History of the World Part I (1981) — Still waiting on that Part II, Mel Brooks!

“It’s good to be the king!”

Justin’s rating: I don’t think this was on any of my history tests!

Justin’s review: When I was looking back over Mel Brooks’ storied career, it was kind of a mild shock to realize that the comedy maestro only directed 11 movies over the years, from 1967’s The Producers to 1995’s Dracula: Dead and Loving It. I guess his fingerprints on cinema were so profound that it felt like there should be double that. And he only directed two movies in the ’80s — my beloved Spaceballs and 1981’s History of the World Part I.

In a way, History of the World may be his most unique effort, even if it doesn’t seem like it’s referenced quite as often as some of his other flicks. Brooks had the idea of taking our boring history books and tweaking the noses of these dry and dusty accounts with all sorts of lunacy and racous jokes.

So instead of a single cohesive narrative thread, the movie acts like a rejected history lesson that leaps eras. From the stone age to the Roman Empire to the French Revolution, each setting offers Brooks and company time to crank out as many physical and verbal gags as they can — and once those dry up, then it’s off to the next setting! That’s kind of brilliant and puts in mind Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Meaning of Life.

It works, too, because the audience is already quite familiar with the historical accounts, so the set up is already in place and more time can be devoted to deliberately getting everything wrong. Leonardo DiVinci shows up to paint the Last Supper, Moses unintentionally creates sea crossings in Roman times as he’s held up, and the Spanish Inquisition shows off its artistic side. There are even previews at the end to suggest the (still to come) sequel will host Hitler on Ice and Jews in Space.

The comedy sketch nature makes History of the World Part I a fun one-time watch but lacks the qualities to make it a repeat viewing essential. I also think that the movie gets a little too blue with its humor in parts, keeping this out of kids’ hands and into adults-only territory. It’s always been a fine-but-not-great Mel Brooks movie in my book, perhaps more for those fans who love his constant fourth wall breaking and less who don’t like how hammy his humor tends to be.

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