January 22, 2013

The History of the World, Part 1 (1981)
Starring Mel Brooks, Gregory Hines, Dom Deluise, and a ton of other people

It's good to be the king

Comments:    For a lot of the movies on this list, I actually have to go watch them again before I write about them.  A lot of these movies I haven't seen in years, so if I don't go back and do a last minute rewatch I might forget a good quote or I might forget a scene that I really liked.  So most of these reviews aren't written off the top of my head.  Most of them are pretty fresh after I have just done a rewatch.

However, when it comes to the History of the World Part 1, no rewatch is required.  For me, no rewatch will EVER be required. I have seen this movie so many times that I could probably write a review of it in my sleep.


When I was in college, there were three movies that I required every single one of my friends to know.  I called these the "Mario's Big Three."  If you wanted to be friends with me, if you wanted to hang out with me in the dorm, at the very least I required you to have working knowledge of my three favorite comedy movies. And if you could quote them too, well hey that was obviously a big plus.

Of course The History of the World was one of my Big Three movies.

I don't want to tell you what my other two were (because I will probably write about them later) but yes, if you wanted to be friends with me in the 90's, at the very least I required you to have a basic working knowledge of The History of the World Part I.  It was my favorite Mel Brooks movie when I was growing up (it still is, in fact) and I will not be exaggerating when I tell you that I have made friendships over the years with people specifically and only because they can quote this movie.  In fact, one of the very first friends I ever had in college (his name was Mark), well that only came about because he had a Mac that had over 200 History of the World .wav sound files.  When I found out he had a computer that could just randomly spit out History of the World quotes at you, well I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  In 1992, I had no idea that the world contained that kind of technology.

I still remember the very first time I visited Mark's dorm room.  I told him that the History of the World was one of my favorite movies, and he pushed a button and his computer screamed out, "PLEASE STEP ON THE SAME FOOT AT THE SAME TIME!  MY TITS ARE FALLING OFF!"

Well I don't think I have to tell you this, but that is how you make friends with me.

I can't really tell you what the History of the World is about, because it really isn't about anything.  Unlike most Mel Brooks movies, it doesn't have much of a plot or much of a story structure.  All it is is a bunch of random comedy sketches about historical figures.  I guess the best way to describe it would be a really good R rated episode of Saturday Night Live.

By the way, I am not kidding about that R rating.  Don't let your kids see this movie.  

Even though Josephus (below) is historically correct.  Oedipis technically was a motherfucker.

The History of the World is made up of five little vignettes.  There is the Dawn of Man (cavemen), there is the Age of Rome (my favorite), there is a little side story about Jesus and Moses, there is The Spanish Inquisition, and it ends with the French Revolution.  They all have their pros and cons, and of course all five of them are hilarious.  All five of them are just dirty joke after dirty joke after dirty joke.

The Dawn of Man is probably the weakest of the five segments, but I do have to give it a special shout out because of the way it begins.  Yes, The History of the World Part 1 has the most polarizing first two minutes of probably any movie I have ever seen in my life.  

The caveman emerge from the ooze.  Man is born.  Man first learns to stand upright.

And the first thing the cavemen do is they start beating off.  

Yes, that is Mel Brooks comedy at its finest.  All you have to do is watch about a minute and a half of the History of the World and if you are offended two minutes in, you should probably turn it off.  Cause it aint gonna get any more family friendly.

I don't want to give away all the best jokes in this movie, even though odds are that I'm sure you have probably already heard most of them.  This really isn't what you would call an unknown movie. 

I actually wasn't planning to include The History of the World on this countdown at all.  I was thinking about it a couple of weeks ago, and I saw it on my movie shelf, and I thought, "Nah, I can't include that.  Everyone loves that movie.  No way could I make a case that History of the World is underrated, everyone who is my age already knows it and loves it."

However, all it took was one look around the Internet Movie Database before I realized how wrong I was about that.

The IMDB is made up of people just TRASHING this movie. I had no idea that The History of the World was considered a huge flop.  I had no idea that most people consider it "the first bad Mel Brooks movie."  I had no idea that 90% of movie fans in the world consider The History of the World to be "in the lower tier of Mel Brooks comedies."

Lower tier comedy?  A colossal failure?  The first bad Mel Brooks movie?

Are you kidding me?

Your Majesty, you look like the piss boy!

I was so infuriated by the lack of respect that The History of the World holds in the movie world that I immediately sat down and I wrote this entry.  Because you better believe this movie belongs on a list like this now.  I mean, come on, this was a member of my Big Three.  This was one of those movies that, 20 years ago, I required every one of my friends to know on at least a semi quotable basis.

This was the movie that introduced us to the quote, "It's good to be the king"!  That is one of the most famous quotes of any comedy movie of the past thirty years, and this is the movie that it comes from.  I mean, come on, how can you not love a movie like that?

For God's sake, The History of the World turns the Spanish Inquisition into a big bright splashy musical number.  How can you not love the Spanish Inquisition part?  

In summary, The History of the World Part 1 is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen, and I have loved it and rewatched it and quoted it for years.  In fact nearly everyone I know has loved it and rewatched it and quoted it for years.  There is not a universe anywhere in this solar system where it could be considered a lesser tier Mel Brooks comedy.

Shit, I was going through my high school yearbook a couple of months ago, and my yearbook was just crawling with History of the World quotes.  This is word for word what my friend Justin wrote in my senior year yearbook in 1992:

Yo Mario,

Ah piffa hiffa.
What did you say?

Have a good summer,

I mean come on.  This is the type of movie that people randomly quote in a yearbook.  You can't get much more beloved than that.

When you die at the palace, you DIE at the palace.

Like I said, I wasn't planning to include The History of the World Part 1 in my countdown, but damnit, you assholes at the IMDB forced my hand.  Because now I realize how underrated it is.

I don't know how a member of my Big Three comedies could possibly be underrated, but apparently that's where we are now at this point in history.  The people who don't like The History of the World are somehow shouting down the millions of people who love it.  So here is my rebuttal to that.  See this movie.  You will laugh so hard it will knock your tits off.  It will make you laugh like Maurice Chevalier.

Oh and as always, please remember:  Fuck the poor.

Stoned Soldier: Do you care if it falls?
Stoned Soldier: What?
Stoned Soldier: The Roman Empire.
Stoned Soldier: [laughs] Fuck it!

* My favorite IMDB user reviews about The History of the World Part 1:

Funny, but dirty. - 5 April 2006
First off, I've always been very appreciative of the hilarious genius of Mel Brooks, and this movie is no disappointment. Now, I didn't really know anything about it other than everyone has told me it is funny. So we watched it in my Honors-3 class this morning and there was some amazing genius in it. I especially love how Brooks, in all his movies, plays several different roles. I figure, if you want it done right, sometimes you just have to do it yourself.

However funny it might be, there are definitely some raunchy parts. Which were pretty uncomfortable in a class setting, especially when we had several young folks in the room. I found out when I got home today that it was rated R. Whoops. There is no way that it would be rated that today though. There isn't any nudity, its just a WHOLE lot of sexual jokes. It wasn't any worse than the play version of The Producers that I saw in New York last August, if that's any measure.

You have to watch this - 6 April 2006
There's no way you can hope to catch all the jokes in this movie (visual or verbal) without watching it multiple times. I have seen it at least 20 times and I still see things I missed before. This is one you have to see.

You expect to see many gags in a Brooks movie, but this has to be one of his greatest ever.

The whole cast is wonderful, with Hines and Kahn spectacular. Brooks is his usual self-effacing, brilliant self.

It's just such a shame that Part II was never made - Hitler on Ice and Jews in Space would have been phenomenal!

The Roman and French eras are the best, IMHO, but there's not a weak minute in the movie.

Watch out for the bit where Comicvs and Swiftvs meet Oedipus -that's just a scream.

And as for the stand-up Philosopher at Caesar's Palace, well that is the icing on the cake.

Smutty, but a million times better than "The Producers" - 25 May 1999
Quite possibly the most underrated comedy of all time. The only part which isn't funny is The Spanish Inquisition. My favourite bit?: The life size chess game (in fact this whole segment is hilarious)

"It's Good to be the King" - 16 August 2007
Though it's not considered a classic like BLAZING SADDLES or YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, there are a lot of laughs to be found in Mel Brooks' HISTORY OF THE WORLD PART I, a zany, if inconsistent look at Biblical times, the Stone Age, Ancient Rome, the Spanish Inquisition, and the French Revolution as seen through Brooks' demented brain. The film is not as all encompassing as its title implies, but Mel gives his own twisted vision to these particular times in earth's history, which includes Mel himself in four different roles, including Moses and his own version of Louis XIV (It's Good to be the King). Mel gathers his usual nutty repertory company together and laughs are provided by Sid Ceasar (very funny as a caveman), Madeline Kahn and Dom DeLuise (hysterical as Cleopatra and Ceasar), Gregory Hines, Cloris Leachman, and Harvey Korman as Count De Money ("That's De Monay!!!). As always in his films, music is key and the Spanish Inquisition is presented here as a mammoth production number that is guaranteed to either amuse or offend, depending on your mood. Hard-core Brooks fans will love it, others be warned...there's something to offend everyone here.

OK; What do you expect??? - 6 October 2004
I'm kind of surprised at some of the reviews of this film. Mainly the "very poor" and "putrid" ones. This is Mel Brooks having the time of his life. The marketplace scene is hilarious. "Plumbing! Pump the s**t right out of your house! Plumbing!"

It's a wild romp through early history, with a few side steps into vaudeville and Broadway. I disagree that this film is not a classic. There are enough funny lines to quote out of this film to keep the average frat house laughing through three or four kegs of Bud.

"Boy, when you die at the palace, you REALLY die at the palace!"

Madeline (The Queen): "What happens to the slaves?"
Queen's Maid: "If they're captured, they're hung."
Madeline (The Queen): "Not necessarily."

So I suggest that you take of the Jeffrey Lyons face, sit down with some chips and brews, and watch this movie if you haven't already done so. Slapstick? You bet. Silly? Of course. As I asked before. It's Mel Brooks. What do you expect????

"He's definitely a eunich." - 28 April 2004
Marred only by overlength, this is one hilarious bit of cinema as Mel Brooks satirizes the stone age, the 10 Commandments, Rome, the Last Supper, the Inquisition, and Louie the 16th (sorry I couldn't get the name right). Of course, the stone age also happens to make fun of "2001 A Space Odyssey". Also funny is at the end with the whole "Jews In Space" bit. I love that stuff.

Personally I thought the best bits were set in Rome, what with the gags about Vestal Virgins, innuendo between the queen and the late Gregory Hines, the "Stand Up Philosopher", Ethiopia, getting the Roman guards high, and of course, the Last Supper. This is not to say the Inquisition Musical number is not worth a look.

"Jesus!" - Mel Brooks
"What?" - Jesus Christ

Mel Brooks actor, writer and director. - 27 August 2005
History of the World: Part One (1981) is a funny and hilarious comedy that chronicles the history of western civilization from the stone age 'til the French Revolution. Mel Brooks knows his history and he adds a lot of odd references that a history buff will easily pick out. Mel Brooks also stars in this film as Comicus, Moses, King Louis XVI, Torquemada and a Royal employee. Dom De Luise co-stars as Emperor Nero, Madeline Khan as Empress Nympho, Gregory Hines as Josephus (a part clearly written for Richard Pryor who bowed out early in pre-production due to personal demons), Harvey Korman as Count De Money are some of Mel Brooks regulars who appear in this film. Watch out for a lot of stand-up comics who have cameo roles in this film.

The title (a funny gag for history buffs as well) references the only volume of "The History of the World" that Sir Walter Raleigh wrote before he lost his head (figuratively and literally). A film that is highly overlooked in Mel Brooks' resume. If you love parodies and history then this one's just for you!

Highly recommended.

A great Classic. - 8 May 2003
While some may see this film as overly offensive and un-funny, the truth of it is that they aren't taking into account the time period in which it was made. Those who saw the film the year it came out saw it as it is: laugh out loud funny.

Perhaps part of the reason the humor seems worn out or repetitive is because the movie was such an icon at the time that many people have tried to copy it unsuccessfully.

This is a fantastic movie, for its time and for today. Especially if you enjoy Mel Brooks films.

* My favorite quotes from The History of the World Part 1:
Get ready.  I got a ton of 'em.

Empress Nympho: Say Bob, do I have any openings that this man might fit?
Crowd: Whooooaaaaaaa!
Bob: Well, we could use another wine steward.
Josephus: I got a great corkscrew!
Crowd: Whoooaaaaaaa!
Josephus: Damn, this a hip crowd!

Count de Monet: Don't get saucy with me, Bearnaise!

Jacques: Don't cry, my dear. I may not have been born a king, or lived like a king. But at least I can die like a king!
[He strides to the guillotine with dignity]
Citizen Official: Your Majesty, do you require a blindfold?
Jacques: None!
Citizen Official: Have you any last request?
Jacques: None!
Citizen Official: Test the guillotine!
[Another executioner triggers the guillotine; the blade comes down and chops the head off a wooden dummy]
Jacques: *Holy shit!* Uh, wait! Wait! Last request! I have a last request!
Citizen Official: What is your last request?
Jacques: Novocaine!
[the Official confers with the Executioner]
Citizen Official: There is no such thing known to medical science!
Jacques: I'll wait!

Jew #2: I was sitting in a temple / I was minding my own business / I was listening to a lovely Hebrew mass / Then these papist persons plunge in / And they throw me in the dungeon / And they shove a red-hot poker up my ass / Is that considerate? / Is that polite? / And not a tube of Preparation-H in sight!

Marcus Vindictus: Don't you know your right flank from your left flank?
Captain Mucus: I'm sorry sir, I flunked flank.
Marcus Vindictus: You flunked flank? Get the flunk out of here!

Empress Nympho: Virgins, put on your "no entry" signs! We are about to confront... guys!

Oedipus: [walking around collecting donations] Give to Oedipus! Give to Oedipus! Hey, Josephus!
Josephus: Hey, motherfucker!

Swiftus: Oh, you are nuts. N-V-T-S, nuts!

Madame DeFarge: We are so poor, we do not even have a language! Just this stupid accent!
Fellow Revolutionist: She's right, she's right! We all talk like Maurice Chevalier!
[impersonates the Chevalier laugh]
Fellow Revolutionist: Au-haw-haw.
Crowd: Au-haw-haw.

Empress Nympho: [to her litter bearers] Could you *please* step on the same foot at the same time! My tits are falling off!

Marcus Vindictus: Oh Nympho, I would do anything to gain your favor. How can I catch you? How can ensnare you? What bait must I use to catch your love? I am your servant!
Empress Nympho: Ah, but the servant waits, while the master baits!

Comicus: Have you heard of this new sect, the Christians? They are a laugh riot! First of all, they are so poor...
Swiftus: How poor are they?
Comicus: Thank you! They are so poor... that they only have *one* God!
[drumbeat, everyone laughs]
Comicus: But we Romans are rich. We've got a lot of gods. We've got a god for everything. The only thing we don't have a god for is premature ejaculation... but I hear that's coming quickly.

Count de Monet: It is said that the people are revolting.
King Louis XVI: You said it! They stink on ice!

Plumbing Salesman: Yes, citizens, plumbing! It's the latest invention to hit Rome! It moves water from one place to another! It's astounding, it's amazing! Get on the bandwagon! Pipe the shit right out of your house!

Leader of Senate: All fellow members of the Roman senate hear me. Shall we continue to build palace after palace for the rich? Or shall we aspire to a more noble purpose and build decent housing for the poor? How does the senate vote?
Entire Senate: FUCK THE POOR!

Count de Monet: Your Majesty, you look like the piss-boy!
King Louis XVI: And you look like a bucket of shit!

Insolent Flunky: Count Da Money!
Count de Monet: De Monet! Say it... Mo - nay! Say it with me, Mo - nay!

Chief Monk: Torquemada - do not beg him for mercy. Torquemada - do not ask him for forgiveness. Let's face it - you can't Torquemada anything!

Emperor Nero: Here, wash this!

Roman Officer: Seize him!
Josephus: [grabs crotch] Seize *this*, honkus!

Roman Officer: Do you know the penalty for a slave who strikes a Roman citizen?
[people in the crowd raise hands enthusiastically]
Roman Officer: Ok, you... you had your hand up first.
Man in crowd: Death by torture!
Roman Officer: No... You?
Man in crowd: Crucifixion!
Roman Officer: Wrong! You?
Man in crowd: They shove a living snake up your ass!
Roman Officer: Ah, no... but that's very creative!

King Louis XVI: Knight jumps queen! Bishop jumps queen! Pawns jump queen! GAAAAANG BAAAAAANG!!

Poppinjay: [muffled in to megaphone] Pawn threatens bishop!
King Louis XVI: What the hell did you say?
Poppinjay: [turning to King Louis XVI without removing the megaphone] Pawn threatens bishop!

Moses: The Lord, the Lord Jehovah has given unto you these fifteen...
[drops one of the tablets]
Moses: Oy! Ten! Ten commandments for all to obey!

Mademoiselle Rimbaud: Your Majesty! I was raised in a convent. I don't indulge in pleasures of the flesh.
King Louis XVI: You don't put out, he don't get out.
Mademoiselle Rimbaud: Your Majesty, I simply don't do it.
King Louis XVI: Come on, you do it. You love to do it. We all do it. You do it...
Mademoiselle Rimbaud: No, I don't!
King Louis XVI: I do it, I love to do it. I just did it and I'm ready to do it again, don't tell me you don't do it!

King Louis XVI: Ah, the Count Da Money!
Count de Monet: It's "De Mon... "
King Louis XVI: DON'T correct me!

Madame DeFarge: We, the people of France...
Fellow Revolutionist: Fraunce.
Madame DeFarge: Fraunce...

King Louis XVI: It's good to be the king.

[while Josephus is hiding among the eunuchs, Caladonia dances erotically in front of them to test them]
Marcus Vindictus: He's a eunuch.
Captain Mucus: Mmm-hmm.
[she moves to another one, dancing harder]
Marcus Vindictus: *He's* a eunuch.
Captain Mucus: Mmm-hmm.
[she moves to a third one, dancing even harder]
Marcus Vindictus: He's *dead!*
Captain Mucus: Hmm.

Judas: No, No! Leave us alone!
Comicus: All right, all right! Jesus!
Jesus: Yes?
Comicus: What?
Jesus: What?
Comicus: What?
Jesus: Yes?
Comicus: Jesus!
Jesus: Yes?
Comicus: What?
Jesus: What?
Comicus: You said what.
Jesus: Yes?
Comicus: Nothing.

My favorite trivia about The History of the World Part 1:

* Despite carrying the title Part 1, there was no sequel and there were never any plans for a sequel.  The title is a play on "The Historie of the World, Volume 1" by Sir Walter Raleigh.

* My favorite scene in The History of the World Part 1:
I could probably pick about ten, but let's go with this one:

"Caladonia! Let's make their big head so hard!"

The History of the World, Part 1 at the IMDB

The History of the World, Part 1 at Wikipedia

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