History of the World: Part I isn’t Mel Brooks’ Best

Mel Brooks as Torquemada in History of the World, Part I (20th Century Fox).

History of the World, Part I–which has no sequel–spoofs multiple genres in this anthology showing that there are no limits to the mind of writer-director Mel Brooks.

In depicting a few periods of time in world history, Brooks also spoofs other films or stories in doing so.  Aspects of “The Stone Age” parody that of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Brooks isn’t shy of placing many gags in this era.  Whether its the invention of music or the first critic in history, nobody is spared!

Of course, Brooks being Brooks, he gives us a comical version of The Ten Commandments where he portrays Moses.  Oops.  There were 15 Commandments.  Sorry about that!

We spend a sizable amount in the Roman Empire, where Brooks stars as stand-up philosopher, Comicus.   Or as the Unemployment Insurance Clerk (Bea Arthur) puts it, a bullshit artist!  About to collect his unemployment, Comicus learns that he’s been booked at Caesar’s Palace.  It’s not just any old gig for him as he’s been booked in the main room.  This pressure is on for Comicus as he performs for Emperor Nero (Dom DeLuise) himself!  In any event, Comicus falls for Vestal Virgin Miriam (Mary-Margaret Humes) while meeting Ethiopian slave Josephus (Gregory Hines).  Miriam is able to persuade Empress Nympho (Madeline Kahn) in sparing the Ethiopian’s life.

With Comicus bombing in jokes, things take a turn for the unexpected.  Miriam comes to his rescue as Marcus Vindictus (Shecky Greene) leads the Romans in a search.  Things happen and Comicus escapes to Judea, where he finds himself at the scene of The Last Supper.  Nobody is spared any expense in this film.  Where there’s an opportunity for a gag, Brooks takes complete advantage of it.

If there’s a master of depicting satire on screen, the title belongs to Mel Brooks.  This leads us to the next segment.  The Spanish Inquisition was a terrible time for Jews living in Spain but if there’s anybody who can make it funny, it’s Brooks.  Not only does he make it funny but he presents it by way of a musical song-and-dance.  Brooks stars as the Grand Inquisitor himself, Torquemada.  This is a segment that pays tribute to Busby Berkeley’s musical style on screen.  If one wants to talk about whether it’s right to point fun at anti-Semitism on screen, there’s a film for that.

Finally, Brooks takes us to scenes from France where Madame Defarge (Cloris Leachman) starts the French Revolution.  Brooks stars in this anthology segment as King Louis of France.  While “it’s good to be the King,” there’s a lot of abuse in power.  Case in point:  Mademoiselle Rimbaud (Pamela Stephenson) just wants to see her father freed from prison.  The king won’t have any of it unless she agrees to have sex with him.  It’s either that or her dad dies.  Brooks regular Harvey Korman once again has some jokes with his character’s name, Count de Monet.

Long before Marvel, DC, or other blockbuster franchise films gave us the tag scenes, Brooks offers some coming attractions for History of the World, Part II.  Notable among them is Jews in Space.

While it’s far from my favorite Brooks film, there are many genres spoofed during the anthology’s run time.  Among these genres are the epic and period dramas.  History of the World, Part I is is far from a complete disappointment since it gave us the great musical act that is The Spanish Inquisition!

History of the World, Part I isn’t the best Mel Brooks film but but it’s also not the worst.  The script runs at a joke or more a minute–a standard for Brooks–with some scenes offering a lot of fun.

CAST:  Mel Brooks, Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, Ron Carey, Gregory Hines, Pamela Stephenson, Shecky Greene, Sid Caesar, introducing Mary-Margaret Humes
Narrator:  Orson Welles

20th Century Fox opened History of the World, Part I on June 12, 1981.  The film is currently available on Blu-ray.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.