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Movie Spoofs
Remind Me


Born in Brooklyn, a former entertainer in the Catskills, and writer for Sid Caesar's landmark TV series Your Show of Shows in the 1950s, Mel Brooks always carried into his film work the influence of Jewish humor, television sketch comedy, and the kind of low vulgarity that makes critics groan but that audiences love. His career up to this point has been bracketed by what many consider his best film, The Producers (1968), and the mega-hit Broadway show he adapted from that movie in 2001. In between he has tackled, with varying degrees of success, movie genres of all types, spoofing Westerns (Blazing Saddles, 1974), the classic Universal horror films (Young Frankenstein, 1974; Dracula: Dead and Loving It, 1995), pre-sound films (Silent Movie, 1976), Hitchcock (High Anxiety, 1978), and historical costume epics (History of the World: Part I, 1981; Robin Hood: Men in Tights, 1993). And although To Be or Not to Be (1983), in which he co-starred with wife Anne Bancroft, was only produced by him and directed by Alan Johnson, the picture bears so much of the Brooks stamp that he is often credited - or more accurately, slammed - for this remake of Ernst Lubitsch's immortal 1942 anti-Nazi comedy.

Critics generally conceded that Spaceballs, his 1987 parody of the space adventure genre (particularly Star Wars, 1977), arrived about a decade too late and the jokes were stale. But audiences didn't seem to agree. Brooks' most expensive film up to that point ($22.7 million), it earned $20 million in its first two weeks of release. Its total take has been around $39 million in theaters and nearly half that in video rentals.

Brooks plays President Skroob (an anagram of his own name), the evil leader of the planet Spaceballs, who along with his henchman Dark Helmut, plots to kidnap Princess Vespa of the planet Druidia ("the first Druish princess") and hold her ransom in exchange for her home planet's vastly cleaner air. Vespa is eventually rescued by Captain Lone Starr and his half-man, half-dog sidekick Barf ("I'm my own best friend."). Brooks also plays the tiny, Yoda-like character called Yogurt who is given to such declarations as "May the Schwartz be with you!"

Although Star Wars is the main target, viewers will recognize take-offs on scenes from Planet of the Apes (1968), Alien (1979), the Star Trek TV series, and even a classic cartoon, One Froggy Evening (1955). Brooks has no compunction about throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, into his movie parodies and he tells one story that affirms this practice. In a 1987 interview in Vogue, Brooks said that when he was preparing High Anxiety, he went to Alfred Hitchcock and said, "I'm going to do The Birds [1963]; I'm going to do the shower!" Hitchcock allegedly told him, "I loved Blazing Saddles. I trust you. I trust your intelligence. And please, no holds barred. Do it all." Not content with letting that evidence of approval stand, Brooks went on to say he showed the veteran director a rough cut of the picture, and when Hitchcock's name came on the screen, "he actually dabbed his eyes."

Not everyone finds Brook' work quite so touching, not even the stars of his pictures, at least not at first. Daphne Zuniga, who portrays Vespa in Spaceballs, said she found his movie parodies "too crass and just not funny," but gained a different perspective after working with him. "I have this image of Mel as totally wacko and out to lunch. And he is. But he's also really perceptive, real sensitive in ways that make actors respond."

Director: Mel Brooks
Producer: Mel Brooks
Screenplay: Mel Brooks, Thomas Meehan, Ronny Graham
Cinematography: Nick McLean
Editing: Conrad Buff
Art Direction: Harold Michelson
Original Music: Dick Bauerle, Mel Brooks, Clyde Lieberman, John Morris, Jeffrey Pescetto
Cast: Bill Pullman (Lone Starr), Daphne Zuniga (Vespa), John Candy (Barf), Rick Moranis (Dark Helmut), Joan Rivers (voice of the robot Dot Matrix).
C-96m. Letterboxed.

by Rob Nixon


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