INCLUDES: SILENT MOVIE, ROBIN HOOD-MEN IN TIGHTS, BLAZING SADDLES, HIGH ANXIETY, HISTORY OF THE WORLD PART 1, TO BE OR NOT TO BE, TWELVE CHAIRS, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.
There are plenty of belly laughs in The Mel Brooks Collection, an eight-disc set of most of the director-writer-actor's best-known films. Four of them--Silent Movie, High Anxiety, To Be or Not to Be, and Robin Hood: Men with Tights--are making their debut on DVD, while a fifth, The Twelve Chairs, was briefly available as a non-anamorphic DVD from Image Entertainment (all the DVDs in this set are anamorphically enhanced for widescreen TVs). That means you can sample a 23-year stretch of Brooks's outrageous and affectionate spoofing of everything from movies to popular legends to movies to historical figures to, hey! more movies.
The earliest film, The Twelve Chairs (1970), is the least known, but is one of the funniest, helped greatly by a good story (adapted from a 1920s Russian tale) and the casting of Ron Moody and Frank Langella as treasure hunters. Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles followed in 1974. The former, a spoof of horror films, is easily one of the top two or three funniest movies of all time, and the latter is justly famous for its often-tasteless send-up of Western cliches. Silent Movie (1976) is just what the title describes, with its only word of dialogue spoken from the least-likely source, and High Anxiety (1977) pays tribute to the work of Alfred Hitchcock. History of the World, Part 1 (1981) mocks historical events and epics, and To Be or Not to Be (1983) is a remake of Ernst Lubitsch's 1942 classic of the same name (it's also the only film in the set for which Brooks didn't receive writing and directing credit). By this time, Brooks was more actively taking the leading roles himself (rather than the bit parts), and unfortunately relying less on his topnotch ensemble of recurring players, which included Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Harvey Korman, and Dom DeLuise. But he does use a new ensemble (including Cary Elwes and, in his film debut, Dave Chappelle), for Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993), the feature-length spin on the same hero Brooks had spoofed in his short-lived 1975 television series When Things Were Rotten.
Bonus features are minor. In addition to an HBO featurette on Men in Tights, there's a featurette and interviews on To Be or Not to Be and all the features (Brooks commentary, deleted scenes, interviews, etc.) that were on the original release of Young Frankenstein. Note that while rights issues kept The Producers, Spaceballs, and other films out of this set, 20th Century Fox was able to use Warner Bros.' Blazing Saddles. The features on that disc, however, are the ones that were on the 1997 DVD release, not the 2004 anniversary reissue. Regardless, the set's price for this many films is low, and because it has so many films new to DVD, Brooks fans will want to pick this up faster than they can say... "Frau Blücher!" --David Horiuchi
Dracula: Dead and Loving It (DVD)
Mel Brooks takes a turn at a classic horror tale. The vampires are loose, but somehow everyone's having a great time, including the undead count himself in Dracula: Dead and Loving It.]]>
In 1995, it was promising to hear that Mel Brooks was creating "the companion piece to Young Frankenstein." He had also brought in the heavyweight of deadpan--Leslie Nielsen. As Lt. Frank Drebin in the Police Squad movies, Nielsen has no peer for silly stuff--just the player Brooks would seem to need for a strong movie, as any fan of Brooks perpetually hopes a new film may rekindle his madcap magic. Alas, the end results in Dracula: Dead and Loving It include a sprinkling of amusements and one big belly laugh. Brooks and his writers use a very tight adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel, but the spoofs can be spelled out as we go, as if they are paint-by-number. Some are jabs at Coppola's version of Dracula, but most are attached to classic Dracula films. If any real pleasure comes from the movie it's thanks to the efforts of the cast. Peter MacNicol plays the crazed Renfield to the letter, Steven Weber has a good time as the tight British Harkin, and Lysette Anthony charms as the doomed Lucy. Brooks and Nielsen ham it up just fine. There's even a surprisingly controlled performance by Harvey Korman (a character spoofing Anthony Hopkins's role in the misfire The Road to Wellville). As with Brooks's period comedies, the film looks better than it needs to and includes a few tricky special effects for good measure. This has nothing to do with the audience laughing--we need bigger jokes. And when you double over laughing in one scene--involving a stake through the heart and a bucket of blood--you want the movie to achieve Brooks's days of glory, when hearty laughter was the norm, not an isolated moment. --Doug Thomas