The History of the World, Part I

I really do plan to watch some serious important movies in this series, but since I have a concert ticket for tonight, it’s the Sunday Lunchtime Movie instead. So I wanted to go with something light.

I’ve seen surprisingly few Mel Brooks movies. I opted for this first over High Anxiety because of the ones I hadn’t seen it was the one I heard about the most. If it weren’t for the “Funkytown” bit I would never have guessed it was made as late as 1981; so much about it feels older, from the pacing and the flavor of the jokes and the pedigree of the cast to the musical number.

There were a few jokes I couldn’t imagine flying today, though only a couple of gratuitous uses of the F-word (no, not that one) seemed really objectionable. Brooks played a couple of endearingly good-natured characters along with his usual panoply of potentates, and while his movies are not where I’d look for positive treatments of women, I enjoyed the clear delineation he drew between the behavior of his ruling class characters and that of his heroes.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the structure of the movie, and it ended up being appealingly loose, from the documentary-style montage of quick jokes about cavemen to the long (and most engaging) Ancient Rome mini-movie, through the Inquisition musical number to the shorter French Revolution mini-movie. I don’t think this is his funniest movie (though when you watch a comedy alone it’s always hard to tell) but it’s probably his most Pythonesque.

Let’s face it, though, the best part of this is Madeline Kahn. She’s got that terrific manic joy barely kept in check under a surface layer of total cool, and she has some of the best lines in the movie, including “I love Quicktime Harch.”


  1. Mandy · September 8, 2013

    I love Young Frankenstein but haven’t gotten into Mel Brooks’ other movies much. Which is your favorite?

    Madeline Kahn was so great. A friend of mine worked on the Cosby show that she was on at the end of her life, and I have a neat autographed publicity photo of her.

    • encyclops · September 8, 2013

      The others I’ve seen are Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Spaceballs, and Robin Hood: Men In Tights. Of those, Spaceballs has always been my favorite, but I haven’t watched any of them in many years and Blazing Saddles probably is a contender.