Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Directed by: Mel Brooks
Written by: Mel Brooks
Starring: Mel Brooks, Dom DeLuise, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, Shecky Greene, Cloris Leachman, Sid Caesar, Gregory Hines, Mary-Margaret Humes, Ron Carey & Pamela Stephenson
History naturally seems to have a limitless supply of funny material as evidenced by plenty of stand-up. Mel Brooks, a comedic force to be reckoned with in the 70’s, decided to tackle five various historical periods in a skit-like structure. HISTORY OF THE WORLD: PART I was a hit at the box office. Decades after its release, the film seems to be polarizing among fans of Mel’s spoofs. Watching it for the first time, I can see how the film was drastically funnier during its original release (aiming for a few shock value laughs that are fairly tame today), but I found it be a mixed bag with a couple of segments being far more accomplished than the rest.
THE STONE AGE: The film starts off with a short 5-7 minute piece about stupid cavemen making basic, early discoveries. Narrated by Orson Welles and fuelled by simple (but predictable) jokes, this opening skit feels cheap and a tad underwhelming. However, there are a few good laughs to be had (especially, the birth of an artist). It’s simple, stupid, and silly as to be expected. B-
THE OLD TESTAMENT: Just from the title card alone, I thought to myself “Mel Brooks is doing the Old Testament! This going to be awesome!” Turns out that I was mistaken because this is merely a quick 1-2 minute piece about Moses receiving the 10 Commandments and something going slightly awry. There is one single laugh to be had, but it’s not very clever and was revealed in the two-minute trailer. Seeing as this was just one quick joke, it makes one wonder how much better and longer this segment could have been if Mel Brooks really tried here. C+
THE ROMAN EMPIRE: Comicus is a philosopher called to perform at Julius Caesar’s palace. Things go wrong when he makes some potentially deadly, politically incorrect jokes at the Emperor’s expense. This segment makes up a majority of the movie and almost seemed like Brooks mainly wanted to do this as a feature, but couldn’t get full funding from the studio. It mainly serves as an excuse for a whole lot of sexual innuendo, even pot jokes, set in ancient Rome. These jokes are hit or miss, but mostly hit. This skit also runs a tad too long. The extra few minutes are almost made worth it though as the inclusion of a Bible punchline made me laugh. Also, Dom DeLuise steals this show with his portrayal of Caesar as a gluttonous buffon. B
THE SPANISH INQUISITION: This is my favorite segment, but sadly, one of the shorter ones. This is just a musical number about the Spanish Inquisition torturing the Jews in order to get them to covert to Christianity. That doesn’t exactly sound like the ideal recipe for hilarious comedy, but it’s very light-hearted and clever in execution (pun slightly intended). Never once getting graphic, featuring an up-beat catchy tune and Mel Brooks running around as the infamous inquisitor Torquemada. This is funniest take that I’ve seen on the Spanish Inquisition, second only to Monty Python. A
THE FRENCH REVOLUTION: HISTORY OF THE WORLD commits the worst crime that any anthology film can commit by going out on its weakest segment. The prospect of Mel Brooks spoofing The French Revolution sounds like it would make for a fun time. However, the sexual innuendo and bad puns are painful here for some reason. The overall plot, or lack thereof, seems weak in comparison to the earlier segments. Especially bad are the moments of fourth wall breaking in which Mel Brooks turns to the camera, winks and says “It’s good to be king.” This might have earned a chuckle in its first usage from me, but he recycles this catchphrase three more times. This segment isn’t all bad as there are a couple of good laughs. Moments involving a guillotine and another recreational shooting scene did work for me, but the rest is just tired and lame. C
To cap everything off, there’s a fake teaser for HISTORY OF THE WORLD: PART II that offers glimpses of “Hitler On Ice” and “Jews In Space.” Both of those faux skits look and sound far more entertaining than almost everything in PART I (with the exception of the Spanish Inquisition musical number). Overall, HISTORY OF THE WORLD: PART I is an okay comedy. I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to see the entire film, but there are a couple of moments that are worth looking up (the full Spanish Inquisition skit is available on YouTube).