Mel Brooks Judith Crist - Essay

Judith Crist

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In Silent Movie] Brooks has concocted a talkie with a gimmick. The gimmickry here involves parodies of silent-movie jokes and simplistic plotting. The absence of realistic sound and speech is complete with the exception of one word—spoken, of course, by the mime Marcel Marceau. Above all, it's an oral comedy, with its verbal humor obvious in signs, names, and title cards. Like Blazing Saddles, the Brooks film this most closely parallels, Silent Movie is clearly the work of gag writers…. It's even more clearly the work of Mel Brooks, not merely as the co-author, director, and leading man, but also as the overall comic persona, replete with his satiric eye, sophisticated social perception, gut approach, and unfortunate tendency toward the scatological, not to mention his gift for the outrageous and—though I have sworn off the word as blurbily destructive—the hilarious….

[There] are sight gags galore: slapstick and pratfalls and rib tickles and rib pokes; shticks and bits and skits and lunacy—and lapses of taste and timing. (p. 44)

And there are falters: Marceau in a Bip bit serves only to jolt us into the realization that we are watching speechless rather than silent comedy: the villainies of Harold Gould and his E & D associates are basically uninspired…. As a tour de force, it's amusing on a superficial level. As a Mel Brooks movie, it's more of the same—and while we do indeed ask for more we keep hoping for the "something different" he's come up with before. (pp. 44-5)

Judith Crist, "Mel Brooks Tackles the 'Pickford Paradox'," in Saturday Review (© 1976 by Saturday Review/World, Inc.; reprinted with permission), August 7, 1976, pp. 44-5.