When you think about it, this may be the purest Mel Brooks film we’ve seem, since the director has always gravitated to broad, physical slapstick and this film is nothing but. The story concerns a film director named Mel Funn (Brooks), who was a big deal in Hollywood before crawling into a bottle. He has a plan for resurrecting his career that involves making a silent film. Fortunately for him, the head of Big Pictures Studios (Sid Caesar) is just desperate enough to buy the idea. He’s fending off a buyout from the conglomerate of Engulf and Devour.
Deal in hand, Mel and his friends Dom (Dom Deluise) and Marty (Marty Feldman) began rounding up a list of big stars to be in the film, a task that involves a certain degree of ingenuity at times. They have to sneak into Burt Reynolds’s shower, survive James Caan’s lopsided trailer and challenge Paul Newman to a race in electric wheelchairs.
As the trio signs up stars and it looks like the film will be made, a desperate Engulf (Harold Gould) and Devour (Ron Carey) take a page out of the Blazing Saddles playbook and dispatch sexpot Vilma Kaplan (Bernadette Peters) to seduce Mel and distract him from making the film.
All of this is little more than an excuse for a tireless series of sight gags and, while visual puns and some jokes work better than others, the sheer reckless pace of the film ultimately wins you over. How can you resist a film that has a character declare that slapstick is dead just before toppling backward out of his chair? If you’re not on board by the time Marty Feldman and Dom DeLuise start playing Pong on a heart monitor, then it must be truly tragic for you going through life without a sense of humor.
This film mines the masters of the silent cinema for some of its classic sequences. It would be easy to imagine Chaplin in the scene in James Caan’s madly tilting trailer and the final chase scene borrows shamelessly from Mack Sennett.
This isn’t the best Mel Brooks but he’s still operating near enough to the top of his game to make this an essential entry among his films.