Mel Brooks John Simon - Essay

John Simon

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mel Brooks's comic gift, such as it is, is largely verbal and stands to lose too much in a silent movie; and … what was once done so well was done out of necessity, the need to overcome the limitations of a mute medium. Remove the necessity, which is the mother of invention, and you come up with test-tube babies of scant viability.

In the event, Silent Movie has some quite funny sight gags, though the invention wears progressively thinner; it also has exaggerated sound effects that have good and bad moments….

The scenario is basically no sillier than those of the old silent comedies, but the innocence is gone. Some gags are too elucubrated and esoteric; other are takeoffs on the old ones, and seem to kid something that depended on its deadpan dedication. (p. 84)

Yet it would be less than honest to say that there are no laughs; it must, however, be stressed that laughter, like other forms of sustenance, varies in taste. There are sweet or spicy laughs that leave a vivifying aftertaste in the mouth; there are sharp or sour ones that a good chef can likewise put to stimulating use. But there are also those laughs that are so stupidly bland, so bitter, or so tasteless as to leave behind an acrid taste or none at all. Such queasy laughs one is soon ashamed of having laughed, and Silent Movie (sigh! sob!) has far too many of them. (pp. 84, 87)

John Simon, in New York Magazine (copyright © 1976 by News Group Publications, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of New York Magazine), July 19, 1976.