Comedies

by Max Carlson

Mel Brooks once said, “Tragedy is if I cut my finger. Comedy is if you fall into an open manhole and die.” Since laughter is the best medicine, and we all need medicine now and again, I thought I would write about some of my favorite film comedies.

History of The World directed by Mel Brooks – History of The World contains some of Brooks’ finest work. It takes some well-known events in history, like the French Revolution and the Spanish Inquisition, and pokes a little fun at them. Actually, it pokes a lot of fun at them. There are some memorable and hilarious moments. One of them is when Brooks (who also stars in the film) and his buddies escape the Roman Army and fend them off with an enormous marijuana joint. Another is when Moses comes down from Mt. Sinai with fifteen commandments on three slabs of stone. He accidentally drops one of them and then announces casually that there are will now be just ten commandments. The Spanish Inquisition musical scene is probably one of the funniest musical numbers ever. The humor can become immature and childish but it can still tickle the funny bone, which is why I like it so much.

Bananas directed by Woody Allen – Bananas is only the second film in Allen’s career as a director but it is one of his funniest. In Bananas, Allen uses more of a slapstick type of humor than he does today. Howard Cosell, a retired Sportscaster, opens the film covering a live, on-the-spot, assassination of the president of San Marcos. San Marcos (which is supposed to be something like Cuba) is now run by a military dictator. Allen ends up in San Marcos as a revolution, led by a very Castro-like character, is taking place. The whole scene with Allen being trained at the rebel camp with composer Marvin Hamlisch’s hilarious music in the background is a knock-out. This is some of Woody Allen’s best work.

Adenoid Hynkel

Ed Wood directed by Tim Burton – One of the more recent comedies, Ed Wood, is a film about the worst sci-fi movie director ever. I would have to say this is probably one of the more bizarre works on my comedy list. Ed Wood, brilliantly played by Johnny Depp, is an out-of-work director who happens to be a transvestite. His girlfriend sticks loyally by his side until she finally discovers why her sweaters have all been stretched out. The movies Ed makes are so terrible, you just have to laugh at how bad they actually are. What’s really funny is that Ed thinks they are masterpieces. Martin Landau won an Academy Award for playing famous horror movie star Bela Lugosi. In this movie, Ed befriends Lugosi and talks him into starring in some of his extremely low budget flicks. This is one funny movie. In a way it is like an old sci-fi movie with the black and white cinematography and the tinny astro music composed by Howard Shore.

The Great Dictator directed by Charlie Chaplin – Charlie Chaplin is thought of as one of the greatest comedians of all time. His humor is often imitated by comedians today. In his 1940 classic, The Great Dictator, he plays Adolf Hitler. However, just for fun he changes the name Adolf Hitler to Adenoid Hynkel. Chaplin changes everyone else’s name too: Herr Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda, is known as Herr Garbage. Germany is known as Tomania. He also knocks on Mussolini. Benito Mussolini is called Benzino Napaloni, and Italy is known as Bacteria. It is so hilarious to watch everything unfold. Chaplin is an expert at physical comedy. There is one point in the movie where he quickly jumps into a small chest and shuts himself in. It is so quick and so unexpected that I burst out laughing. This movie is also very serious at certain points. Some of the things in this movie are no laughing matter, and the ending is, in a way, very touching. It was very strong anti-fascist propaganda. This is an extraordinary classic. I highly recommend it.

Max Carlson studies music and cinema at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.

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