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Aspiring filmmakers Mel Funn, Marty Eggs and Dom Bell go to a financially troubled studio with an idea for a silent movie. In an effort to make the movie more marketable, they attempt to recruit a number of big name stars to appear, while the studio's creditors attempt to thwart them. The film contains only one word of dialogue, spoken by an unlikely source. Written by
Scott Renshaw <email@example.com>
Don't expect too much from this Mel Brooks send-up of silent comedy and, well, you'll probably still be disappointed. Just not as much.
Mel Funn (Brooks) is an out-of-work movie director who has an idea for how to get back in the business: Make the first silent movie in over 40 years. To get the backing of Big Picture Studios, Mel and partners Marty Eggs (Marty Feldman) and Dom Bell (Dom DeLuise) set about signing Hollywood stars to the project. Can Mel stay off the sauce long enough to see it through?
"Silent Movie" was Brooks' first film after owning 1974 with "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein"; as a result he could do pretty much whatever he wanted. You want to do a silent movie, Mel? Sure, why not? Well, maybe because Brooks' type of comedy was more verbal than visual. "Silent Movie" too often plays like a movie whose maker thinks it's funnier than it really is.
Take the cameo appearances of several big-name stars, another sign of Brooks' clout. Burt Reynolds has fun playing up his own ego, and so we do, too, while mime Marcel Marceau gets the funniest line in the picture (also the only line.) But the other stars brought in - Paul Newman, James Caan, Liza Minnelli, and Anne Bancroft - showcase their amiability more than their comedy potential.
The physical comedy gets really labored and obvious at times, not what you got watching the silent clowns, or even "Blazing Saddles." When Mel and his two buddies try to recruit Liza, for example, they dress as knights in bulky suits of armor. Instead of engaging Minnelli in conversation while trying to look natural in their odd attire, the three just bumble around in a commissary, knocking down tables and chairs until Liza pulls a face, recognizes Mel, and asks to be in his movie. End scene.
This strained gagginess extends to various sight gags. When we see a nurse in a hospital reading a smutty book, we can see patients on monitors behind her falling out of their beds, crying for help, etc. It's not much of a joke, but Brooks the director then pans over to put these monitors in close-up for a few seconds.
The movie does have moments of genuine funniness, albeit in the same patchy way as the later Brooks' comedies "High Anxiety" and "History Of The World Part I." When we first see Mel driving down a street, a card tells us we are in "Hollywood, Film Capital of Greater Los Angeles." The plaque on the door of Big Pictures' boss (Sid Caesar) reads "Current Studio Chief."
Caesar is pretty funny, too, as is Bernadette Peters as a sexy vamp who is sicced on Mel to take his mind off the movie. I love her big entrance, on stage inside a giant banana, from which she is peeled to deliver her silent catchphrase: "Ba-Ba-Loo!" Both Marty and Dom make for enjoyable company throughout, although they don't do much more than ogle ladies (Marty) or eat (Dom). In the technical department, John Morris's score and Paul Lohmann's cinematography are non-distractingly enjoyable.
The big negative in this film, as with "High Anxiety," is Brooks. There is no funnier white person in living history, but he doesn't work as an actor, even in a farce. He's always smiling too much, pressing too hard to show us what a nice guy he is. Of course, it doesn't help that he's his own director here. (Brooks did better work as the lead in the 1983 remake of "To Be Or Not To Be," which he didn't direct.)
"Silent Movie" is funny enough in spots and has enough of that old Brooks magic to make it pleasant if forgettable viewing. You can't help wanting more, but if you are like me, you're almost satisfied to get what you do.
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