History of the World: Part I (1981)

For years actor-writer-director Mel Brooks would fob off questions about his next film with HISTORY OF THE WORLD. Finally, after spoofing Alfred Hitchcock in High Anxiety (1977), he decided to make good on the joke, creating a series of inspired parodies and blackout gags. From slapstick to complicated puns and unlikely plot turns, the film is an extended comic improvisation from one of the most inventive minds in the business. Amidst jokes about the Stone Age and the Ten Commandments, Brooks created more extended sequences about the Roman Empire, the Inquisition (a takeoff on big Hollywood production numbers complete with swimming nuns in the style of Esther Williams) and the French Revolution (a parody of The Man in the Iron Mask with bits of A Tale of Two Cities thrown in). The latter gave him one of his most enduring catchphrases and a hip-hop hit, “It’s good to be king.” Brooks recruited regular performers like Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman and Harvey Korman for major roles and took on five himself. Also featured are cameos from a wide range of talents, including Bea Arthur, Hugh Hefner, John Hurt (who had just starred in the 1980 Brooks-produced The Elephant Man) and Carl Reiner. Brooks also recruited Orson Welles for what would turn out to be the great director’s last performance as a narrator.

(d. Mel Brooks, 92m, Digital)