|History of the World, Part I|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Mel Brooks|
|Produced by||Mel Brooks|
|Written by||Mel Brooks|
|Music by||John Morris|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Release date(s)||June 12, 1981|
|Running time||92 min.|
History of the World, Part I is a 1981 film written, produced and directed by Mel Brooks. As he does in many of his other films, Brooks also gives himself a great deal of time in front of the camera, this time playing five roles: Moses, Comicus the stand-up philosopher, Tomás de Torquemada, King Louis XVI, and Jacques, le garçon de pisse. The large ensemble cast also features Sid Caesar, Shecky Greene, Gregory Hines, Charlie Callas, and Brooks regulars Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, Andreas Voutsinas, and influential Irish comedy writer/actor and former Goon Show star Spike Milligan. The film also has cameo appearances by Bea Arthur, Hugh Hefner, John Hurt, Barry Levinson, Jackie Mason, Paul Mazursky, and Henny Youngman, among many others. Orson Welles narrates the film, and briefly appears on screen in that capacity.
The film’s story is a parody of the “historical spectacular” film genre, including the “sword and sandal epic” and the “period costume drama” sub-genres. The four main segments of the film consist of stories set during the Dawn of Man, the Roman Empire, the Spanish Inquisition, and the French Revolution. The film also contains several other intermediate skits including reenactments of the giving of the Ten Commandments and the Last Supper.
A group of cavemen (led by Sid Caesar) depict the invention of fire, the first marriages (the first “Homo sapiens” marriage which was swiftly followed by the first homosexual marriage), the first artist (which in turn gives rise to the first critic), and early attempts at comedy and music, by smashing each other's feet with rocks and thus creating an orchestra of screams.
Moses (Mel Brooks) is shown coming down from Mount Sinai after receiving the Law from God (the voice of an uncredited Carl Reiner). When announcing the giving of the reception of the law to the people, Moses proclaims “The Lord Jehovah has given unto you these fifteen...” (whereupon he drops one of the tablets, which promptly shatters) “Oy...Ten! Ten Commandments! For all to obey!”
Comicus (Brooks again), a stand-up philosopher, acquires a gig at "Caesar's Palace". En route to the palace Comicus meets and falls in love with a Vestal Virgin named Miriam (Mary-Margaret Humes) and befriends an Ethiopian slave named Josephus (Gregory Hines). Josephus is conscripted into the service of the Empress Nympho (Madeline Kahn).
At the Palace, Emperor Caesar (Dom DeLuise) listens to Comicus’ performance. Comicus soon forgets his audience and begins to joke about Caesar's obesity and corruption. Josephus absentmindedly pours a jug of wine into the emperor’s lap and Caesar orders Josephus and Comicus to fight to the death in a gladiatorial manner. They fight their way out of the palace, assisted in their escape by Miriam and Empress Nympho.
The group is chased by several Roman soldiers, but they distract them by burning a patch of marijuana. The group then sets sail from the port to Judea. While waiting tables at a restaurant, Comicus blunders into a private room where the Last Supper is taking place, interrupting Jesus (John Hurt) repeatedly. Eventually Leonardo da Vinci arrives to paint the group’s portrait.
The Spanish Inquisition segment is performed in the style of a grandiose Busby Berkeley production. The segment is one long song-and-dance number featuring Brooks as the infamous Torquemada. The segment opens with a herald introducing Torquemada and making a play on his name, noting that despite the pleas for mercy from the condemned, that you "can't Torquemada anything" (talk him outta anything). Several instances of "comical" torture are shown including a spinning iron maiden and "water torture" re-imagined as an Esther Williams-style aquatic ballet. Jackie Mason has a cameo in this scene as a Jewish torture victim.
In the tavern of Madame Defarge (Cloris Leachman)she incites a mob to plot the French Revolution. Meanwhile, King Louis of France (Brooks again) is warned by his advisor, the Count de Monet (Harvey Korman), with the news that the peasants do not think that he likes them. A beautiful woman, Mademoiselle Rimbaud (Pamela Stephenson), asks him to free her father, who has been imprisoned in the Bastille for 10 years. He agrees to the pardon under the condition that she have sex with him that night.
De Monet manages to convince the king that he needs to go into hiding and that they will need a stand-in to pretend to be him. Thus Jacques (also Brooks), the garçon de pisse is chosen to impersonate the real king. Later that night, Mlle Rimbaud, unaware of the subterfuge, arrives and offers herself to the piss-boy dressed as the king. As she invites him to take her virginity, he pardons her father without requiring the sexual favors. After Mlle Rimbaud and her senile father (Spike Milligan) return from the prison, the peasants burst into the room and capture the piss-boy “king” and Mlle Rimbaud. Miracle suddenly arrives, drawing a cart with Josephus driving. The last shot is of the party approaching a mountain carved with the words “THE END.”
At the very end of the film, there is a teaser trailer for History of the World: Part II, narrated by Brooks, which promises to include Hitler on Ice, a Viking funeral, and Jews in Space. Despite the preview, no sequel has been released, and the “Part I” of the film’s title is merely a historical joke (The History of the World was a book written by Sir Walter Raleigh while prisoner in the Tower of London; he had only managed to complete the first volume before being beheaded).
This catch phrase is used repeatedly during the French Revolution segment of the film. Brooks, as Louis XVI, says this blatantly into the camera on several occasions as if to justify the king’s wanton behavior. Brooks also portrays “Le Garçon de Pisse,” the lowly pissboy, who carries a bucket for royalty to urinate into and later impersonates the king. Brooks as the piss boy delivers the same line with a sense of surprise when he is able to sample the king’s luxurious lifestyle for the first time. Brooks recorded a hip-hop song of the same name which reached the 67th position on Billboard’s Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart. The line would be used by Brooks thrice more: once in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, when King Richard kisses Maid Marian, another time in Spaceballs when President Skroob is in bed with the twins "It's good to be the president" and later in his stage musical version of the film, The Producers, as a lyric in a musical number about a Broadway producer titled “The King of Broadway”. In an episode of Spaceballs: The Animated Series, Skroob, voiced by Brooks, uses the phrase "its good to be the president" as a tribute.