a/perture Cinema, Bea Arthur, Dena Dietrich, Dom DeLuise, DVD.com, Gregory Hines, Harvey Korman, History of the World Part I, Howard Morris, Hugh Hefner, Madeline Kahn, Mary-Margaret Humes, Mel Brooks, Netflix, Orson Welles, Rotten Tomatoes, Shecky Greene, Sid Caesar, The Less Desirables
a/perture cinema, the Official Movie Sponsor of The Less Desirables, presents The Less Desirables Movie of the Week, History of the World, Part I (1981), starring Mel Brooks, Harvey Korman, Gregory Hines and Dom DeLuise.
Per IMDb: “Mel Brooks brings his one-of-a-kind comic touch to the history of mankind covering events from the Old Testament to the French Revolution in a series of episodic comedy vignettes.”
That IMDb description is mostly correct. It actually starts in the prehistoric times, predating even the Old Testament’s canonical timeline. It covers art, music, performance, Moses’ presentation of the Ten Commandments, the Roman Empire, the Spanish Inquisition and the French Revolution. Its comedic and decidedly Mel Brooks-take on “history” is exactly that. Comedic and decidedly Mel Brooks. Does that equate to hilarious like Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein? Not necessarily, although there are very funny parts. It’s not accurate, but it’s not meant to be. There are sprinklings of historical fact and comedic license throughout.
Mel Brooks, once again plays the roles of several characters: Moses, Comicus: the Stand-up Philospher, Tomas de Torquemada – the friar that was principal in the Inquisition, Louis XVI of France and Jacques “le Garçon de Pisse” or “piss boy.” He plays a part or three in most of his films but in this he was the “lead” in several of the sketches.
This was Gregory Hines’ first film role and he plays Josephus, a slave-boy entertainer who is positioned by Empress Nympho (Madeline Kahn) to be the wine servant after he was saved from death by Miriam, a Vestal Virgin played by Mary-Margaret Humes. He and Comicus get into some trouble in Emperor Nero’s (DeLuise) court.
Harvey Korman, a mainstay in Brooks’ films, plays Count de Monet (which everyone mispronounces de money – mispronouncing Korman’s characters is also a staple in Brooks’ films). De Monet is a aristocratic leach who convinces King Louis to let “Piss Boy” stand in for him as king as the revolution is starting to unfold.
Like many Mel Brooks films, this is chock-full of cameos. Bea Arthur, Shecky Greene, Sid Caesar, Dena Dietrich, Hugh Hefner and Howard Morris (Otis on The Andy Griffith Show). Also, like many of his films, there’s a good bit of fourth-wall breaking. And, really, Orson Welles as the narrator, that’s pretty good.
Not Brooks’ funniest film, at all, but he does take a funnier look at what could have been history. The previews of History of the World, Part II (which never happened, nor was it meant to) are some of the funniest parts. The take on the Busby Burkley musical, the chariot races, what I feel was a nod to Blazin’ Saddles and so on. The film tries really hard to make you laugh. I feel it tries too hard at times and the comedy is forced. But, it’s still worth watching. We introduced 3B to it as it was on my list of “films from my childhood.” He didn’t like it as much as Blazin’ Saddles, but he laughed a few times.
Rotten Tomatoes has it at 62% Fresh with and Audience score of 81%. IMDb has it rated at 6.8 stars out of 10. I own this in a Mel Brooks DVD collection and that’s where I saw it and you can, too, through Netflix‘s DVD.com. I will rate this film, mostly on nostalgic memories, 3.75 stars out of 5. Have you seen the film? What did you think? What would you like to read/hear me review? Let me know.
Until tomorrow, same blog channel…
“I’m sorry, I’m on my wine break.” – Dole Office Clerk