SILENT MOVIE. A bold and insanely funny film by Mel Brooks

Brooks can comfortably be described as a living legend of Hollywood.

Lukasz Budnik

17 December 2023

It seemed that when Al Jolson spoke to the audience from the screen in “The Jazz Singer” in 1927, silent films would permanently disappear from theaters. The genre did indeed quickly fade into obscurity, remembered only by enthusiasts interested in the history of X music and fans of Charlie Chaplin and the like. However, it happened a few times later that creators returned to the roots of celluloid and offered dialogue-free productions. One of them is credited to the satire maestro, Mel Brooks.

Brooks can comfortably be described as a living legend of Hollywood. It’s surprising, then, that over his long and fruitful career, he directed only eleven films. As a brilliant parodist, he not only excelled at mocking entire genres but also paid homage to them simultaneously. In the mid-seventies, after the immense success of “Blazing Saddles,” where he tackled the western genre, and “Young Frankenstein” (shot in original 1930s sets!), where he referenced classical horrors and black-and-white productions, he began to search for another genre to parody. With the help of writer and friend Ron Clark, they brainstormed and came up with the idea of creating perhaps Brooks’ most extravagant work—a silent film.

When they presented the idea to the head of 20th Century Fox, Alan Ladd Jr., he was taken aback but decided to finance the script’s development. He stipulated that if the text proved good, the creators would receive funding for the entire project. Brooks and Clark had to deliver something unique. That’s when the second stroke of genius appeared—they based the plot on real events. The main storyline depicts the efforts of three friends to make… a silent film. Brooks himself took on one of the lead roles (his first in his own title), alongside Dom DeLuise and the English comedian Marty Feldman. All of them are excellent, and their mere presence on screen is enough to evoke a broad smile. They also excelled in the unconventional form, where most of the humor relied on slapstick, gestures, and mime. Additionally, the cast included many contemporary stars playing themselves—Burt Reynolds, Paul Newman, Anne Bancroft, Liza Minelli, James Caan.

Brooks recalled that during the production of “Silent Movie,” he had the most fun among all his created titles. He paraded with a large megaphone, giving instructions to the crew in the style of directors from the early century. As a result, a joyful atmosphere prevailed on the set, which is also evident in the finished film. It is full of excellent gags and brilliantly utilizes the innovative initial idea. For example, at one point, lip movement easily reveals that Brooks is calling his companion a “Son of a bitch,” and the replacing intertitles read: “You bad boy!” Technically speaking, the film is not entirely silent, as one word is uttered in it, spoken by… no, I won’t reveal it; you simply have to see it.

At any moment during the screening, you can feel that it’s a comedy. Even plots and scenes that could be considered dramatic resonate with a humorous note or are deliberately exaggerated. Brooks maintains the pace quite well, greatly aided by the music composed by his court composer, John Morris. At the same time, the film’s message is almost Disney-like—strive to fulfill your dreams, defy everything, and do not be discouraged by any obstacles. I completely buy into this and happily immerse myself in the crazy world created by Brooks. I must also mention the fantastic atmosphere of the seventies, bathed in the California sun, with an eternal blue sky and palm trees at every turn.

Łukasz Budnik

Lukasz Budnik

He loves both silent cinema and contemporary blockbusters based on comic books. He looks forward to watching movie with his growing son.

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