Mel Brooks Stanley Kauffmann - Essay

Stanley Kauffmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Silent Movie is Brooks's] best picture to date. That's limited praise, surely, still this is his most organic film, the least desperately outrageous. No one sequence stands out like the punching of the horse in Saddles or the monster-doctor vaudeville routine in Frankenstein, but those were highlights amidst messy frenzy. Silent Movie takes a comic line and hews to it fairly consistently, fairly inventively.

Some viewers have assumed that, by making a silent film, Brooks is automatically challenging Chaplin and Keaton, particularly since he also plays the leading role…. [But he] is simply pursuing his parodic way—last time monster pictures, this time silent slapstick, next time maybe Ingmar Bergman. Like all parody, it's a form of homage, but that's not the same thing as competition. The only question is whether the parody amuses….

I didn't laugh at the picture as much as I just liked it. Even when gags go on too long, like Brooks and friends in armor in a studio commissary, Silent Movie has the feeling of goodhearted spoof. And most of this comes from Brooks himself. Up to now his screen performing has been blasted by life-of-the-party mania. But here the absence of language seems to have forced him back, not on technical excellence, which he doesn't have, but on his personality. What holds this picture together is that Brooks comes across as—yes, I was surprised, too—rather sweet. (p. 20)

Stanley Kauffmann, "Laff Time" (copyright © 1976 by Stanley Kauffmann; reprinted by permission of Brandt & Brandt Literary Agents, Inc.), in The New Republic, July 31, 1976, pp. 20, 33.