Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Mel Brooks|
|Produced by||Michael Hertzberg|
|Written by||Ron Clark
Rudy De Luca
|Music by||John Morris|
|Editing by||Stanford C. Allen
John C. Howard
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Running time||87 minutes|
(Only word of dialogue spoken in French)
Silent Movie is a 1976 satirical comedy film co-written, 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 Charlie Chaplin, Mack Sennett, and Buster Keaton. Among the film's most infamous gags is the fact that the only audible line in the movie is spoken by Marcel Marceau, a noted mime.
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).
Mel Funn (Mel Brooks), 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 (Dom DeLuise) and Marty Eggs (Marty Feldman). His big idea: the first silent motion picture in forty years. At first the Chief (Sid Caesar), who is in danger of losing the studio to the (literally) rabid and greedy New York conglomerate Engulf & Devour (Harold Gould and Ron Carey), 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 various people for the film. Their first target is Burt Reynolds, whom they first surprise in his shower. This does not go well, but they are able to sign him on by appearing at his house in disguise (and almost getting him killed by a steamroller). They recruit James Caan despite a disastrous lunch in his broken trailer, and then torture Liza Minnelli at the commissary (fortunately, she already badly wanted to be in the movie). They then disguise themselves as Flamenco dancers to get close to Anne Bancroft at a nightclub, and sign her on as well after a comical dance sequence. News breaks out that the Chief has taken ill and is in the hospital. While there, Mel phones Marcel Marceau in Paris who apparently declines the offer, delivering the only line of dialogue in the film, in French: "Non!" When asked by the others what Marceau said, Funn explains he doesn't understand French. It is never stated, but can be inferred that Marceau later changed his mind. Paul Newman is seen on the hospital grounds. After leading them on a wild Hollywood-style chase in electric wheelchairs, he asks to be in the film. Funn and company reply with the typical Hollywood-esque "We'll get back to you." In the next shot, a newspaper ad indicates that they "ink" Newman to do the movie.
In the process of their search for stars, the trio have a number of brief but funny misadventures, including a mixup between two German Shepherds (one trained as a seeing-eye dog, the other most assuredly not), a flying blueberry pie, and several (mostly unsuccessful) efforts by Marty Eggs to seduce various women. The most notable encounter involves a Coca Cola machine that dispenses cans by launching them like grenades.
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 (Bernadette Peters) 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. Ironically, moments after this turn of events, Vilma is seen calling Mr. Engulf with the news that she is quitting: she has fallen for Funn for real. She and Funn's associates find the director passed-out in a pile of winos, and several hundred cups of coffee sober him up. Funn's silent movie is completed in record time. Unfortunately, the only copy of it is stolen from the theater by Engulf & Devour just before its big premiere.
Vilma volunteers to stall the theater's audience with her nightclub act while Funn and his associates go out to steal back their film. They succeed, but are chased by Engulf and Devour's thuggish executives. They are eventually cornered, but fortunately they are near the violent soda machine, which they use against their foes. Most of the executives, including Mr. Devour, are disabled by the exploding cans of Coke, allowing Funn, Eggs, and Bell to escape. They hurry the film to the theater, where it is shown for the first time. After the movie is over, the audience applauds wildly and leaps to its feet while balloons and streamers fill the air. "They seem to like it," Funn says.
The film ends with the jubilant audience filing out of the theater past Funn, Eggs, Bell, Vilma, and the recovered studio chief. At the end, a title card is shown: "This is a true story."
- Mel Brooks as Mel Funn
- Dom DeLuise as Dom Bell
- Marty Feldman as Marty Eggs
- Bernadette Peters as Vilma Kaplan
- Sid Caesar as the Chief
- Harold Gould as Engulf
- Ron Carey as Devour
- Burt Reynolds as Himself
- James Caan as Himself
- Liza Minnelli as Herself
- Anne Bancroft as Herself
- Paul Newman as Himself
- Marcel Marceau as Himself
- Brooks initially envisioned the film 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 film was shot 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.
- Brooks biographer James Robert Parish says that Brooks based the Eggs and Bell characters on his relationship with his three brothers.
- This was Brooks's first starring role in a film; 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."
- The pregnant woman in the first scene is Dom DeLuise's real-life wife, Carol Arthur.
It earned North American rentals of $21,240,000.
The DVD 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.