Friday, October 29, 2010

Silent Movie (1976)

          After discovering his gift for spoofing movie genres with Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, both of which were released in 1974, Mel Brooks lost his way with Silent Movie. By many reports, Brooks’ considerable ego was to blame for the precipitous drop in the quality of his pictures, because he burned an important bridge by alienating actor-writer Gene Wilder, who starred in both 1974 hits, after taking too much credit for Young Frankenstein. So even though Brooks enjoyed long relationships with talented collaborators, including actors like Dom DeLuise and Marty Feldman, as well as behind-the-scenes talents like composer John Morris, it was clear that on a Mel Brooks picture, only the name above the title really mattered. Therefore, in Silent Movie, it’s all about Mel, and not in a good way.
          Brooks cast himself in the leading role, and his legendary comic gifts aren’t enough to compensate for his shortcomings as an actor. He plays for the cheap seats with every reaction shot, bludgeons the delivery of jokes with bug-eyed obviousness, and can’t muster the varied nuances that Wilder brought to his performances in Brooks films. It doesn’t help, of course, that Silent Movie adheres to the gimmick implied by its title: Like an old one-reeler from the Mack Sennett era, the picture uses title cards in place of dialogue, which gives it a stop-and-start rhythm that soon grows wearying.
          The storyline is amusing-ish, with a film director (Brooks) trying to produce a brand-new silent movie in the modern era, and Silent Movie features cameos by big names who relish making idiots of themselves: Anne Bancroft, James Caan, Liza Minnelli, Paul Newman, Burt Reynolds. (In a clever touch, French mine Marcel Marceau delivers the movie’s only line of spoken dialogue.) Brooks has fun executing exuberant physical comedy in the silent-era style with the assistance of core players DeLuise, Feldman, Sid Caesar, Ron Carey, Harold Gould, and Bernadette Peters, but the film’s slapstick is so endlessly insipid that the fervent efforts of the cast are mostly wasted.
          It’s hard to actively dislike Silent Movie since it’s trying so hard to be entertaining, but it’s hard to get excited about it, either.

Silent Movie: LAME

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