History of the World, Part I

HistoryOftheWorldPosterMel Brooks as Comicus, Moses, Jacques, and King Louis
Sid Caesar as the Chief Caveman
Gregory Hines as Josephus
Mary-Margaret Humes as Miriam
Ron Carey as Swiftus
Dom DeLuise as Caesar
Madeline Kahn as Empress Nympho
Rudy DeLuca as Captain Mucus
Art Metrano as Leonardo DaVinci
Pamela Stephenson as Mademoiselle Rimbaud
Harvey Korman as Count de Monet
Spike Milligan as Rimbaud’s father

Who doesn’t consider Mel Brooks to be a comic genius? His movies, with one or two exceptions, were absolutely hilarious and Hollywood is decidedly weaker without him. the comedic timing, scripts, performances, and social commentary of his movies were almost always just right. One problem he did have later on was a tendency to repeat the same jokes over and over again. Robin Hood: Men In Tights, for example, includes a few jokes used in this movie, such as someone saying “it’s good to be the King” as the King abuses his position or a crowd responding to an individual’s plea for mercy by yelling, “bullshit!”

In what may be an homage to plays that showcase several disconnected stories, this movie consists of six acts depicting periods in world history. They are:

The Stone Age: obviously, this is about cavemen barely more evolved than wild animals. The jokes focus on how primitive these people are. Following a spear thrower accidentally killing another guy, for example, the narrator says that “man was often ignorant as to the cause of death.” Classic!

The Old Testament: Moses issues the Ten Commandments and f^cks it up. So if you can’t watch stand-ups who crack jokes about religion without losing it, stay away from this movie.

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But whether you can or not, I’m giving you taste of it. Ain’t I a dick?

The Roman Empire: this witty parody of the land of hairy helmets centers on four characters: a “stand-up philosopher” named Comicus, his loud agent who answers to Swiftus, a black guy and escaped slave called Josephus, and a “vestal virgin” named Miriam. They end up being wanted by Emperor Caesar and make a slapstick escape from Rome. We get some hilarious hints as to why the Empire may have fallen along the way. Jesus appears at the end, and Comicus ruins the famous painting of Jesus and his disciples.

The Spanish Inquisition: As per the play motif, this is a musical about one of the countless massacres of Jews. No bullshit. we’re meant to laugh about torture and murder. There is little doubt in my mind that Brooks would never have gotten away with this if he weren’t Jewish himself. On the other hand, the jokes are pretty funny, if really, really, taking it to the limit.

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This is what I’m talking about. Human beings as slot machine icons. Ooh!

The French Revolution: King Louis is played well by Mel Brooks as a spoiled, sadistic leader who torments his subjects for the fun of it. Upon hearing about an upcoming revolution, he lets “the Piss Boy,” who looks like him (Mel Brooks plays them both), take his place. The literal Piss Boy becomes a figurative Piss Boy when Louis’ government is overthrown.

Preview: this works like a brief preview for a sequel that never really emerged. Pity.

The performances are pretty good. Everybody seems perfectly aware of the kind of historical character they’re playing and get their expressions and voices just right. Major ’80s stars in this movie include Dom DeLuise, Harvey Korman, and Brooks himself.

If you’re in the the mood to laugh at history, look no further than this movie. It’s well-polished, witty, and funny — the right ingredients for any comedy. The only reason it didn’t get a 9 or 10 is because there’s got to be something higher for Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein to reach. Nonetheless, it’s one of Mel Brooks’ better showings.

Overall: 8 out of 10

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