Silent Movie (1976) / Comedy

MPAA Rated: PG for some language and mild sexual humor
Running Time: 87 min.

Cast: Mel Brooks, Marty Feldman, Dom DeLuise, Sid Caesar, Harold Gould, Ron Carey, Bernadette Peters, Burt Reynolds, Paul Newman, James Caan, Liza Minnelli, Anne Bancroft, Marcel Marceau, Charlie Callas, Henny Youngman, Barry Levinson, Howard Hesseman
Director: Mel Brooks
Screenplay: Mel Brooks, Ron Clark, Rudy De Luca, Barry Levinson
Review published February 16, 2005

Silent Movie is a wholly inspired comedy from Mel Brooks (Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles), a modern day silent movie, complete with slapstick gags and satirical digs at modern Hollywood.  That it isn't really as funny as his previous outings is not really in doubt, but with a handful of classic moments, it isn't a throwaway film by any means.  The premise is hilarious, although the execution doesn't always sparkle, and yet, it's kind of a failed masterpiece in the making -- perhaps a few drafts away from another comedy classic.

Mel Brooks stars as Mel Funn, a once prominent Hollywood director, who has all but destroyed his career thanks to a bout with the booze.  Now sober, Funn tries his hand again at making great movies, and with his faithful assistants, Marty Eggs (Feldman) and Dom Bell (DeLuise, The Twelve Chairs), he decides his comeback is a return to the glory days of silent movies.  The studio boss (Sid Caesar, Grease) consents, if Funn can round up some big name stars to attach to the picture, which Funn does in seeking Burt Reynolds (Smokey and the Bandit), Liza Minnelli (Arthur), Anne Bancroft (The Graduate), Paul Newman (Cool Hand Luke), James Caan (The Godfather), and others.  As the film looks to be the latest sensation, a seedy conglomerate, Engulf (Harold Gould, Love and Death) and Devour (Ron Carey, High Anxiety), try to thwart the movie's success in order to keep the studio from becoming too lucrative to want to sell to them.

There are some ingenious funny bits to the film, including a fantastic gag with Marcel Marceau as the only star not interested in making a silent movie (the famous mime utters the film's only audible word.).   Sight gags abound, most of them funny, although some of them are obvious from the inception (such as a switcheroo between a guide dog and an untrained German Shepherd).  The episodic nature of the film doesn't help sustain momentum, especially since the actual rounding up of the film's stars takes up about 2/3 of the total running time.  In short doses, these scenes would be fine, but in the context of a feature-length movie, the lulls can make an anxious viewer restless -- the scene where the trio don knight armor and cannot sit down at a restaurant is twice the length it needed to be and not nearly half as funny.

Silent Movie is far from perfect, but it is a uniquely clever idea for a modern comedy, which is enough to merit a viewing, particularly for the biggest fans of any of the stars that make cameo appearances.  It never manages to rise up to become a true masterwork, but credit Brooks for having the wherewithal to try such an ambitious and original project in the first place. 

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo