almost always better, something which could have helped here. Brooks had all of history to choose from – why dawdle on the French Revolution?

Blu-ray remains a tough call. I will say with some titles it’s clear they do their very best to clean up the print in question. I haven’t seen “History” on standard DVD, but it looks uber-crisp on Blu-ray.

OpusNo Gravatar May 13, 2010 at 5:25 am

Recently I was able to buy a Brook’s triple film pack for less than $15, “History of the World, Spaceballs and Young Frankenstein”. On the one hand I was thrilled to be able to get the films with all the dvd extras intact, on the other hand it was sad that they could be sold that way right next to triple packs of Steven Segal and Jean Claude Van Damn.
A bit of a personal connection, many years ago the son of a friend, was cast in a Brook’s film that ultimately was never made. The young man wasn’t an actor and it would have been his first film. He was extremely fat which was one of the main reasons he was cast. His character apparently was going to be treated very badly, the butt of some bad fat jokes. I was impressed that Brooks personally called him a number of times to make sure he knew what he was getting into and to try to make sure he wouldn’t be hurt by it.

KNo Gravatar May 13, 2010 at 5:49 am

“The Producers” and “Young Frankenstein” were Brook’s great movies. The rest, not so much. Carl Fredrick Gauss used to say “Few but ripe!”, Brooks motto is “Many but mediocre!”.

PaulaNo Gravatar May 13, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Wasn’t Richard Pryor originally supposed to play Sheriff Bart in “Blazing Saddles”? I know he co-wrote the screenplay.

cftotoNo Gravatar May 13, 2010 at 5:36 pm

That sounds familiar … let me see if I can find that info.

cftotoNo Gravatar May 13, 2010 at 5:37 pm
PaulaNo Gravatar May 14, 2010 at 2:26 am

Thanks, Mr. Toto. I had no idea that Gig Young could have been the Waco Kid had it not been for his drinking problem. He was a talented actor who met a very tragic end.

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