3 posts categorized "Spoof"

March 17, 2014


Airplane!It took a team of three writer/directors (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker) to run with the comic baton that Mel Brooks temporarily passed along after “High Anxiety.” Spoofing disaster films, that were all the rage in the ‘70s, was an obvious choice for a team of filmmakers looking to apply a kitchen-sink approach to getting laughs. Having worked together in the theater group they founded, the “Kentucky Fried Theater,” the filmmaking trio (known as ZAZ) found inspiration in a 1957 feature drama dubbed “Zero Hour!” starring Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell, and Sterling Hayden. Throwing non-stop jokes, gags, and snarky movie references at the wall proved a surefire method for getting humor to stick, slip, and split wide-open.

Much of “Airplane!’s” success can be attributed to its casting of well-established older television actors in eccentric roles. Most of them were dramatic actors that had never done comedy before. Peter Graves was a household name from his long-running stint on TV’s “Mission Impossible” in which he played Jim Phelps, the head of a super-secret government spy agency.


In “Airplane!” Graves plays commercial pilot Captain Clarence Oveur — get it, Captain “Over”? He’s a sex obsessed white-haired fellow who reads a dirty magazine titled “Modern Sperm” in the “wacking material” section of the airport newsstand before taking a call on the “white courtesy phone” from the “Mayo” clinic from a doctor whose office is filled with jars of mayonnaise — just in case the sperm reference wasn’t enough. Well, I did say, “kitchen-sink.”

Once in the cockpit, Captain Oveur gets a visit from Joey, a young freckle-faced passenger that the stewardess brings into the cabin to receive a toy Boeing 707. The warped Captain asks Joey, “You ever been in a cockpit before?” before delving deeper. “Have you ever seen a grown man naked?” The presence of Los Angeles Lakers basketball center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar flying the plane from the co-pilot seat distracts Joey. Kareem tries to keep up the ruse that he is a co-pilot named Roger Murdoch, but Joey knows better. Kareem has to let down his guard.

The film’s mixed bag of cultural references spill out faster than you can catch them. One of the funniest cameo bits comes from Barbara Billingsley, widely known to television audiences as “the Beaver’s mom,” June Cleaver, from the long-syndicated situation comedy “Leave It To Beaver.” The plane’s stewardess is unable to understand a couple of black passengers, one of whom is in visible pain. With her gray hair set in an expensive coif, Billingsley’s helpful passenger offers her assistance. “Oh stewardess, I speak jive.” She goes on to translate the men’s request for medical assistance before conversing with them on their own terms. It’s a comic bit that never gets old. Although the filmmakers attempted to replicate the film’s enormous box-office success with a sequel, and a host of other spoof movies, “Airplane!” soars high above them.


Rated PG. 88 mins. (A-) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)

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January 13, 2013


A-haunted_house_poster-350x518Mining the spoof genre he helped reenergize with the “Scary Movie” franchise, Marlon Wayans comes up short with a well-worn scattershot approach that rarely connects with audience funny bones. Most problematic is the absence of a storyline. Barely connected sequences fly by in every direction without consideration for structure or any kind of narrative arc.

Newbie director Michael Tiddes rides out the obligatory found-footage trope of the "Paranormal Activity" movies. A lusty bisexual spirit is ensconced in a suburban Los Angeles house inhabited by newlyweds Malcolm (Wayans) and Kisha (Essence Atkins).

Image result for A HAUNTED HOUSE wayans

The best thing the movie has going for it is its ensemble’s unabashed affinity for ribald humor. Fart jokes and uncomfortable sexual shenanigans abound. Arguably, the funniest bit in the movie occurs via a rotating camera that captures the erratic, and erotic, secret habits of the home’s Hispanic maid Rosa (Marlene Forte).

Rated R. 86 mins.

2 Stars

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June 12, 2012


High_Anxiety_movie_posterDedicated to “the Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock,” “Mel Brooks’s “High Anxiety” (1977) arrived as a polished comedy behind Brooks’s successful preceding spoofs, which included the Western genre (“Blazing Saddles”), James Whale’s “Frankenstein” (“Young Frankenstein”), and silent film comedies (“Silent Movie”). “High Anxeity” marked Brooks’s debut as a producer and his first speaking lead role—Brooks was appropriately tongue-tied in “Silent Movie.”

Cloris Leahman

For the cinematographer responsible for emulating Hitchcock’s gifted director of photography Robert Burks, Brooks used the laudable Paul Lohmann, with whom he worked on “Silent Movie.” Lohmann’s compositional contributions to “High Anxiety” cannot be overstated. From start to finish, everything about the look of “High Anxiety” harkens to Hitchcock’s golden era of Technicolor films. Not-so-subtle visual references evince an amalgam of atmospheres from Hitchcock’s “North By Northwest,” “The Birds,” and most justifiably, “Vertigo.” A clever set piece attraction makes great fun of the unforgettable shower sequence from “Psycho.”


Mel Brooks is no Cary Grant, and he knows it. Purposefully playing against type, Brooks throws down the comic gauntlet as Dr. Richard Thorndyke, a height-fearing psychiatrist called upon to take over as the new head of The Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous. Accompanied by his new assistant and chauffeur Brophy (Ron Carey), the jittery Dr. Thorndyke is greeted at the Northern California cliffside establishment by its devious staff members Dr. Montague (Harvey Korman) and Nurse Charlotte Diesel (Cloris Leachman). Nurse Diesel’s pointy-breasted white uniform and noticeable mustache is a tip-off to her double life as a dominatrix of questionable hygiene to Dr. Montague. “Too much bondage, not enough discipline” is Dr. Montague’s amusing complaint during the couple’s hilariously staged closet spanking session.


As in Hitchcock’s films, murder plays a part in Brooks’s imaginative satire. Blasting rock music from a car radio causes a driver to expire from an ear hemorrhage. Complete with orange-tinted viscous blood, deaths occur with an amount of surprise that belies their comic context.


A speaking engagement before a psychiatric convention in San Francisco demands that Dr. Thorndyke stay at its skyscraper Hyatt Hotel where, despite his requests to the contrary, he’s placed in a room on the top floor. The “high-anxiety”-suffering doctor meets Victoria Brisbane (Madeline Kahn), the wealthy daughter to a peculiar patient at the institute. The couple strikes up a romantic relationship in light of their analogous proclivity for “blowing hot and cold.” Brooks and Kahn effortlessly play off one another to rib-tickling delight.

High anxiety

Mel Brooks’s flair for comic riffing against a stylized background of plot devices draws on a long tradition of spoof movies that date back to the first days of sound cinema. The Marx Brothers’ 1932 parody “Horse Feathers” is a prime example. Mel Brooks paved the way for the genre to be broken wide open three years later with a very special parody film called “Airplane!”

Rated PG. 94 mins.

5 Stars

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

COLE SMITHEYA small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and receive special rewards!


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