Balladeer’s Blog takes a look at its Comedy Hall of Fame honorees – parody division. A film must be thirty years old or older to qualify. Here they are, in no particular order.
LOVE AND DEATH (1975)
Written and directed by Woody Allen. In the years before he started churning out relationship movie after relationship movie, Woody crafted this hilarious parody of Russian literature AND Russian filmmaking.
When Love and Death was made, Allen’s comedic approach was up there with Mel Brooks, the Monty Python troupe and the Airplane/ Naked Gun folks in terms of fast and furious laughs with virtually no time to catch your breath.
This movie features love triangles and rectangles, silent film riffs, metaphysics, the principal from the Back to the Future films as Napoleon and the ultimate Black Russian joke. Diane Keaton was terrific at comedy even before her turn in Annie Hall.
BLAZING SADDLES (1974)
Directed by Mel Brooks and written by Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor and Alan Uger. What praise could I possibly add to the well-deserved acclaim that this razor-sharp sendup of westerns has already received?
Ballsy satire of the “Yeah, they went there” kind, parodies of even the most obscure old west tropes and the unexpected comedic chemistry between Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder made this one of the greatest comedies of all time in ANY category.
Every complimentary word you’ve read about Blazing Saddles is true. By the way, the now-forgotten Rodney Allen Rippy cameoed as Young Bart and Sally Kirkland of all people appeared uncredited in the role of the cashier at the studio commissary.
MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975)
Directed by Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones and written by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Michael Palin.
What Blazing Saddles did for cowboys and six-guns, Monty Python and the Holy Grail did for knights and swords. Multiple generations of film lovers STILL pepper references to this film into their conversations on an almost daily basis.
Nearly every conceivable aspect of the tales of chivalry surrounding King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table gets comedically dissected in this movie. And the Python gang never needed expensive special effects as long as Terry Gilliam was around.
Directed and written by David Zucker, Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams. This was a world-class, positively Marx Brothersesque parody of films like Zero Hour, Airport and every other airborne disaster movie made before 1980.
Abrahams and the Zucker Brothers elbowed their way onto the same level occupied by Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and the Monty Python crew with this genuine classic. Some of the last actors you would have thought could be funny showed just how funny they could be by not ACTING funny, just playing it all straight-faced.
Airplane is definitely a timeless classic.
MURDER BY DEATH (1976)
Directed by Robert Moore and written by the accomplished Neil Simon himself, Murder by Death uproariously parodied classic mystery novels and movies. (In 1980 Murder Can Hurt You tried the same approach with television detectives.)
A talented cast brings to life pastiches of assorted iconic detectives. Peter Falk plays Sam Diamond (Sam Spade), Elsa Lanchester portrays Jessica Marbles (Miss Marple), Peter Sellers is Sidney Wang (Charlie Chan), James Coco plays Milo Perrier (Hercules Poirot) and David Niven and the extremely long-lived Maggie Smith are terrific as Dick and Dora Charleston (Nick and Nora Charles).
The script not only had a lot of fun with pointless convolutions and multiple false identities but good-naturedly poked a little fun at stylistic flaws of Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett and Earl Derr Biggers.
AND for everyone whose friends and family have ever doubted you about the now-deleted scene with Sherlock Holmes and Watson at the end of the film, you can show them HERE.
… AND GOD SPOKE (1993)
This movie is also known as The Making of … And God Spoke. Arthur Borman directed and co-wrote along with Mark Borman, Greg Malins and Michael Curtis.
I really enjoy this combination of mockumentaries like The Rutles or The Last Polka and mock Biblical epics like Life of Brian. We follow the travails of a pair of low budget indy filmmakers as they move on from cheap horror and sexploitation flicks to an attempt at bringing Bible stories to the big screen.
I won’t spoil any of the jokes in this underappreciated gem, but just look at the following list of guest stars who make appearances – Andy Dick as Abel, Eve Plumb as Noah’s Wife, Lou Ferrigno as Cain, Soupy Sales as Moses, Michael Medved as himself and THE R.C. Bates in his breakthrough role as God.
THE GARRY SHANDLING SHOW: 25th ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL (1986)
Directed by Tom Trbovich and written by Garry Shandling & Marc Sotkin. I was FLOORED when I saw that as of this writing there is only ONE user review at IMDb for this comedy classic. Years before Shandling and his team presented the ultimate parody of American talk shows with The Larry Sanders Show came this ultimate parody of talk show anniversary shows.
Picture the Rutles or … And God Spoke approach brought to a fictional talk show marking its 25th year on the air. Anniversary shows of The Tonight Show and Late Night and Late Show can still be found and watched, so age is no real limit to appreciating the humor in this cable special.
The “clips” of celebrities appearing on Garry’s fictional talk show from 1961 to 1986 are up there with any of the song parodies in The Rutles.
I’M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKA (1988)
Written and directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans, this is a pitch-perfect parody of the blaxploitation films from the 1970s. Regular readers of Balladeer’s Blog may remember how many blaxploitation flicks I’ve reviewed from back then, and this comedy hilariously salutes and satirizes them at the same time, like Mel Brooks’ High Anxiety did with Alfred Hitchcock movies.
And just as Murder by Death featured pastiches of famous detectives from popular fiction, Wayans’ opus presents viewers with pastiches of a few of the larger-than-life blaxploitation heroes of the era. We get Flyguy (Superfly), Kung Fu Joe (Black Belt Jones), Jack Spade (John Shaft) and others.
It may take a viewer who is immersed in the style, music and tropes of that genre to fully appreciate how brilliantly I’m Gonna Git You Sucka succeeds. Wayans’ commitment is such that the scene introducing Kung Fu Joe perfectly recreates a scene from Three the Hard Way, right down to a newspaper blowing across the street in just the right way.
THE RUTLES (1978)
Written by Eric Idle and co-directed by Idle and Gary Weis, this mockumentary parody of the Beatles came years before This is Spinal Tap, The Last Polka, Medusa: Dare to be Truthful and so many other parodies of rock music documentaries.
In my opinion The Rutles is the best and funniest of the bunch, but naturally, others may feel differently. If you grew up with older family members who were mired in the Beatles and the Beatlemania surrounding them you will really appreciate the way The Rutles masterfully recaptures an entire era.
Neil Innes’ songs and his portrayal of Ron Nasty, the John Lennon character, help cement The Rutles‘ status as a Hall of Fame comedy. And the cultural and musical significance of the Beatles help propel this telefilm to the top tier of all-time comedies in any category.
THE NAKED GUN (1988)
David Zucker directed and co-wrote once again alongside Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker for this big-screen adaptation of their cult comedy series Police Squad!
Leslie Nielsen recreated his role of Frank Drebin but very few other cast members from the television show appeared, unfortunately. The Zucker Brothers/ Abrahams style was well-represented once again in this devastatingly funny movie that combined the greatest bits from Police Squad! with a larger plot that a cinematic approach made possible.
Many tried to imitate The Naked Gun and its sequels but virtually no one ever succeeded, and the recent Not Another … films and their kind don’t even come close.
Woody Allen directed and co-wrote this movie with Marshall Brickman.
Allen portrays Miles Monroe, a 1970s Health Food Store owner who winds up in suspended animation and wakes up in the far future. He finds himself aiding rebels against the Big Brother-style totalitarian regime of his new era.
Sleeper is one of my all-time favorite films. Woody’s reproduction of silent film elements and his sendup of dystopian science fiction settings make this flick near and dear to my heart. And what would a 1970s Woody Allen film be without at least one Howard Cosell joke?
Diane Keaton once again demonstrated her comedic talents and helped make it clear why so many of the film industry’s male giants fell in love with her in real life as well as on screen. And the jazz soundtrack composed by Woody himself proved once again what a Renaissance Man he was.
MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN (1979)
Directed by Terry Jones and written by the usual Monty Python crew, this may be the last word in irreverent Jesus comedies. It’s a cinch that none of the others even come close.
A Jewish man named Brian reluctantly finds himself at the center of a new religion under circumstances that uproariously parallel Christianity and assorted Apocryphal Gospels of the ancient world.
This is another one of those comedies which have been so smothered in praise that there is really nothing more for me to add at this late stage. If you are fine with humor that lampoons sacred cows in a manner not seen since the days of Attic Old Comedy then you MUST watch Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
TOP SECRET (1984)
Directed and written by the Zucker Brothers and Jim Abrahams, Top Secret is the Citizen Kane of movies which simultaneously parody spy movies and Elvis Presley flicks.
Val Kilmer, in the years before he took himself way too seriously, could truly do it all and masterfully stars as rock music idol Nick Rivers. Nick gets caught up in an anachronistic World War Two-style spy movie which also incorporates elements of Elvis’ Harum Scarum but with Nazi stereotypes instead of Arab stereotypes.
The A to Z comedy stylings of Abrahams and the Zuckers scored once again with this raucous comedy which is a hysterical hit and yet is STILL underrated, all at once.
This movie was directed by Woody Allen and co-written by Allen and Mickey Rose.
“Guerilla filmmaking” takes on a whole new meaning in this Allen parody of the political and self-consciously “relevant” films of Costa-Gavras and his peers. Woody stars as Fielding Mellish, a typical Allen nebbish who winds up at the center of a revolution in a fictional Central American country.
Louise Lasser, Woody’s girlfriend at the time, is funny but doesn’t get as much screen time as she deserved. Her character Nancy is a politically active young lady and Fielding’s attempts to impress her with his “seriousness” lead him to a revolution and ultimately to leadership of the liberated nation.
Bananas features the definitive parody of the food scene from Tom Jones, Howard Cosell as bookends, and the Groucho Marx-worthy declaration from the power-mad tinpot dictator, “All children under sixteen years of age … are now sixteen years of age. SILENCE!” (Nobody was speaking.)
THE BIG BUS (1976)
James Frawley directed and Fred Freeman and Lawrence J. Cohen wrote this comedy which was sort of a pre-Airplane parody of disaster movies.
The first nuclear powered passenger bus is set for its maiden journey amid the usual romantic, engineering and financial intrigues so common to maiden voyages in disaster cinema. While never quite reaching the anarchic heights of the Zucker/ Abrahams movies that came later, The Big Bus is still worth a watch or two.
Joseph Bologna, Stockard Channing, Sally Kellerman, Richard Mulligan and John Beck lead the cast of this overlooked comedy gem.
HOT SHOTS (1991)
Jim Abrahams proved he could succeed even without the Zucker Brothers at his side as he directed and co-wrote with Pat Proft this Top Gun parody.
Charlie Sheen, Valeria Golino, Cary Elwes, Lloyd Bridges and Jon Cryer are all nearly flawless in this comedy which follows the outline of Top Gun even more faithfully than Airplane followed the outline of Zero Hour.
Sheen and Cryer went on to sitcom success in later decades but in my view neither ever topped their hilarious turns in Hot Shots. The sequel to this comedy classic was nearly equal to the original, just like with Airplane II, and Naked Gun 2 & A Half.
YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974)
The same year that Mel Brooks conquered the comedy world with Blazing Saddles he also directed and co-wrote with Gene Wilder this parody of Universal’s series of Frankenstein movies.
I once again have to point out that there is almost nothing left for me to say about this landmark comedy. So many before me have pointed out the brilliance of this Brooks masterpiece in great detail. Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Cloris Leachman and Teri Garr have rarely been better.
Some modern-day critics nitpick Young Frankenstein for being too faithful to the Universal Studios style that it is sending up, but c’mon! That’s part of the POINT of a comedy like this.
A FISTFUL OF YEN (1977)
John Landis directed while the up and coming David Zucker, Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams co-wrote The Kentucky Fried Movie, of which A Fistful of Yen was part.
Since the bulk of The Kentucky Fried Movie is outside the category of this film list, I decided to address just this segment, because, at over 31 minutes, it is by far the longest portion. Enter the Dragon is expertly parodied in this piece starring Evan C. Kim and Bong Soo Han.
The words “affectionate sendup” are sometimes overused when describing this type of comedy, but they were never more appropriate than they are here. Even the most hardcore Bruce Lee fans will find nothing to upset them in A Fistful of Yen. Not even the Spaghetti Western joke in the title.
HIGH ANXIETY (1977)
Mel Brooks directed this film and co-wrote it with Ron Clark and Rudy De Luca.
Unlike what I said above in my take on Young Frankenstein, I admit that critics do have a point when they say that High Anxiety is virtually without any appeal to viewers who are not familiar with Alfred Hitchcock’s movies.
But, with that stipulated, Hitchcock fans will barely be able to catch their breath between laughing and pointing out the countless A.H. in-jokes and references throughout High Anxiety. I rate this comedy above Brooks productions like Space Balls or Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Maybe even above one of my favorites: Silent Movie.