DVD Review American Masters ‘Mel Brooks: Make a Noise’: It’s Good to be the King

Mel  BrooksAnyone who lasts as long in show biz as Mel Brooks–who started as a  TV writer in 1949–is going to have hits and misses. So it’s understandable that Brooks’ body of work is uneven, from the truly inspired (Young Frankenstein) to the truly lame (Robin Hood: Men in Tights).

But it’s also one of the greatest comedy oeuvres in American cinema. Call him what you will, but Brooks is a king of comedy —  a manic madman of mirth — and also one of my heroes. Let’s put it simply: He knows how to make us laugh.

PBS’ latest American Masters program, Mel Brooks: Make a Noise, isn’t about making us laugh so much as showing us how all this happened. It’s done with interviews — lots and lots of interviews. And while some are vintage (clips of Brooks talking with Gene Wilder and the late Madeline Kahn), most are newly conducted by many of Brooks’ colleagues and admirers, from Cloris Leachman and Joan Rivers to Carl Reiner and Matthew Broderick.

They all paint a portrait of a man who, despite his sometimes low-brow lunacy, is a master button-pusher when it comes to comic effect — or perhaps a master funnybone tickler.

It’s not an especially personal portrait — you won’t hear much about Brooks’ late wife, Anne Bancroft, for instance, until a touching moment near the end, when Brooks observes that she lived to be 73, and if it had been 83 or 90, “It would have been wonderful.” But as a potent career-spanning tribute, you can’t ask for much more.

You can see it on PBS stations starting Monday, May 20, or you can get your own copy on DVD from Shout! Factory starting Tuesday, May 21.

Also mark your calendar for the same label’s release of the first Blu-ray edition of Brooks’ The Producers in a Collector’s Edition on July 2.

Meanwhile, stay close to the candles. The staircase can be treacherous.

— Bruce Westbrook

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