This November will mark the 50th anniversary of when Mel Brooks unleashed The Producers on the world. In 1968, we were introduced to one of the most gifted comedic minds of all time. He was working hard in the 1950s and 1960s on Caesar’s Hour and Get Smart, but it wasn’t until his Oscar-winning screenplay shocked audiences across the country that he became the iconic “Mel Brooks”. Zero Mostel bedding grannies for seed money was audacious. Gene Wilder rubbing his blue blanket on his face during his hysterics was hilarious. The onslaught of the Springtime for Hitler musical number was something no one had ever seen before or even had the courage to even imagine. Since then, Brooks — as one of our rare EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winners — has gifted us a wonderful comedic filmography. Some could say his movies have lost some of their luster as time went on, but there are still hysterical scenes, jokes, and situations in almost every one of his films. These are the 10 most hilarious Mel Brooks moments ever.
Generally thought of as the worst Mel Brooks movie, Dracula: Dead and Loving It still has its moments. Most of the comedy gold comes courtesy of Peter MacNicol’s performance as Renfield. The first night he is scheduled to stay in Castle Dracula, he is visited by two buxom, female vampires, whom he awakens to writhing on the bedposts (Good God! What are you doing to the furniture?). As Leslie Nielsen’s Dracula berates them for their attempted seduction, Brooks gives us the best visual gag in the film. The voluptuous women, previously seen ethereally gliding through the bedroom become lumbering brutes as they leave the boudoir defeated.
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Brooks successfully skewered the western with Blazing Saddles. Soon thereafter, he attacked Universal horror films with Young Frankenstein. In 1977, he expanded his skewering of genre films by tackling Alfred Hitchcock films with High Anxiety. His usual suspects of comedians like Cloris Leachman and Harvey Korman are all given their chance to shine, but the most inspired moment comes from when he spoofs The Birds. The flocks of killer birds in the Hitchcock original were terrifying, but it takes a mind like Mel Brooks to show us the worst part of that situation is all the resultant poop.
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Life Stinks is an odd film in Brooks’ history. The premise is fine where Goddard Bolt, a Trumpian real estate billionaire, makes a bet that he can survive in the LA slums for 30 days. Its strange tone comes from the way Brooks sterilizes the homeless to a point that they are simply cartoonish, dirty characters that sleep outside. Gone are the drugs. Gone is the violence, the disease, and the mental health problems. However, one can’t really blame the man when all he wants to do is make us laugh. At no point is the film funnier than during a scene where his frequent collaborator, Rudy DeLuca, appears, screaming, apparently in the same billionaire premise as Goddard. While Goddard insists the man is just a crazy bum, they begin to trade slaps in a perfectly timed Three Stooges-inspired exchange.
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In this perfectly meta experimental comedy, The real Mel Brooks and his real friends, Dom Deluise and Marty Feldman, enlist Hollywood A-Listers in order to convince a major studio to make a silent film. The film is about a fictional director, Mel Funn, who along with his friends, enlist Hollywood A-Listers in order to convince a major studio to make a silent film. It’s gloriously silly, full of all the pratfalls and gags that would certainly have made Buster Keaton proud. But the real genius of the film comes when the world famous Marcel Marceau arrives on screen, doing a bit of his most famous miming acrobatics. Before this moment, Silent Movie held completely true to its genre, not cheating once by never having anyone speak a single word of dialogue.. Until Marceau emphatically says No into a telephone. It is so ironically perfect that the smile is nearly impossible to wipe off your face.
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If Star Wars never existed, Spaceballs would still be a superior science fiction fantasy. Since Star Wars does exist, Spaceballs is a pitch-perfect spoof of the genre. This is the rare Brooksian fare that is a joke-a-minute riot where almost nothing falls flat. If one scene had to be singled out, it may have to be the a**hole gunner scenario. While in pursuit of Princess Vespa and Dot Matrix, Dark Helmet chastises his gunner for firing on her too closely. When the gunner spins around to apologize, he reveals that he is cross-eyed. He was hired by his cousin, Major A**hole, also cross-eyed. This stupid exchange escalates to such overuse of the word a**hole, it ceases to have any meaning, but you can’t stop laughing.
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Anyone who has learned anything about Mel Brooks, the man, understands what kind of passion he has for the classic song-and-dance genre. He is a sucker for the old Astaire-Rogers films and nearly all of his films have some sort of musical number in them (Not to mention two of his classics, The Producers and Young Frankenstein, have been adapted into full-blown Broadway musicals). This passion for the old-school movie musical is never more brilliantly or hilariously portrayed than with the Spanish Inquisition segment in his History of the World Part 1. Brooks, as Torquemada the Grand Inquisitor, galivants across the dungeons, populated by persecuted Jews, and has the audacity to sing lyrics like “The fact…you’re ignoring; it’s better to lose your skullcap than your skull. OY GEVALT!” It is all so delightful and when the nuns show up and things go full Busby Berkeley, it is inspired lunacy.
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When Robin Hood: Men in Tights was released in 1993, it was obvious that Mel Brooks had lost a bit of his edge. Instead of brilliantly skewering a genre with excellently written stories, he had moved on to flat-out spoof. If Cary Elwes as the titular character and Roger Rees as the Sheriff of Rottingham were not so darn funny, this movie may not have been salvageable. However, the scene when Robin comes across Little John in Sherwood Forest only to have a stick battle over the most ridiculously small stream passage is without a doubt, one of the most hilarious encounters in all of Mel Brooks’ films. To see the enormous Eric Allan Kramer as Little John writhing in the stream fearing his own demise by drowning is a scene that will make you struggle to catch your breath through uproarious laughter.
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To choose a single scene from Blazing Saddles to represent the funniest the movie has to offer is basically blasphemy. Should it be the chess game introduction between Cleavon Little’s Sheriff Bart and Gene Wilder’s Waco Kid? Should it be I’m Tired as performed by Madeline Kahn’s Lilli Von Schtupp? Is it the manically fourth-wall breaking finale? No. It has to be Sheriff Bart’s initial arrival in Rock Ridge (The Sheriff is a DING). This scene so perfectly sets the stage of how confident and capable Bart is juxtaposed against the hatred and racism that every single person in town feels toward him at that moment. What to do? Well…take yourself hostage of course. The final line of the scene really sets the stage for the myriad of jokes to come. Oh Baby! You are so talented. And they are so DUMB!!
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Even though Mel Brooks has obviously painted the comedy landscape with dozens of memorable characters and scenes, he will be most remembered for The Producers’ Springtime for Hitler. Mel Brooks ran away with an Original Screenplay Oscar that year. Even today, the idea of a couple of doofuses staging the worst play ever written (Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp of Adolph and Eva at Berchtesgaden) in order to run off with all of their backers’ money, is still brilliantly inspired. Most of the movie is Zero Mostel’s sleazy Max Bialystock and Gene Wilder’s high-strung Leo Bloom preparing their scam. It is all funny but it was imperative that the final product pay off. Well, when that solo Gestapo tenor starts warbling, the jack-booted kickline starts dancing, and the models dressed up like pretzels and sauerbraten begin arriving on stage, it could not have paid off more.
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Out of all the Brooks comedies, none are more gorgeous, more well-directed, or have a better lead performance than Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein. Even so, the funniest scene Brooks ever pulled off was not involving the brilliant Wilder. It was involving Peter Boyle’s monster and the cameo of Gene Hackman as the blind man he happens upon when he escapes. The comic beats are juvenile and obvious. However, it is so well-played by Boyle and Hackman that it underlines the absurdity of the entire film perfectly in the span of a few minutes. The highlight isn’t the soup in the crotch. It isn’t even the cigar-lighting mishap. It has to be when it’s time for the two characters to toast to their new friendship, Peter Boyle’s reaction is pure comedy gold.
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