History of the World Part I (1981) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for crude, sex-related humor and language
Running Time: 92 min.
Cast: Mel Brooks, Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman
Director: Mel Brooks
Screenplay: Mel Brooks
Review published September 7, 2003
If one were to chart Mel Brooks' directed movies based on quality from the beginning of his career (The Producers) to the end (Dracula: Dead and Loving It) you'd have an almost perfect forward slanting line downward. History of the World Part I falls right in the middle of his filmography, and that's precisely where it is in terms of quality: middling. About half of the jokes are funny, about half are not, and in the end, you're left feeling like he ran out of ideas halfway through.
The film starts off in the Stone Age, where such things are spoofed as the creation of fire and the evolution of man. From there we get into a much longer bit set in the Roman Empire, having fun at the expense of Caesar and jokes about the Last Supper. Afterward, a musical bit about the Inquisition, with dance number and choreography. Lastly, the film winds down with the French Revolution.
Although the film as a whole is neither cohesive enough nor consistently funny enough to claim to be a good comedy, there are a few classic bits that almost make it worth watching. The film starts off on a high note ("LAAAA!!") with the Dawn of Man bit, with Sid Caesar (Grease) showing fine comedic form as the leader of the cave people.
The Roman Empire bit is mostly funny, and perhaps the film might have been better had it spoofed nothing but. However, if that were the case we would not have had the most memorable part of the film, i.e. the song and dance number from the Inquisition, which provides the film's most inspired and best moments. Had the film ended there, perhaps it would have been better, but it would still need something to make it full-length, and that's where the worst bit was added, the French Revolution. This happens to be the longest portion of the film and the least funny, with almost nothing of note worth watching.
If it weren't for an epilogue citing scenes coming in Part II (which to this day has not been made), I would say to just shut it off once you get to the French Revolution scene. History of the World Part I is recommended for fans of Mel Brooks mostly, and I suppose most will find something in the production to their liking. It's very hit-and-miss, so keep your expectations low.
©2003 Vince Leo