Looking Back at Mel Brooks’ Best Movies: ‘Blazing Saddles,’ ‘The Producers,’ ‘Young Frankenstein’ & More
Mel Brooks has truly done it all. During his 70+ year career, he has written some incredible films and books, directed, acted, produced, and worked on television, film, and Broadway. He’s one of the very few EGOT winners (He has won Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards). Standing at just 5’5″, he still demands a big presence in Hollywood. Brooks began his career as a comic and writer for Sid Caesar’s variety show Your Show of Shows. He went on to release some comedy albums with Carl Reiner (they later reunited in Reiner’s documentary If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast) and co-wrote Get Smart from 1965 to 1970.
After The Producers, people saw his directing abilities and he went on to create some of the funniest films ever made (we will go over some of them here!). In his personal life, Brooks was married to actress Anne Bancroft from 1964 until she died in 2005, with their son Max following in his father’s footsteps to become an actor and author. He also has three children from a previous, brief marriage to Florence Baum. Even at 97, he is not done working yet. He recently narrated History of the World: Part II, a series that acts as a sequel to his 1981 film History of the World: Part I. Now, let’s reminisce about some of his hilarious classics!
“…I’M WET! I’M WET! I’M HYSTERICAL AND I’M WET!”
The Producers (1967)
This was Brooks’ first feature film as a director and stars Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder as a Broadway producer and accountant who come together to plan a horrible play that will just make them some profit. While the play is basically fraud, it ends up being a hit and they are at a loss for what to do next. It was a new type of film for the ’60s and while it isn’t Brooks’ funniest film, Wilder and Mostel are truly fantastic together. Since it was Brooks’ directorial debut which led to many more films, it is definitely important to talk about. It also spawned a remake in 2005 starring Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane as well as a long-running Broadway show.
“What detail. What fine workmanship. What a gorgeous chairrrrr.”
The Twelve Chairs (1970)
The Twelve Chairs, written and directed by Brooks, is one of his very few non-spoof films. Based on a novel, the film is set in 1920s Soviet Russia and focuses on a poor aristocrat, con man, and greedy priest as they discover a fortune is hidden in one of twelve dining chairs that are now scattered across the country. Brooks ended up earning a WGA nomination for his script and the movie was a big success.
“Excuse me while I whip this out!”
Blazing Saddles (1974)
Blazing Saddles may be one of his funniest films that would never get made in today’s culture. It is crass, vulgar, and extremely goofy. Many critics pit every movie that Brooks has made against this one because it was so classic and one of his best parodies. Set in the Wild, Wild West, it follows the character Bart (Cleavon Little) as he becomes the first Black sheriff of a frontier town and also stars Gene Wilder as Bart’s sidekick The Waco Kid along with Harvey Korman, Slim Pickens and Madeline Kahn. It did spawn a potential TV series that only the pilot was aired once and in recent years, Brooks has expressed interest in turning this classic into a stage show.
“It’s Pronounced Fronkensteen!”
Young Frankenstein (1974)
This one may not be one of the funniest movies either, but it is truly one of the best and holds major cult status. Filmed in black-and-white with an incredible set, Young Frankenstein follows Victor Frankenstein’s grandson, Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) as he inherits his grandfather’s estate in Transylvania and follows in his footsteps. While this one also paired up Brooks and Wilder again proving that they were truly a great team on many of these films, it also had an all star cast of Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr and Peter Boyle as “The Monster.” Brooks even used the original Kenneth Strickfaden lab equipment from the 1931 film Frankenstein.
Silent Movie (1976)
This parody film lives up to its name and has no dialogue except one word. It pays homage to the silent movies of the past most notably starring actors like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. This one also has a lot of celebrity cameos and of course, lots of funny visual gags.
“Those who are tardy do not get fruit cup.”
High Anxiety (1977)
Yes, it is another spoof. This time Brooks decided to find humor in the frightening Alfred Hitchcock films including a spin on the incredibly scary shower scene in Psycho, but this time Brooks is attacked by a newspaper. There are moments from all of Hitchcock’s greatest films with a twist and a touch of goofiness. Brooks stars in his own film as a psychiatrist at the Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous. He gets accused of murder and must find the real murderer without getting in his own way. Also stars many of his usual actors he would tap into like Kahn, Leachman and Korman.
“And of course, with the birth of the artist came the inevitable afterbirth… the critic.”
History of the World: Part I (1981)
This may be the movie on the list with the most parodies and celebrity cameos and narrated by Orson Welles. Brooks decided to go big with this one and not spoof a certain book or film but the history of the world from the Stone Age to the Roman Empire to the French Revolution. It may not be his best work but it was still one of his classic films that finally spawned a sequel series that had been many years in the works, over 40 years to be exact.
“All I want is peace. Peace! Peace! A little piece of Poland, a little piece of France.”
To Be or Not to Be (1983)
Brooks did not direct this one but he did star in it with his real-life wife. They appear as a Polish husband and wife pair of actors who accidentally get caught up in a dangerous spy operation. The film is a remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s classic comedy and the chemistry between Brooks and Bancroft is obviously very believable. The two work together so well that they made the movie a hit.
“May the Schwartz be with you!”
Spaceballs is a spoof on the ever-popular Star Wars movies and loves to make fun of itself with excessive advertising merchandise like Spaceballs towels and lunchboxes in clear sight. It proves that Brooks’ parodies are really something to be treasured by fans. Perhaps the best character is Darth Helmet, a take on Darth Vader, played by Rick Moranis. The plot follows the citizens of a distant planet called Spaceball that is losing its air supply and is reliant on a product called “Perri-Air.” With the help of Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and his side kick Barf (John Candy) they set out to rescue Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) from not only Darth Helmet but the notorious Pizza the Hutt in order to save their planet. Like many of his films, Brooks makes an appearance as two separate characters in the movie.
“That’s right. Every time they make a Robin Hood movie, they burn our village down!”
Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)
When I discovered this film in my teens, I could not stop cracking up at all of the one-liners. Obviously, a silly take on the famous story of Robin Hood, it is probably one of his goofiest films starring Cary Elwes as the man who robs the rich to give to the poor. Richard Lewis stars as his nemesis King John and they pair together well. If you’re into Brooks’ films and think the more asinine the better, this one is for you.
Now, at 97 years old (his birthday is today, June 28!), he’s set to receive another very special honor. Along with actress Angela Bassett, he is receiving an honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards. The honorary awards are given “to honor extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement, exceptional contributions to the state of motion picture arts and sciences, or for outstanding service to the Academy.”
Which Mel Brooks film is your favorite? Which one would you add to this list as one of his best?