Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 14, 2006)
Coming off of enormous hits like Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, Mel Brooks could pretty much write his own ticket. That meant he got studio approval to create a real throwback: Silent Movie, a flick that lives up to its title.
Movie tells the tale of Mel Funn (Brooks), a once-successful director who mounts a comeback after drinking ruined him. Funn has an unusual idea: he wants to make a silent movie. A studio chief (Sid Caesar) needs to show a profit very soon or media conglomerate Engulf (Harold Gould) and Devour (Ron Carey) will take over and give him the boot.
Funn hopes the chief will embrace his silent movie as a way to save the studio, but that doesn’t occur. Funn only musters backing when he promises to enlist Hollywood’s biggest stars to appear in the flick. From there we watch as he tries to ensnare these notables and make the film. All the while he tries to avoid the traps Engulf and Devour set for him in their attempts to stop the movie and acquire the studio.
True to its title, no sound at all appears until 90 seconds into Movie. After that, we hear nothing but music – well, except for one notorious and clever word that pops up along the way. I’ll leave that instance as a surprise. Other than that, the film provides musical accompaniment and a few sound effects but no other audio.
This puts a premium on physical humor and means that slapstick rules the day. Not every gag in Movie relies on physical bits; it still manages to fit in other clever elements. The majority of the action relies on non-verbal pieces, though.
For the most part, it makes these entertaining. I’ve always preferred verbal humor to slapstick, but Movie has a lot of fun with its comedic bits. It tosses in many great moments along the way. How can I dislike a film with a high-speed wheelchair chase?
Like Brooks’ better works, Movie combines parody with homage. When he doesn’t care about a subject – or worse, dislikes the root of his spoof – Brooks’ material doesn’t succeed. Only when the director feels an affinity for the source does he provide entertainment.
That clearly happens with Movie, as it can only be described as a loving parody. Brooks gets the cinematic elements right. He takes some liberties, as Movie won’t quite pass for a product of the pre-talkie days. However, he doesn’t really intend for it to do so, so these stretches are more than acceptable.
Brooks also offers a lot of fun via the film’s many cameos. Movie packs an excellent cast in all its roles, but the brief star turns are awfully cool to see. I won’t name names, but the flick incorporates many of the Seventies’ biggest actors, and they gently mock themselves here.
A far cry from the crude comedy of Blazing Saddles, Silent Movie is a quiet, sweet effort. Charming and clever, it offers a light spoof of Hollywood’s early days. It presents plenty of good humor and thoroughly entertains.