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Review: History of the World, Part I

September 27, 2011

Mel Brooks’ take on the historical epic, History of the World, Part I, is a look back through the ages of man, as seen through the eyes of a Jewish Brooklyn comedian.

First stop on our journey: 20 million BCE, and the rise of man (or at least, men in ape suits). These proto-men begin jumping around and wildly humping air, as a title card proclaims, “OUR FOREFATHERS”. The quickly grow tired and the main title comes in. From there, we jump to around 2.5 million BCE and the stone age, where a cave dweller tries in vain to light a fire with rock and flint. When one of his tribemates comes along with a lit torch, inspiration strikes! He will heat up the flint! He throws it on the pile of tinder and…absolutely nothing happens.

Another slight jump to a stone age artist, painting a horse on the wall, the birth of the first artist. “And of course, with the birth of the artist, came the inevitable afterbirth – the critic.”

Hey, I resemble that remark!

The first critic puts a hand to his chin, carefully regards the work that this artist has put his heart and soul into, and promptly pisses on it.

Other highlights of the rise of man include the first homo sapien marriage (followed by the first homosexual marriage), invention of the spear (thrown into a tribemate), the first funeral (tossing the deceased out of the cave), the invention of slapstick comedy (notable comedy duo Caveman and the Dinosaur), and the discovery of music (whacking each other with rocks to form notes).

From there, we proceed to civilization and the old testament of the bible. Moses receives fifteen ten commandments on three two stone tablets. After that short interlude, it’s on to the Roman Empire, and the Roman bazaar, with a doctor/barber offering shaves, haircuts, and bloodletting, Charlie Callas as a soothsayer/comedian, a banner advertising the Temple of Eros Annual Orgy and Buffet, proclaiming “First served, first come” (with Hugh Hefner organizing the event), and a man with the best sales pitch ever for plumbing (“Pipe the shit right outta your house!”).

Comicus, a stand-up philosopher (or as it’s put by Bea Arthur, “bullshit artist”), is in line for unemployment when his agent, Swiftus tells him that he’s landed him a job – playing for Caesar in the palace (“The main room?” “The main room!”). The two pass a slave auction where they find Josephus, an Ethiopian who tries to get out of being taken to the lions through various entertaining means, including the Ethiopian Shim-Sham Sand Dance. Comicus sees a vestal virgin intervening to stop a horse driver from whipping an exhausted horse. The driver threatens to whip her, and Comicus decks him. Josephus is conscripted into the service of Empress Nympho as a wine steward after after striking the horse driver, while Comicus and Swiftus head to the performance at the palace.

After unintentionally insulting Caesar, the four escape in the chariot driven by the formerly exhausted horse Miracle. Comicus ends up waiting tables in Judea and getting Christ, party of thirteen right as Leonardo da Vinci shows up to paint a group portrait. After he tells everyone to move to the other side of the table, Comicus holds the silver serving plate up behind Jesus.

After a short interlude during the Spanish Inquisition (done in the style of an over the top song-and-dance number), we reach the French Revolution. A mob of French peasants, led by Madame Defarge, plots the overthrow of Louis XVI. Meanwhile, the king’s advisor Count de Monet warns him of suspicions that the people may be turning against him, reinforced by the king’s use of peasants as clay pigeons. He is approached after a live-action game of chess (in which he invokes the King’s Privilege – three moves for one. “Knight jumps Queen! Bishop jumps Queen! Pawns jump Queen! Gangbang!”) by Mademoiselle Rimbaud who asks for the freedom of her father, imprisoned in the Bastile. The king agrees, on the condition that she have sex with him.

de Monet convinces the king to go into hiding, and the king forces garçon de pisse (piss boy, holds a bucket for the nobles) Jacques, who bears a striking resemblance to the king, to take his place. Mademoiselle Rimbaud shows up that night for her…uh…father’s bail, which Jacques has no knowledge of. Instead of taking advantage of his position, Jacques simply signs the pardon for her, and they go to the Bastile to get her father.

Unfortunately, the peasants choose that exact moment to revolt, taking the prison and make ready to execute the both of them at the guillotine. Just as they’re about the behead the “king”, Josephus arrives with Miracle and rescues them, riding off past a mountain with “THE END” carved in the side. This is followed by previews showing segments for the fictional part II: Hitler on Ice, a viking funeral (as it turns out, the horns aren’t on their helmets, but their heads), and Jews in Space (“Flying around, protecting the Hebrew race!”).

I don’t even know how to sum this one up. It’s Mel Brooks. He’s one of our funniest Jews. The beginning is a little slow, but everything after the dawn of man is hilarious, with special mention going to the Old Testament gag with the five extra commandments, Comicus at Caesar’s Palace and later at the Last Supper, and the Spanish Inquisition scene with the torture slot machine and water ballet nuns. If you like Mel Brooks, it’s about as much of his comedy style as you can jam into an hour and a half. There may not have been a sequel, but that was a joke from the beginning (based on the history book Sir Walter Raleigh – he finished one volume before being beheaded). It’s funny, it’s “historical”, it’s definitely worth checking out if you haven’t seen it already.

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