THE DVD SHELF: Hugh Jackman in Oklahoma!, Season One of "Smash," Mel Brooks, Hitchcock

By Steven Suskin
13 Jan 2013

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The indomitable Mel Brooks is well known, near and far, for being old, rich and outrageous. But that is only the late Mel Brooks (or, rather, the later Mel Brooks). Back in the earlier days of his career — before "The 2,000 Year Old Man" made him somewhat famous and "Blazing Saddles" made him infamous — he was merely younger, poorer and just as outrageous. As can be seen, at length, in The Incredible Mel Brooks: An Irresistible Collection of Unhinged Comedy [Shout Factory]. Incredible and unhinged it is, for sure. While it nominally comes from Shout Factory, Brooks' grubby thumbprints are all over it. So not only is the material funny; it is assembled and overstuffed (and in places introduced) by the same awkward genius whom we see in material going back more than 60 years.

Given that Brooks is on board, this does not take up a mere two or three discs; we get five DVDs, stuffed with 11 hours of material. Plus, mind you, a full CD with even more laughs of the audio-only kind. This is the "History of the Mel Brooks World Part 1," plus parts 2, 3, and 0.5 too. Or the "Seven Ages of Brooks," as Shakespeare might have said if he ran into Mel back in the 1600s. Wait! Here is Shakespeare himself, on disc 5, doing a Brooks-written commercial for a banana. Or something of the sort, with beatniks.

The feature films are not included, understandably, as the rights payments would no doubt have been prohibitive; they are readily available elsewhere. (The CD does include soundtrack recordings of some of the musical highlights.) What we get is everything else, though, starting with Mel's first television appearance on a 1951 episode of the "Texaco Star Theater" (AKA "The Milton Berle Show"). He plays stooge to pitchman Sid Stone, and is altogether awkward. There are talk-show appearances; sitcom episodes (including that of the 1965 hit "Get Smart" and one of his Emmy-winning appearances on "Mad About You"); TV commercials; and much much much more. Watch out for two early gems: "Of Fathers and Sons," the spoof of Death of a Salesman that Mel wrote for the Broadway revue New Faces of 1952, featuring Paul Lynde, Ronny Graham and Alice Ghostley; and the Oscar-winning 1963 animated short, "The Critic."

The whole is contained not in a box but within a 60-page hardcover book filled with juicy illustrations from the Brooks atelier plus essays by Leonard Maltin, Robert Brustein, Gene Wilder and Bruce Jay Friedman. No "Producers" or "Young Frankenstein" or "High Anxiety" here; just high insanity.

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