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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Mel Brooks Collection
The Mel Brooks Collection
Fox // R // April 4, 2006
List Price: $99.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted April 1, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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In 10 Words or Less
It's rather OK to be a fan of the king

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Mel Brooks, Madeline Kahn, Blazing Saddles, History of the World, Part I
Likes: High Anxiety, Robin Hood: Men in Tights
Dislikes: A paucity of extras, having to rebuy titles in box sets
Hates: When genius doesn't get the proper treatment

The Story So Far...
Of the eight films in this set, four have never been released on DVD in Region 1. The other four have had a total of five releases to date. The earliest DVD, Blazing Saddles, was released in June of 1997, followed by Young Frankenstein (November 1998), History of the World: Part I, (October 1999), and Image's The Twelve Chairs (May 2000), before a special edition of Blazing Saddles hit shelves again in September 2004.

DVDTalk has a review of the Blazing Saddles: 30th Anniversary Special Edition
DVD.

The Box Set
Why is it that goofy comedic films today are only able to be stupid, and not silly? It's not as if there isn't inspiration out there. In the '90s, the Farrelly brothers had a run of hits by combining a modern gross-out sensibility with goofball antics. In the '80s, the films of the Zucker brothers raised parody to a new level with their "wall of gags" style that didn't let a frame pass without putting a joke into it. Those movies will never be forgotten because of the level of quality comedy. But before they hit the scene (and after the Marx Brothers (natch)), Mel Brooks was making audiences smile with his own good-natured sense of humor and willingness to do anything for a laugh. Working with his stable of actors and writers, he created some of the most memorable and acclaimed comedies of all time.

Fox has pulled together eight Mel Brooks films (including one from the Warner Brothers library) for this, "The Mel Brooks Collection." (Why they couldn't get their hands on a few important titles from MGM to make this truly complete, is a question worth asking.) The previously released discs have been given new printings, and clear ThinPak cases with nice interior art, to match the packaging for the new discs, while the set is housed in a relatively sturdy cardboard slipcase with spot-UV coating. There are no bonuses for the overall set.

BLAZING SADDLES
The Movie
The only Western I'll ever really admit to enjoying, Blazing Saddles is one of the best films Mel Brooks was ever involved in. Taking aim at the genre's conventions, race relations and movie-making in general, the film is brilliant in its parodies, never pulling a punch as it follows the adventures of Bart (Cleavon Little), a sheriff brought to tiny Rock Ridge as part of a nefarious plan to run the people out of town, making room for a new railroad. How? Did I mention that the sheriff is a ni*BONG*?

Once Bart, with the help of the town drunk, Jim The Waco Kid (Gene Wilder), turns down the volume on the towns' blatant racism and earns a sliver of their respect, he helps formulate a plan to protect the people from the machinations of Hedley Lemarr (Harvey Korman) his dim-witted pal, Governor LePetomaine (Mel Brooks) and their arm of bad guys, including Slim Pickens and Alex Karras, as the infamous Mongo. The plan lead to one of the more ridiculous endings seen in a Brooks film, as well as one of the funniest.

The jokes, written by a committee including Brooks and Richard Pryor, come fast and furious, ranging in sophistication from clever word play to kindergarten fart jokes. By keeping it all moving and varied, they make the experience accessible to everyone. It's all held together by a talented cast, lead by the incredible likable on-screen duo of Little and Wilder. Little's ability to deliver a line with just the right level of smart-ass attitude combines perfectly with Wilder's intelligent, laid-back style, making them instant heroes in a movie world of morons.

Though Little and Wilder are obviously the stars, Madeline Kahn steals quite a few scenes as the sexy German songbird Lily Von Shtupp. Armed with a ridiculous accent and the kind of beauty that makes it shocking that she's so funny, she makes every scene she's in worth watching. The same goes for Brooks, who lets it all hang out as the corrupt leader of the state. Sticking to the fringes of the film, popping in to deliver a flurry of comedy jabs, he acts as a humorous spice Just thinking about him presiding over his governmental meetings is enough to incite giggles.

One of the more interesting aspects of this film, and one that's only come out with time, is how politically incorrect the movie is. Thinking of the many quotable lines, so many arise out of situations involving racism, like the first meeting in the jail between Bart and Jim, which hinges on skin color. Of course, in the hands of Brooks, Pryor, Little and Wilder, it never becomes aggressive or insulting; instead playing as simply true and funny. It's one of the clearest examples of how Brooks' comedy was able to avoid being mean-spirited while remaining hilarious.

The DVD
Though it's got the same content as the original DVD, a new two-sided disc was pressed for this release, with a full-frame transfer on one side, and widescreen on the other. The disc starts automatically with the film, but a static full-frame menu is available, with options to select scenes, view extras, and adjust languages. Audio tracks are available in English, Spanish and French, while English, French and Spanish subtitles are included, along with English closed captioning. The scene selection menus have still previews and titles for each chapter.

The Quality
Incredibly, the studio chose to go with a lower-quality anamorphic widescreen transfer for this collection, instead of the remastered version on the 30th Anniversary disc. The image used is grainy and jittery, and full of dirt and damage, while the color is somewhat dull, and the level of detail is a bit soft. This disc certainly looks its age, at nearly 10 years old.

The audio, a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, features an extremely simple mono mix, with good dialogue and music that doesn't interfere with the experience. There's nothing at all dynamic about the sound though, which makes it fall far short of the special edition disc.

The Extras
Unlike the 30th Anniversary DVD, this version boasts only the short 55-minute audio "commentary" by Brooks, four brief pages of text production notes, cast profiles and a dirty full-frame theatrical trailer. The commentary, which is more like a sit-down interview, is informative and entertaining, as most Brooks' tracks are, but way too short and isn't screen-specific. The cast profiles are decent also, giving info about a handful of the actors.

HIGH ANXIETY
The Movie
Alfred Hitchcock falls victim to Brooks' parodies in this movie, one of the more complete films in Brooks' canon. Unlike today's parodies, like the Scary Movie franchise, which just stack frame-for-frame references on top of each other, High Anxiety builds a new film that blends suspense plots with jokes, and slides in clever references to the source material that fans would appreciate.

Brooks plays Richard Thorndike, a respected psychiatrist charged with taking over an asylum when the head doctor dies suddenly. Strange things are afoot at the asylum, centering around the creepy Dr. Montague (Harvey Korman) and the horrifying Nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman). Their plans for the asylum are interrupted by Richard's arrival, but they are not going to stand idly by while he makes changes.

Richard's got more pressing matters to deal with though, when he meets Victoria (Madeline Kahn), whose father is being kept at the asylum against his will. Having fallen for her, Richard is more than willing to help, but he runs into some trouble with the law that keeps him preoccupied. With so many plotlines up in the air, it's the perfect chance for an action-packed Hitchcock-like finale.

Though not regarded by fans as one of the best Brooks films, it has plenty going for it, including great performances by Kahn and Leachman, and a good use of Ron Carey as Brooks' sidekick Brophy. The first meeting between Richard and Victoria is one of the finest comedic moments in this entire set, as Kahn's manic delivery and Brooks' physical reactions make for on-screen gold. The cute gags about the mechanics of suspense films, especially the music ones, are inspired bits as well.

If nothing else, this is the movie that gave us the classic line "Those who are tardy do not get fruit cup." If only for that, this is one of the greats.

The DVD
A static anamorphic widescreen main menu offers options to play the film, select scenes, adjust languages and check out some trailers. The language options include an English 2.0 track and French and Spanish 1.0 tracks, with English and Spanish subtitles and closed captioning. The scene selection menus have still previews and titles for each scene.

The Quality
This anamorphic widescreen transfer is actually quite excellent. Though the level of detail is a bit inconsistent, ranging from crystal clear (check out the shower scene for an example) to somewhat soft, overall the image has good color and a lack of any noticeable digital artifacts. Some minor dirt and damage is apparent in some scenes, but it's impressive nonetheless.

The audio, delivered in an English 2.0 track, is a front and center affair with crisp dialogue and some strong music, which is key for this film. There's nothing much to complain about here.

The Extras
The only extras included are the theatrical trailer for this film, and trailers for Robin Hood: Men in Tights, To Be or Not to Be, Silent Movie and Young Frankenstein.

HISTORY OF THE WORLD, PART I
The Movie
They couldn't have come up with a more appropriate name for this one, as that's just what this movie is: world history from the dawn of man to the French Revolution is presented as only Brooks could. For every goofy moment in the other films in this set, this movie tops them all, throwing reality out of the window in favor of an excess of laughter and a boatload of brilliant scenes.

Starting with the prehistoric, moving to the Roman Empire, then the Spanish Inquisition before moving on to the French Revolution, the film's focus is relatively narrow, and gives the most time to the Roman segment. Not that this is a documentary or anything: It's about the jokes, not the history. Thus, it's a great thing that there are more jokes in this film than any of the other Brooks offerings.

The biggest of the bunch has to be the Spanish Inquisition section, which takes the form of a massive musical number by Torquemada (Brooks), as he sings about converting the Jews. As good as any musical number from film's golden age, this singing and dancing spectacular is more fun than anything about the Crusades should be.

There are so many singular moments of hilarity here that it's hard to pick a few good ones, especially from the Roman Empire, where Brooks, Gregory Hines, Dom DeLuise and Madeline Kahn all have a chance to shine. While Hines and Brooks are terrific, once again Kahn, as Empress Nympho, raises the stakes with her delivery, following up ridiculous puns with reactions that sell the joke better than anyone could. Anyone who can watch her select her guard with a straight face is probably dead... or a eunuch.

While the Roman era is the most fun, the French Revolution provided the world with Brooks' trademark line, "It's good to be the king," as a part of the ridiculous world of King Louis XVI. From a human chess match-cum-orgy to the fun Cloris Leachman-led French peasants, to an ending that could only happen in this movie, this section puts a fitting cap onto a great time.

The DVD
This one-sided DVD features a static anamorphic widescreen menu, with options to watch the film, select scenes, check out trailers, and adjust languages. In a nice touch carried over from the original disc, the main menu cycles through four different designs each time you return to it. Audio tracks are available in English stereo and mono and Spanish mono, while English and Spanish subtitles are included, along with English closed captioning. The scene selection menus have still previews and titles for each scene.

The Quality
If there's a star of this collection in terms of technical presentation, it's this movie. This new anamorphic widescreen transfer is gorgeous, with a clarity that hasn't been seen likely since the original theatrical showings. The beautiful matte paintings used are stunningly clear, and the color and detail is excellent. Comparing this version to the previous release is like comparing UHF to HDTV.

Presented as a Stereo track, the sound here is very good as well, sounding wonderfully clear and strong, especially during the Spanish Inquisition. It may all be coming from the front, without much dynamic sound, but it complements the picture well.

The Extras
Just one extra here, and that's the film's theatrical trailer.

ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS
The Movie
The most recent film in this collection, Robin Hood: Men in Tights is something of a refresher course in Brooks-ian comedy, as many of the gags are repeated from previous films or reference earlier movies. Despite the repetition, the parody is a solid one, thanks mostly to the actors, led by Cary Elwes as Robin of Locksley, and Amy Yasbeck as Maid Marian.

The story sticks closely to the plot of Kevin Costner's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, as the Sheriff of Rotingham (Roger Rees), under the command of the evil Prince John (Richard Lewis), tries to stop Robin Hood, Achoo (Dave Chappelle, in his first-ever film) and the rest of the Merry Men from stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Along the way, Robin falls for the lovely Maid Marian, but the Sheriff has his own designs for her.

Though quite funny, the film is filled with remnants from other Brooks efforts, including cameras smashing through windows on zooms (High Anxiety), overprotective virginity guards (Spaceballs), musical numbers (any number of films) and even characters like Robert Ridgely's Hangman (Blazing Saddles) and direct references to the other movies. Whether this was the work of Brooks or his screenwriting partners isn't known, but it's obviously not original.

The acting is solid across the board, starting with Elwes, the first English actor to play the British Robin Hood. Though he's got the right swagger and charm to play a serious hero, he's got the chops to get laughs. As the female lead, Yasbeck is a fine stand-in for Madeline Kahn, bringing similar qualities to the part, including beauty and a willingness to look stupid. But, like Bernadette Peters, she can't stack up to the Mistress of Comedy. On the other hand, Chappelle makes an impressive debut, jumping right into the fray and proving to be an effective sidekick. Even Lewis is cast well, bringing an appropriate whiny, neurotic persona to the role.

This isn't the best Brooks film in the collection, and is probably not even in the top five. But it's absolutely enjoyable and the kind of movie you can watch any time, as a sort of "best of" for Brooks fans.

The DVD
This one-sided DVD features a static full-frame menu, with options to watch the film, select scenes, view special features, and adjust languages. Audio tracks are available in English Dolby 4.0 and Spanish and French Dolby 2.0, while English and Spanish subtitles are included, along with English closed captioning. The scene selection menus have still previews and titles for each scene.

The Quality
An anamorphic widescreen transfer gives a pretty solid overall image, though the color doesn't look as bright as it could be. Averaging 7Mpbs, the picture is slightly soft, and the detail isn't as high as one might have hoped for, with some minor dirt and damage seen in spots.

The English 4.0 Dolby Surround soundtrack is very clean, but it hardly takes advantage of the rear or side speakers, with the exception of some slight atmospheric sound. The dialogue and sound effects don't suffer from any distortion, and the music mixes well.

The Extras
An actual extra! "Robin Hood: Men in Tights: The Legend Had it Coming" is an HBO special about the film that runs about 26 minutes. Hosted, more or less, by Cary Elwes, the show profiles the talent involved through on-set interviews and footage. It's got a sense of humor to go with its fluff, and is hardly painful to watch.

Also included are the theatrical trailer for this movie, as well as for High Anxiety, Silent Movie, To Be or Not to Be and Young Frankenstein

SILENT MOVIE
The Movie
Only Mel Brooks would make a silent movie about making a silent movie. And only Mel Brooks could make a silent movie about making a silent movie and make a good movie in the process. Teaming up with Dom DeLuise and Marty Feldman, Brooks created a three-man buddy movie that's loaded with sight gags and moves like lightning through a plot that's not exactly thick. Without much in the way of a story, Brooks and his pals string together funny scenes for 90 minutes.

Mel Funn (Brooks) and his compadres, Marty Eggs (Feldman) and Dom Bell (DeLuise), have a plan to get Funn back on top, after alcoholism robbed him of his directing career. The big plan is to make a silent movie, but the studio won't make it without big stars attached, so it's up to the guys to convince top-name talent to sign on. In a series of absolutely ridiculous slapstick moments, Funn convinces Burt Reynolds, James Caan, Liza Minelli, Anne Bancroft and Paul Newman to join the show. Another big name turns them down, in one of the more inspired choices in the film.

While Funn tries to put together his last chance, the corporate raiders at Engulf and Devour are trying to take over the movie studio. If Funn succeeds, it will enable the studio to resist, so they send Vilma Kaplan (Bernadette Peters) to try and distract Funn from his efforts. In a role that seems made for Madeline Kahn, Peters does well, and is certainly distracting, but she makes it obvious how good Kahn truly was.

When they aren't trying to make the movie, the film tries to fill dead air with smaller gags, as seen when the guys' car is stuck in traffic, and they watch people shop. While some of these moments don't quite work, others, like DeLuise's troubles with a soda machine, are great fun thanks to the old-school slapstick on display. If it wasn't Brooks, DeLuise and Feldman in these roles, it might not have worked, as all three act with such physical expression, especially Feldman, who was a walking sight gag, in addition to actually being funny.

Overall, Silent Movie hits more than it misses, and the more obvious jokes easily make a viewer laugh, though the gimmick of being a silent movie comes close to wearing out its welcome. Fortunately for the movie, it gets good mileage out of its dialogue card jokes and silent-film gags before needing Brooks' uncanny ability to make you love him to keep the production moving forward.

The DVD
A static anamorphic widescreen main menu kicks things off here, with options to play the film, select scenes, adjust languages and check out some trailers. The language options include English, French and Spanish Dolby 2.0 tracks, with Enlish subtitles and closed captioning. The scene selection menus have still previews and titles for each scene.

The Quality
The anamorphic widescreen transfer on this DVD is surprisingly solid, with quality detail, very nice color and only a small amount of dirt and damage. Some scenes suffer from a bit of minor softness, but it's nothing that brings down the viewing experience, and the rest of the film, minus some edge enhancement, carries the load.

Obviously, the sound, which is presented in a stereo track, doesn't have much in the way of dialogue to deal with, but the music and sound effects are rather strong, and on my system were spread out to the rear speakers, making for a quality experience.

The Extras
Though the extras consist of only trailers, there are at least some slightly different ones. To go along with previews for High Anxiety, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, To Be or Not to Be and Young Frankenstein, there are three Silent Movie trailers. The first is the American theatrical trailer, followed by versions in Spanish and Portuguese. They are pretty much all the same, but the language changes.

THE TWELVE CHAIRS
The Movie
The "lost" Mel Brooks film, The Twelve Chairs is the one movie directed by Mel Brooks that Mel Brooks fans won't name when asked about his films (well... Life Stinks too.) There's a good reason for that: it's not very good. Attempting to mix comedy with drama in adapting a Russian novel, Brooks fails (for the most part) at both, creating a film that's a bit of a chore to watch, with one of the most unsatisfying endings known to man.

The story is pretty simple: Ippolit (Ron Moody), a former aristocrat, has been reduced to a file clerk in the new Russian government, and he's none too happy with that state of affairs. So when he finds out that his dying mother hid a cache of jewels in the cushion of a dining-room chair before the revolution, he becomes obsessed with reclaiming this wealth and his former way of life.

As with any good hunt for hidden treasure, he's not the only one interested in this prize, as his priest (Dom DeLuise) and a smooth con-man (Frank Langella) take up the quest for themselves, the man of the cloth on his own, and the con-man alongside Ippolit. The problem is, the jewels were hidden in a chair that's part of a set of 12, which is apparently as common in Russia as cinder blocks in a dorm room. Thus, there are many promising leads that turn into dead ends.

Though Brooks shows up for a small part as Ippolit's former servant, the film's only real comedy comes from DeLuise, who earns laughs with just about every appearance as a man of God with more earthly concerns on his mind. Outside of his silly moments, the film is overly dramatic in telling the story of a man who is simply not worth cheering for. Langella's slick vagabond is infinitely more interesting, but he doesn't get to do much more than act as an instigator to Ippolit and set up a few humorous moments.

It's admirable that Brooks attempted to spread his creative wings with this film, but it just doesn't work. Sandwiching brief, classic Brooks-style moments in between lengthy stretches of distinctly un-Brooks-like melodrama just makes for a confusing, and often boring film that meanders towards a resolution that is best described as a spastic grab at a conclusion. Perhaps it's presence among the truly great laugh-out-loud Brooks comedies puts it at a handicap, looking less impressive by comparison, but it's not the kind of movie you'll quote to a friend, reminding you to pop it in your DVD player once again.

The DVD
This one-sided DVD features a static full-frame menu, with options to watch the film, select scenes, check out trailers, and adjust languages. Audio tracks are available in English stereo and mono and Spanish mono, while English and Spanish subtitles are included, along with English closed captioning. The scene selection menus have still previews and titles for each scene.

The Quality
Presented with an anamorphic widescreen transfer, this film is in pretty good shape, thought it shows signs of aging. The color is good, but not quite vibrant, while edge enhancement is seen often. The level of detail overall is more than acceptable, though softness creeps in occasionally. A small amount of dirt, damage and excessive grain shows up once in a while, but it's not an overly distracting issue.

The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack emanates from the center channel, and is clean, an important aspect considering some of the accents used in this movie. It's not going to blow anyone away, but it's a quality mix that serves the abundant dialogue well.

The Extras
The only extras are a set of six trailers, for High Anxiety, History of the World: Part I, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Silent Movie, To Be or Not to Be and Young Frankenstein. All but High Anxiety are in anamorphic widescreen.

TO BE OR NOT TO BE
The Movie
If you've waited patiently for "Hitler on Ice" to make its debut, To Be or Not to Be is likely to be your cup of tea. A remake of the Ernst Lubitsch film of the same name, it's set in Poland during World War II, and is the only film in this collection that's not directed by Brooks, as he and his wife, Anne Bancroft, take center stage, in his biggest role outside of Silent Movie. Considering the opportunity to work with his lovely and talented wife as an on-screen couple, one can hardly blame him for stepping out from behind the camera.

Together, Brooks and Bancroft are Frederick and Anna Bronski, stage performers who are world famous in Poland for their delightful shows, including "Naughty Nazis." The problem is, when the Nazis invade Poland, their anti-Hitler stance isn't viewed too favorably, and they are shut down, inadvertently turning them into members of the resistance, as they get caught up in a convoluted plot to stop an undercover agent of the Third Reich from handing over names of the resistance to the Gestapo.

This certainly doesn't sound like a comedy, but it certainly is one, and a hilarious one at that. Placing the story in the improbably comedic setting of occupied Poland gives the film free reign to ridicule the Nazis, portraying them as unorganized buffoons. It's a lot easier to laugh about genocide when it's being committed by the likes of Charles Durning (Dog Day Afternoon and Christopher Lloyd. Part of the fun is realizing exactly what it is you're laughing at, getting over the guilt, and laughing harder because Brooks and company are so funny.

Though the film oozes comedy, there are some poignant moments, one with Sasha, the gay costume manager, and one with the troupe's serious actor's monologue from The Merchant of Venice. But here, unlike in The Twelve Chairs, the serious moments are tempered with comedy, making them flow with the rest of the film instead of sticking out like sore thumbs. That balanced mixture carries the entire film, as it combined WW II spy intrigue with pure silliness.

Though the plot relies a lot on the classic comedy concepts of mistaken identities and exaggerated situations, there's nothing that feels recycled or old, which is impressive considering it is a remake. Directed by Alan Johnson, the choreographer on most of Brooks' films, this production does a good job of maintaining the Brooks style of filming, though the film isn't nearly as ambitious as what the master would attempt. That's fine, as Johnson brings his dance experience to a movie about the stage and does a fine job of making it all come together and gets quality performances from he cast. If you had no idea, you couldn't easily pick it out as a non-Brooks film.

The DVD
This one-sided DVD features a static full-frame menu, with options to watch the film, select scenes, check out special features, and adjust languages. Audio tracks are available in English stereo and French and Spanish mono, while English and Spanish subtitles are included, along with English closed captioning. The scene selection menus have still previews and titles for each scene.

The Quality
The anamorphic widescreen transfer looks beautiful, with bright, appropriate color, a nice level of detail and a minimal amount of visible grain. A few spots of dirt and damage can be seen, but it's not excessive, and some minor haloing can be seen around solid areas of color. Interestingly, several close-up scenes with Bancroft have a slightly hazy, softer look, probably in an effort to make her more glamorous.

The stereo presentation is good, with clean dialogue, strong music and well-reproduced sound effects. The musical scenes don't suffer from the solely center focused presentation, as they are delivered with enough heft.

The Extras
Where they found the extras for this DVD, I do not know, but I have a feeling it might have been in a box lost under someone's bed. Culled from a pretty obvious EPK source, they have none of the style of today's studio-produced fluff. The short featurette and three profiles, focusing on Brooks, Bancroft and Durning, are fuzzy and end abruptly before fading out, showing how far the industry has come since 1983. As far as the content goes, it's not half bad, especially the piece on Durning, which shows him as a self-effacing, humorous man.

The disc also has a selection of trailers, including the theatrical and Portuguese trailers for To Be, and previews of High Anxiety, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Silent Movie, and Young Frankenstein.

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN
The Movie
Considered by many to be the best work Brooks has ever done, Young Frankenstein is a brilliant parody for a number of reasons, but three stand out. One, Gene Wilder gives one of the best comedic performances ever recorded on film. Two, the subject being parodied is obviously loved by the parodist, and that love helps make the effort that much better. Finally, a serious attempt was made to recreate the look and feel of the original film, including being shot in black and white, using the props from James Whale's movie. As a result, it's a much closer parody that draws strength from being so "real."

An esteemed neurosurgeon, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Wilder) isn't very proud of his family name and the scientific legacy attached to it, and even corrects people who say his name the way we all would. So it's no surprise that he's not very excited to visit his grandfather's castle, which he recently inherited. But once he does, and discovers just what his grandpa was working on, he becomes obsessed with following through on the research.

Assisted by his father's faithful staff, including the beautiful assistant Inga (Teri Garr) and the off-kilter hunchback Igor (Marty Feldman), Frederick succeeds in creating the monster (Peter Boyle), and, as the story goes, all hell breaks loose. Of course, hell is tremendously funny in the hands of Mel Brooks, as the big brute's travails in the original film are lampooned wonderfully, and expanded upon to even include a musical number that parodies King Kong.

The jokes in this movie are some of the best in Brooks' career, and benefit from having an established storyline that lets the film focus more on being funny than telling the tale. The comedy that's drawn from Garr's voluptuous airhead, Feldman's mentally deficient Igor and the creepy housekeeper, Frau Bl├╝cher (Cloris Leachman), is filled with broad word play and sight gags, but it never feels forced, as it usually serves to advance the story. If it doesn't, it's there because it's purely funny, like Frederick's request for a sedative.

Just as she did in Blazing Saddles, Madeline Kahn is able to take a relatively small part that rides mainly on her looks, here playing Frankenstein's fiancee, and turn it into a comic showcase. The way she delivers even the smallest line is hilarious, while her performance in the latter half of the film is a tour de force of understated comedy.

If Kahn's good though, Wilder is incredible. The way he moves between dignified doctor and raving madman is part of why this role is a work of genius. The birth of the monster unleashes him, allowing him to be completely nutty, while his interactions with Inga lets him play the leading man to great effect. There's not a moment in this movie that he doesn't entertain.

The DVD
Though the film may not be anamorphic, the static menus are. The main menu offers choices to watch the film, select scenes, adjust languages and check out the special features. Language options include English, French and Spanish mono tracks to go with English subtitles and closed captioning, while the scene selection menus have still previews and titles for each chapter.

The Quality
Sadly, the release I received contains the same full-frame letterboxed transfer found on the original DVD. Reportedly this insertion was a mistake, but I can't say for certain. It wasn't a bad transfer, but is certainly not a great one. In several parts, the image is a bit soft and light in terms of the detail, while dirt and damage can be seen in spots.

The audio is a simple mono track, presented in Dolby 2.0, and delivers a clear, distortion-free experience, with crisp dialogue and good sound effects. There's nothing dynamic about the presentation, but it sounds good.

The Extras
The extras here are the same ones found on the previous edition. First up is a feature-length audio commentary by Brooks, which follows in the style of his previous tracks. It's like watching a movie with your Grandpa Mel, as he tells you stories and talks about what's going on. It may not be incredibly insightful, but it's a good time.

The 36-minute featurette "Making FrankenSense of Young Frankenstein" is made up of 10 parts, and includes interviews with Gene Wilder and several members of the crew. The absence of Brooks and the rest of the cast is disappointing, but it's a pretty good look behind the scenes, and combined with Brooks' commentary, the disc gives a relatively complete view of the movie.

Seven deleted scenes are presented individually and in full-frame, and though they don't add much to the movie, they are interesting to see, including the unusual "Actors' Parade." A reel of outtakes are more entertaining, especially the ones with Feldman and Kahn.

The most unusual extras are a pair of interviews, one with Feldman and one with Wilder and Leachman, conducted by a Mexican TV personality. There's nothing about the interviews that stands out very much, but the whole thing is a bit odd, and it's inclusion here is even more unusual.

The disc wraps up with a selection of five trailers that have that special Brooks touch, three TV commercials, and a gallery of 19 photos.

The Bottom Line
One can't help but be a bit disappointed by this set, for several different reasons, not the least of which is the near complete lack of new bonus material. Add to that the possibility of an incorrect disc for Young Frankenstein and the weak version of Blazing Saddles included, and it's enough to make any Brooks fan feel like the Piss Boy. On the other hand, the chance to finally own films like High Anxiety and Robin Hood: Men in Tights on DVD, and a much improved release of History of the World, Part I make it hard to not jump on this collection.

If you think Fox will eventually release these titles separately, it may be worth waiting to cherry pick your favorites, but considering that six of the DVDs are either new or improved discs, a Brooks fan can feel comfortable in upgrading their collection, as long as they have a copy of the new Blazing Saddles to make it all better.


Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow


*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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