Mel Brooks. A director, writer, actor and producer extraordinaire, Brooks did it all with too many classics to even mention to his name. And what do you get with power and an ability to make some serious amounts of cash? A movie like the 1976 comedy Silent Movie.
A very successful movie director, Mel Funn (Brooks) has fallen on some very rough times as he has retreated into a bottle. After years away from movies, Funn has a script that will hopefully turn his career around. With his friends and sidekicks at his side, Marty Eggs (Marty Feldman) and Dom Bell (Dom DeLuise), Funn heads into Hollywood with his script and convinces a Big Studio executive (Sid Caesar) to back his movie....if he can get some big stars attached to the production. With their work cut out for them, Funn and Co. set out to find enough big movie stars to work with but it's going to be easier said than done. A film studio, Engulf and Devour, has been scooping up struggling movie studios left and right, and they'd like nothing more than to buy up Big Studio too. Can Funn put his drinking problem aside to get his dream movie made? What is that dream movie? Well, Funn intends to make a silent movie. Dun-dun-duh!!!
Ready for a twist? Writing, starring and directing 'Silent,' Brooks is at the helm of an actual....silent movie!!! You know, because there's always so much demand for that throwback feel of a silent movie! It plays as a tribute to the slapstick stars of the silent era like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, even evoking moments of The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, and Laurel and Hardy. Famously, only one word is audibly spoken in this comedy, dialogue cards popping up as our stars discuss and talk on-screen silently. We're introduced to sight gags, musical cues, sound effects throughout the 87-minute running time, a series of jokes on top of each other. Brooks has a ton of fun with those little moments, the soundtrack setting up a joke and then pulling out the rug from under us.
That's all well and good, the tribute working well. But still, I don't think the movie is as funny as the movie thinks it is. The script is interesting, the stars very talented, and a handful of cameos providing some memorable moments. 'Silent' is going for the laughs, but they're not necessarily there in the end. I chuckled a couple times, smiled a bunch, laughed out loud once or twice but at no point did I think I was watching a hilarious, laugh-riddled comedy. None of this is to say it's not good. It is good, but 'Silent' isn't even close to as funny as it think it truly is. Moments work, a sight gag here and there, but as a whole, there's no unifying link that holds it all together unfortunately.
So, yes, the laughs aren't there in abundance as I might have liked. There are moments though that work because quite honestly, there's too much talent assembled here for it to not be somewhat entertaining. So Brooks, Feldman and DeLuise? Yeah, they have their moments. It's the little things, not the big moments. It's how they walk in step inches apart from each other. It's how they hug like they've won the lotto when the movie gets approved, prompting the beginning of a running gag with on-lookers muttering a perfectly placed slur. They each get their bits, Brooks the leader who falls for a sexy seductress (Bernadette Peters) sent by Engulf and Devour to destroy Funn. Feldman's Eggs is always trying to hook up with beautiful women, usually going down in flames, while DeLuise's Bell is perpetually drinking Coke and always needing to go to the bathroom. Great comedic minds at work.
Also look for Harold Gould as Engulf and Ron Carey as Devour, the studio heads so desperately trying to stop Funn from making a successful movie. Huge, over the top parts with so obviously evil villains.
All things considered, the best thing for me from 'Silent' was the cameos, some big-time stars poking fun at themselves with some quick appearances. That group includes Burt Reynolds, James Caan, Liza Minnelli, Anne Bancroft, Marcel Marceau and Paul Newman. Reynolds especially stands out, playing up his good looks into a star obsessed with his own looks. The scene where Funn, Eggs and Bell end up in the shower with him is pretty perfect, one of the moments I genuinely laughed out loud. Caan too is very good, playing the kinda slow movie star who invites Funn and Co. into his off-balance trailer as they serve some lunch. It is a solid example of how subtle physical humor can work in an almost effortless fashion.
Still, I struggled to get through this one. No cohesive link, some solid moments lost in a wave of lesser moments that don't work so well. Not a positive rating, but it's still one I can mildly, mildly, recommend because when it works, it works real well.
Silent Movie (1976): **/****