(As is my custom this time of year, I am taking some time off from writing new posts and instead reposting some old favorites (often edited and updated) for the benefit of those who missed them the first time around or have forgotten them. The POST SCRIPTS will generally be new. New posts will start again on Monday, January 5, 2009. Today’s post originally appeared in October 2007.)
I like comedies. And within that genre of films, I particularly like parodies. The best ones are those that are based on clichés of particular genres or specific stories that are well known, since a successful parody depends crucially on the ability of the audience to immediately recognize allusions to the original
A parody idea is not hard to come up with. What is hard is to be able to sustain the conceit over the length of a film. Even in the written form, short article parodies are difficult (I know because I have tried and failed miserably) and only a skilled writer can pull it off. I often come across attempts at parodies that seemed to have started out as a single good idea but the writer could not sustain the conceit and it soon becomes painful to read. The ability to maintain a light tough and not to belabor the point is a skill that only a few seem to be able to master. Stephen Leacock and S. J. Perelman are two writers who were good at it. As a very young boy I read Perelman’s Somewhere a Roscoe, a parody of the hard-boiled detective story, and I was hooked on parodies for life.
So here are some of my favorite film parodies. If you haven’t seen any of them, you should check them out.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) is a parody classic of Camelot. There are so many good scenes in it that it is hard to choose, so I went with Dennis the Peasant.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979) is a superb parody of life in the time of Jesus. Here is one of the funniest scenes in it.
And since you can never have too much of Monty Python, here is another one from that same film.
Mel Brooks is undoubtedly the master of the film parody and has produced some of its finest examples. Brooks has the ability to insert a parody of one genre into a parody of another. In Robin Hood, Men in Tights (1993), one of the funniest scenes is where comedian Dom de Luise does a dead-on parody of the Marlon Brando role in The Godfather.
In Spaceballs (1987), Mel Brooks took on the mighty Star Wars franchise.
In Blazing Saddles (1974), Brooks turned his attention to the western and showed his ability to use anachronisms to good comedy effect.
And of course, the monster horror film genre was ripe for Brooks’ plucking with Young Frankenstein (1974).
Woody Allen scored a direct hit on the epic Russian psychological novel style of writers like Dostoyevsky with his wonderful Love and Death (1975), which to my mind is his best film.
A little-known but funny parody that I heard about just a month or so ago is Zorro, the Gay Blade (1981), in which George Hamilton stars as both Don Diego (the canonical Zorro) and Bunny Wigglesworth, his twin brother who was sent to England as a child and returns home just in time to substitute for his injured twin. Bunny has, shall we say, a more discerning taste in clothes than his brother and disdains the simple black outfits that he favors. In this scene, Ron Leibman in over-the-top acting mode plays the despotic Alcalde as he starts hearing reports of Bunny’s exploits.
I had not thought of George Hamilton as a comedic actor, or even much of an actor at all and was pleasantly surprised at his ability to pull off camp comedy. I knew him as merely the famed possessor of the most perfect year-round tan, which made him a surprise choice to star as a creature of the night, the vampire Dracula in the parody Love at First Bite (1979), which was unfortunately rather uneven in quality.
I have not as yet come across good parodies of the James Bond series. Austin Powers seemed strained to me, too annoyingly caricatured, and I only watched the first one. The original Casino Royale (1967) brought together a whole series of famous actors and was a disaster. Even Peter Sellers and Woody Allen could not salvage a truly ghastly script. The only reason to watch this film is to see a colossal train wreck of a film, and the immense waste of talent.
POST SCRIPT: Happy New Year!
It is unfortunately going to be a difficult year for most people for reasons that do not need to be spelled out. The only good news on the horizon is that in three weeks we see the end of the worst presidency ever. It would be even better if Bush and Cheney were tried and convicted for war crimes.
I would like to wish all of the blog’s readers the best wishes for the new year.