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Silent Movie
Directed by Mel Brooks
Produced by Michael Hertzberg
Written by Story:
Ron Clark
Screenplay:
Mel Brooks
Ron Clark
Rudy De Luca
Barry Levinson
Starring Mel Brooks
Marty Feldman
Dom DeLuise
Bernadette Peters
Sid Caesar
Music by John Morris
Cinematography Paul Lohmann
Editing by Stanford C. Allen
Andrew Horvitch
John C. Howard
Studio Crossbow Productions
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) USA June 17, 1976
Running time 86 min.
Country  United States
Language Silent
(Only word of dialogue spoken in French)

Silent Movie is a 1976 comedy film directed by and starring Mel Brooks, and released by 20th Century Fox on June 17, 1976. The ensemble cast includes Dom DeLuise, Marty Feldman, Bernadette Peters, and Sid Caesar, with appearances by Anne Bancroft, Liza Minnelli, Burt Reynolds, James Caan, Marcel Marceau and Paul Newman playing themselves.

While indeed silent (except for one word and numerous sound effects), the film is a parody of the silent film genre, particularly the slapstick comedies of Hal Roach, Mack Sennett, and Buster Keaton. Among the film's many jokes is the fact that the only audible line in the movie is spoken by a noted mime (Marcel Marceau).

Sound is a big factor in the film's humor, as when a scene that shows New York City begins with the song "San Francisco," only to have it come to a sudden stop as if the musicians realize they are playing the wrong music. They then go into "I'll Take Manhattan" instead.

A play on the 1970s trend of large corporations buying up smaller companies is parodied in this film by the attempt of the Engulf and Devour Corporation to take control of a studio (a thinly veiled reference to Gulf+Western's takeover of Paramount Pictures).

Contents

Plot

Mel Funn, a great film director, is now recovering from a drinking problem and down on his luck. He sets out to Big Picture Studios to pitch a new script to the Chief, aided by his ever-present sidekicks Dom Bell and Marty Eggs.

His big idea: the first silent motion picture in forty years. At first the Chief, who is in danger of losing the studio to the rabidly greedy New York conglomerate Engulf & Devour, rejects the idea, but Funn convinces him that if he can get Hollywood's biggest stars to be in the film, he could save the studio.

Funn, Eggs, and Bell proceed to recruit Burt Reynolds, James Caan, Liza Minnelli, Anne Bancroft, and Paul Newman to be in their silent film. They sign up everybody they ask except for world-famous mime Marcel Marceau, who replies, "Non." (Funn fibs that he can't understand Marceau's reply because "I don't understand French.")

Engulf and Devour, meanwhile, worry that Funn will save Big Picture Studios and they will be unable to buy it. They attempt to "stop Funn with sex" by sending voluptuous nightclub sensation Vilma Kaplan to seduce Funn and pretend to be in love with him.

Funn falls head over heels, but when Eggs and Bell reveal the truth to him on the day before filming begins, the director returns to drinking. He goes to pieces until discovering that Vilma has actually fallen for him. Several hundred cups of coffee sober him up.

Funn's silent movie is filmed in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately, the only copy of it is stolen from the theater by Engulf & Devour just before its big premiere.

Vilma is asked to stall the theater's audience while Funn and his associates go out to steal back their film. They succeed, but are chased by Engulf and Devour's executives. Ultimately cornered, they defeat their foes by using a soda machine that launches cans of Coca cola like grenades. They hurry the film to the theater, where it is shown for the first time. After the movie is over, the audience leaps to its feet while balloons and streamers fill the air. "They seem to like it," Funn says.

The film ends with a title card: "This is a true story."

Cast

Gags

The film is loaded with silent-movie style slapstick gags in the style of Laurel and Hardy, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton, including the following:

  • At the beginning of the movie, Mel, Dom, and Marty give a pregnant woman (Carol Arthur) a lift to the hospital, and her weight causes the car to make the entire trip on its two rear wheels.
  • Just before going to see the Studio Chief, Mel and his friends cross their fingers for good luck, and Mel can't uncross his. Later, he shakes hands with the Chief, and the Chief's fingers are crossed instead of Mel's as a result; the Chief then "passes" this crossed condition to his secretary's fingers the same way.
  • Right after the Studio Chief tells Mel that "slapstick is dead", the Chief falls backward in his chair onto the floor, and the force of this causes him and the chair to be hurled forward through the front of his desk and across the office.
  • When Mel gets a bright idea in the Chief's office, a lamp bulb that's behind and above his head comes on.
  • A recurring gag involves a newspaper vendor (Liam Dunn) being knocked over by two delivery boys who throw the headline news at him.
  • In one scene, the Studio Chief and the movie-making trio watch a scene from a low-budget picture called The Queen's Rifles: Three rows of British troops are being ordered to fire their rifles. First the front row fires; then the second row fires, shooting the first row in their backs; and then the last row fires, shooting the second row in their backs. Trying to find something positive to say, Mel says, "I like the last row best."
  • A man is seen exiting an Acupuncture parlor with over-sized needles sticking out of his back.
  • A running gag involves a soda machine that fires cans out at a high velocity, and the trio use the machine as grenade-like ammunition against Engulf, Devour and Associates in the final battle.
  • The trio pursue Paul Newman through a hospital in a car chase performed with slow-moving motorized wheelchairs. The scene ends with Newman jumping his wheelchair off a roof and onto a lower roof, only to turn around, recognize the trio and request a part in their movie.
  • When Funn calls Marcel Marceau in France, his window is open and apparently blowing wind into the room, requiring him to use his miming skills to walk into the wind to get to the phone.
  • Marceau, who is noted for working in silence, has the only spoken line in the film (since he says "Non" at first, and since the movie is supposedly a true story, it is assumed that he changed his mind about appearing in it).
  • The trio recruit Anne Bancroft by posing as three Flamenco dancers at a nightclub that sweep her off her feet, and (accidentally) into the kitchen. At the end of the scene, they carry her horizontally off the stage, smashing her head into a post by accident.
  • When the Chief goes in the hospital and is visited by Funn, Eggs, and Bell, Eggs and Bell accidentally unplug and plug in his heart monitor several times, ending up changing the screen to a Pong display and playing while the Chief flatlines and recovers repeatedly.
  • While Dom uses a public restroom, two men — one blind, one sighted — each ask Marty to look after his dog while they use the facilities. After they come out, they each accidentally take the other's dog; because of this, the guide dog won't let the sighted man cross a street, and the non-guide dog takes off, dragging the blind man behind it.
  • In order to approach Liza Minnelli so they can ask her to be in their movie, Mel, Dom, and Marty disguise themselves in suits of armor and go into the studio commissary where she's eating. Unaccustomed to such cumbersome outfits, the trio stumble and trip repeatedly, destroying tables and chairs in the process.
  • In the theater where the preview of the movie is going to take place, two people go to the snack counter and get a trash can loaded with popcorn (the front of which reads "Popcorn — Trash Can Size"). Butter is poured into it with what appears to be a gasoline pump. Astounded by the sight of this, Mel turns to Dom — who's eating a Hershey bar the size of a door.
  • During the car chase, one of the vehicles causes an exterminator's van to run off the road; this causes the giant prop fly to be hurled from the roof of the van and land on a customer's table at a sidewalk café. The diner, played by Henny Youngman, then shouts the famous line, "Waiter, there's a fly in my soup!" (The cast credit reads, "Henny Youngman--fly-in-soup man.")
  • James Caan's trailer has a broken spring, which makes it tilt precariously any time one of its occupants makes a move. Dom ends up upsetting the whole thing when he sneezes.
  • Another running gag involved a clear mismatch between what the characters were actually saying and the subtitles; the spoken lines are inaudible, as it is, after all, a silent movie, but they can be easily lipread. For example, at one point Brooks expresses doubt about DeLuise's suggestion of a silent movie by shouting "That's crazy!" with more furious comments, but the screen says "Maybe you're right." In another scene, Marty hits on a nurse but gets slapped. When he gets back in the car, Mel clearly mouths, "You dirty son of a bitch", but the screen says "You bad boy!"
  • The trio keep bugging Burt to join their movie using tactics such as Dom sticking his foot into the door when Burt closes it, causing his foot to be partially flat, as seen in many cartoons involving foot-squishing; sneaking into his shower; and lastly, they use the "tallest man" as a trick, which backfires when Burt gets tangled up in the long coat (which has Mel as the top), and a Street-Cleaner runs over the part of the coat which was empty, causing him to faint.
  • During the sneak preview of the silent movie, a man is shown smoking a cigar, while the words "Ars Est Pecunia" (Latin for "Art Is Money") are displayed. This a parody of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's famous lion and "Ars Gratia Artis" (Art for art's sake) motto.
  • In the Engulf and Devour boardroom, Devour attampts to whisper something to Engulf, but Engulf doesn't hear him. Finally fed up, Devour shouts, "YOUR FLY IS OPEN!!" Engulf looks down, realizes that it is true, and turns. As he fixes it, a noisy zipping sound effect is played.
  • There is a lengthy scene in which Devour attempts to help Engulf put on his topcoat with disastrous results.
  • In the Merry-Go-Round scene, the horse on which Vilma is riding suddenly lifts its tail and relieves itself--pooping eleven (by actual count!) large dice.

Miscellany

  • The yellow roadster driven by Funn, Eggs, and Bell is a Morgan four-seater. Specific model or year of manufacture is unknown and very difficult to establish visually since most Morgan automobiles have very conservative styling and haven't changed exterior much in the last fifty years.
  • Brooks biographer James Robert Parish says that Brooks based the Eggs and Bell characters on his relationship with his three brothers.
  • The pregnant woman in the first scene is Dom DeLuise's real-life wife, Carol Arthur.
  • Brooks initially envisioned the movie without even a musical soundtrack. But the idea made 20th Century-Fox executives nervous, so Brooks added John Morris's score, "like a rug from beginning to end, just to be on the safe side."
  • Even though the movie was filmed without sound, Brooks was initially frustrated when he could not get the film crew to laugh, as they were afraid their laughter would spoil a take.
  • This was Brooks's first starring role in a movie. Referring to himself as actor-director, Brooks said, "I'm not going to tell myself how much I like me or I'll ask for more money."
  • Even though Brooks had never starred in a movie before, he was ranked No. 5 in a U.S. film exhibitors' 1976 list of the top 25 movie stars with box-office appeal. Brooks' co-star Burt Reynolds, who ranked No. 6 on the list, got used to receiving phone calls from Brooks which began, "Hello, Six, this is Five speaking."
  • The DVD-release of Silent Movie contains audio tracks in English, Spanish, and French, even though the film's only spoken line, "Non" (French for "No"), sounds almost identical in all three languages. The DVD also includes English subtitles.
  • The three main characters have the same first names as the actors playing them. "Dom Bell" is a play on "dumbbell".
  • In the Anne Bancroft scene, she has three men as escorts. One of these men is Erik Estrada. He is not listed in the credits.

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