Pop Rocks: Rating Mel Brooks' Movies (The Ones That Count, Anyway)

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Mel Brooks, the venerable writer/director/producer of some of the greatest comedies of all time, gave a nifty interview on NPR's "Morning Edition" this week. The occasion was the release of The Incredible Mel Brooks: An Irresistible Collection Of Unhinged Comedy, a self-described "anarchic" collection of bits, songs, interviews, and other stuff. There's plenty of stuff to choose from, as Brooks' career has lasted more than 50 years and he's one of only 11 people who've completed an "EGOT," meaning he's won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony award.

Like a lot of people, I came to know Brooks through his movies. Blazing Saddles was one of the first movies I ever saw that made me laugh so hard I thought I was going to have a heart attack, before knowing what a heart attack was.

The others were Monty Python's Life of Brian and Animal House. In retrospect, apparently my parents were the permissive kind.

But he's 86 years old, and the last movie he directed was in 1995. He's been busy with Broadway versions of two of his classic films and still does voice work (did you know there was an animated Spaceballs series?), but as much as it pains me to say it, I suspect we've seen the last of Mel Brooks: Director. So I decided to rank his movies. Or at least, the seven of them people acknowledge.

Sorry, Life Stinks.

For those not up on their Brooks lore, the titles excluded from this exercise are:

The Twelve Chairs (1970) - I didn't even know this movie existed until a couple days ago. Life Stinks (1991) - Some defend this as an "experimental" film of Brooks'. That's fair; any experiments fail to produce desired results. Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) - The first indication that Brooks wasn't really trying anymore. Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995) - The final indication that Brooks wasn't really trying anymore.

Now then, as Lili Von Shtupp might day, why don't you loosen your bullets?

7. History of the World, Part I (1981) There are some inspired bits (the Spanish Inquisition, and "Don't get saucy with me, Béarnaise" still makes me snort 30 years later), but too much feels forced (the entire Roman Empire segment) as Brooks and company lay off the satire for much broader shtick. And too much Ron Carey was only ever a good thing in Barney Miller.

6. Silent Movie (1976) This almost would've been better as a sketch in History of the World, Part 1. There's just not enough to sustain the premise, and I'll bet money barely any modern viewers will even get the Marcel Marceau gag.

5. Spaceballs (1987) Would probably rank closer to the bottom if not for three things: 1. John Hurt's cameo at the end. 2. "How many assholes do we have on this ship anyway?" 3. Pizza the Hutt

But still, Joan Rivers.

4. The Producers (1968) This was one of the last of Brooks' movies I saw, speaking in a personal chronological sense. He won an Oscar for Best Screenplay in this, his first movie, which he also directed. Take that Affleck.

3.High Anxiety (1977) Some may disagree, but I have to put Brooks' Hitchcock spoof among his best work, in which he writes. directs, acts, *and* sings. I'd call it a "tour-de-farce," but I'm [barely] above such punnery. It falls to third on the list because, in the end, it's more about specific scenes from the likes of Notorious, Spellbound, The Birds, and of course Vertigo than telling a coherent story. In that sense, you could say "the spoof is in the pudding."

I'm so very sorry.

TIE - 1.Young Frankenstein (1974) I KNOW, but I really can't choose between them. I grew up watching two kinds of monster movies: Shōwa series Godzilla and Universal horror. Seeing Young Frankenstein for the first time was like reading a love letter to the movies I loved as a kid, before it was fed to a horse while screaming "Blucher!"

TIE - 1.Blazing Saddles (1974) Almost 40 years later, it's easy to lose sight of just how daring a project his was. Made just a few years after the demise of the Motion Picture Production Code, it probably seems tame by today's standards, but for all its perceived vulgarity, Blazing Saddles' depiction of racism -- and interracial relationships -- was, quite frankly, groundbreaking.

Plus, it's funny as shit. And I really don't think Richard Pryor would've worked as Sheriff Bart.

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