Silent Movie (1976) is one of a small number of silent films made well and truly after the end of the silent era, with The Artist (2011) and the Australian film Dr Plonk (2007) the only others that I can recall as fitting the bill (that’s just off the top of my head though, no doubt there are many others). I was pretty excited for this Mel Brooks effort, overacting and other tropes of silent movies are definitely ripe for the spoofing.
Unfortunately though, I was left utterly underwhelmed by this really quite tiresome film. It is the first Mel Brooks film I have seen and I know he has a big reputation amongst many astute film lovers. So hopefully I find more enjoyment in his other films. The first joke of the film comes in the first second with a very clever opening intertitle. The laughs were not very consistent from that point on though. After a solid opening few minutes where I could see the inspiration of the great silent comedians and what I thought was the influence of this film on The Naked Gun (1988), the jokes began to fall incredibly flat. Also not helping proceedings is the films regular reliance on material that falls foul of contemporary standards of political correctness or good taste (for example a homophobic slur is deployed on multiple occasions, which the audience is meant to find hilarious).
Plotwise, the film sees Brooks’ character attempting to get his film career back on track by pitching a silent film to some very dubious studio execs, then attempting to woo the biggest stars of the time to appear. The whole notion of silent film seems to be intrinsically linked with movies about movies. As seen in the aforementioned The Artist and also in the classic Singin’ in the Rain (1952). Indeed the only jokes that contained a semblance of wit for me in this movie were those about the film industry. But even these lost steam as the film wore on. There is a little joy in seeing very young versions of Burt Reynolds and James Caan playing hyper versions of themselves. But even these charismatic actors are drawn into the crippling vortex of tedium. A scene set in Caan’s trailer is even more tiresome than most of the other goings on. And before too long, Brooks seems to have gotten over actually parodying the silent form. The film essentially just turns into a (really dire) standard comedy.
What a waste of a fantastic premise. Silent Movie is crippled by many things, but worst of all are jokes that are just lame rather than containing the merest suggestion of wit or inspiration. A film that for me progressed beyond just unfunny or annoying to the level of being really painful to watch.
Verdict: Schooner of Tooheys New
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