Archive for the ‘Directed by Mel Brooks’ Category

High Anxiety

25 Oct

High Anxiety – written and directed by Mel Brooks. Parody. A psychotherapist finds himself at the head of a clinic whose staff wants to murder him. 94 minutes Color 1977.
Some people are inherently funny. Some people can do funny things. Some people can conceive of funny things to do. Cloris Leachman and Madeline Kahn fall into the first and greatest of these categories. There is something in them which, called upon, embodies, with all due and necessary exaggeration, human nature at its most deeply cartoonish. Harvey Korman falls into the second category: he can do funny things, so he can support those who are inherently funny. While Mel Brooks is neither inherently funny nor can he do funny things, what he can do is conceive funny things to do – which makes him a writer and a director. But, while his conceptions may look funny on paper, when performed, they are often not funny at all, because either they or his capacity to act them and to direct them are inadequate. Here, for instance, in a series of parodies of Hitchcock, he finds himself in a park being shit on by a thousand birds. What would Charlie Chaplin have done? I don’t know, but the situation requires great delicacy of response from the actor, and Chaplin (who falls into all three categories) would have found great and hilarious daintiness in being shit on by a thousand birds. All Brooks can do is run away. It is not a comic solution, is it? It is crude. Think what a vaudevillian, who cannot run away because he is on the stage, would have done with this. What saves Brooks is that he has an abundance of ideas and he has talented people executing them. And that he is having a good time and he has a big heart. The film as whole works well as a collection of skits on Hitchcock. We have The Birds; we have The Wrong Man with two men wrongfully accused; we have Foreign Agent and the windmill; we have Vertigo, San Francisco, and fear of heights; we have Mel Brooks being stabbed to death in the shower by a psycho bellboy; we have Brooks meeting Kahn at the northwest corner of Golden Gate Park; we have the Hitchcock blond in the form of Kahn’s Niagara wig; we even have Michael Chekov from Spellbound as Brooks’ old professor. Low comedy should make us guffaw and fall off our chairs laughing. Brooks may not be to my taste, but I love to guffaw and fall off my chair laughing. Still, this is an amiable nonsense, and one could do worse than watch it – which is to paint with damn phrase.


The Twelve Chairs

15 Mar

The Twelve Chairs — Directed by Mel Brooks —— Slapstick Comedy. The jewels of a Russian duchess sewn into the seat of one of twelve dining room chairs are the focus of a madcap treasure hunt. 93 minutes Color 1970.

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Frank Langella comes before us fully equipped as that rare creature, a classic romantic actor. Which means he has a big, beautiful voice, is gorgeous, and has the speed, economy, and inner-power-to-spare for the big gesture. The instrument both physically and internally is dark velvet moved by the breeze of circumstance. Here he is young, 32, and quite at home in himself. He seems to know what he is and is not fooled by it. Other actors looking at him, or any audience for that matter, might sense that the parts he plays when young do not either inspire or require his full power, and that he is never operating to the limit of his capacity. But that was not so important as that, still, we know we are getting our money’s worth; he was easily sufficient. The older he has gotten the better he has gotten. The more he has lost his rich thick, glossy black hair the closer he has come to the great actor inherent in him. I remember seeing him at Williamstown in the summer with Blythe Danner and Mildred Dunnock in Anouilh’s Ring Around The Moon, and thinking, “That young man has a great ass; I wonder if he will ever get beyond the prerogatives it grants him.” He has. It would be interesting to see him perform now the great roles in Sophocles or Euripides. Why he has, to my knowledge, never done Oedipus, gives me hope that one day I shall see him play it. Or Coriolanus. Here, as the Russian mountebank, he is delightful, fluid, kind, direct, and smart. And quite impenitent about everything that must be done to secure the fortune. Mel Brooks is hilarious as the peasant servant and Dom DeLuise is amazingly and admirably entertaining as the priest also after the jewels. Ron Moody fares less well because the role wants variety. He is always Drooling Greed. That’s the way it’s written and that’s also the way it’s directed. It’s a part Brooks must have written for himself, so it offers nothing for us to revel in but but the idea that consistent vulgarity of imagination is funny.  The other actors have more scope offered to them, and they seize it, and play it out with silent film frenzy and panache. It makes me want to see all of Brooks’ films. After Blazing Saddles I wanted to see none of them. After Young Frankenstein I wanted to see all of them. Now I shall.


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