History of the World, Part I
History of the World, Part I
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Mel Brooks Produced by Mel Brooks Written by Mel Brooks Narrated by Orson Welles Starring Mel Brooks
Music by John Morris Cinematography Wendy Omens Editing by John C. Howard Distributed by 20th Century Fox Release date(s) June 12, 1981 Running time 92 minutes Country United States Language English
Budget $11 million Box office $31,672,907
History of the World, Part I is a 1981 comedy film written, produced, and directed by Mel Brooks. Brooks also stars in the film, playing five roles: Moses, Comicus the stand-up philosopher, Tomás de Torquemada, King Louis XVI, and Jacques, le garçon de pisse. The large ensemble cast also features Sid Caesar, Shecky Greene, Gregory Hines (in his film debut), Charlie Callas; and Brooks regulars Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, Andreas Voutsinas, and Spike Milligan.
The film also has cameo appearances by Royce D. Applegate, Bea Arthur, Hugh Hefner, John Hurt (as Jesus Christ), Barry Levinson, Jackie Mason, Paul Mazursky, Andrew Sachs and Henny Youngman, among others. Orson Welles narrates each story.
The film is a parody of the “historical spectacular” film genre, including the "sword and sandal epic" and the "period costume drama" sub-genres. The four main segments consist of stories set during the Dawn of Man, the Roman Empire, the Spanish Inquisition, and the French Revolution. Other intermediate skits include reenactments of the giving of the Ten Commandments and the Last Supper.
The Dawn of Man
Cavemen (including Sid Caesar) depict the invention of fire, the first marriages (the first “Homo sapiens” marriage which was swiftly followed by the first "homosexual marriage"), the first artist (which in turn gives rise to the first critic), and early attempts at comedy and music, by smashing each other's feet with rocks and thus creating an orchestra of screams.
The Old Testament
Moses (Mel Brooks) is shown coming down from Mount Sinai after receiving the Law from God (the voice of an uncredited Carl Reiner). When announcing the giving of the reception of the law to the people, Moses proclaims, “The Lord Jehovah has given unto you these fifteen...” (whereupon he drops one of the tablets, which promptly shatters) “Oy...Ten! Ten Commandments! For all to obey!”
The Roman Empire
Comicus (Brooks again), a stand-up philosopher, acquires a gig at Caesar's palace. En route to the palace Comicus meets and falls in love with a Vestal Virgin named Miriam (Mary-Margaret Humes) and befriends an Ethiopian slave named Josephus (Gregory Hines). Josephus is conscripted into the service of the Empress Nympho (Madeline Kahn). Comicus' arrival at Caesar's palace was filmed at the Caesars Palace hotel in Las Vegas.
At the Palace, Emperor Nero (Dom DeLuise) gorges on food and waits to be entertained. Comicus forgets his audience and begins to joke about Nero's obesity and corruption. Josephus absentmindedly pours a jug of wine into the emperor’s lap and is ordered to fight to the death in a gladiatorial manner. They fight their way out of the palace, assisted in their escape by Miriam, Empress Nympho and a horse named Miracle.
They are chased by Roman soldiers. Josephus instructs them to pull over and requests lots of papyrus. He takes "Roman Red" marijuana growing alongside the road and rolls it into the papyrus, forming a device he calls Mighty Joint, sets fire to it and mounts it to the back of their chariot trailing smoke into the chasing army. The resulting smoke causes the trailing Roman army to appear confused and incapacitated. The group then sets sail from the port to Judea. While waiting tables at a restaurant, Comicus blunders into a private room where the Last Supper is taking place, interrupting Jesus (John Hurt) repeatedly (using his name as an expression for dismay or concern, right in front of him). Eventually, Leonardo da Vinci (Art Metrano) arrives to paint the group’s portrait. Dissatisfied that he can only see the backs of half of their heads, he has them move to one side of the table and paints them with Comicus behind Jesus, holding a silver plate as aureola.
The Spanish Inquisition
The Spanish Inquisition segment is performed in the style of a grandiose Busby Berkeley production. The segment is one long song-and-dance number featuring Brooks as the infamous Torquemada. The segment opens with a herald introducing Torquemada and making a play on his name, noting that despite the pleas for mercy from the condemned, that you "can't Torquemada anything" (talk him outta anything). Several instances of "comical" torture are shown including a spinning iron maiden and "water torture" re-imagined as an Esther Williams-style aquatic ballet with nuns. Jackie Mason has a cameo in this scene as a Jewish torture victim.
The French Revolution
In the tavern of Madame Defarge (Cloris Leachman) she incites a mob to plot the French Revolution. Meanwhile, King Louis of France (Brooks again) is warned by his advisor, the Count de Monet (Harvey Korman), with the news that the peasants do not think he likes them—a suspicion reinforced by the king's use of peasants as clay pigeons in a murderous game of skeet. A beautiful woman, Mademoiselle Rimbaud (Pamela Stephenson), asks him to free her father, who has been imprisoned in the Bastille for 10 years because he said "the poor ain't so bad." He agrees to the pardon under the condition that she have sex with him that night.
De Monet manages to convince the king that he needs to go into hiding and that they will need a stand-in to pretend to be him. Thus Jacques (also Brooks), the garçon de pisse is chosen to impersonate the real king. Later that night, Mlle Rimbaud, unaware of the subterfuge, arrives and offers herself to the piss-boy dressed as the king. As she invites him to take her virginity, he pardons her father without requiring the sexual favors. After Mlle Rimbaud and her senile father (Spike Milligan) return from the prison, the peasants burst into the room and capture the piss-boy “king” and Mlle Rimbaud. They are taken to the guillotine, where just as Jacques is about to be beheaded, Miracle suddenly arrives, drawing a cart with Josephus driving. They are saved, riding away in the cart. The last shot is of the party approaching a mountain carved with the words “THE END.”
Previews of coming attractions
At the very end of the film, there is a teaser trailer for History of the World: Part II, narrated by Brooks, which promises to include Hitler on Ice, a Viking funeral, and Jews in Space. Despite the preview, no sequel has been released, and the “Part I” of the film’s title is merely a historical joke (The History of the World was a book about the ancient history of Greece and Rome, written by Sir Walter Raleigh while prisoner in the Tower of London; he had only managed to complete the first volume before being beheaded). The Viking funeral scene involves Vikings taking off their stereotypical horned helmets - only to show that the horns were on the Vikings' heads, rather than on their helmets.
- Orson Welles - Narrator
- Mel Brooks - Moses, Comicus, Tomas de Torquemada, Louis XVI of France and Jacques le Garçon de Pisse
- Dom DeLuise - Emperor Caesar
- Madeline Kahn - Empress Nympho
- Harvey Korman - Count de Monet
- Cloris Leachman - Madame Defarge
- Ron Carey - Swiftus Lazarus
- Gregory Hines - Josephus
- Pamela Stephenson - Mademoiselle Rimbaud
- Spike Milligan - Monsieur Rimbaud
- Shecky Greene - Marcus Vindictus
- Sid Caesar - Gunga the Caveman Leader
- Bea Arthur - Unemployment Booth Clerk
- Mary-Margaret Humes - Miriam
- Paul Mazursky - Roman officer
- Hugh Hefner - Roman outside Temple of Eros
- Barry Levinson - Column Salesman
- Charlie Callas - Soothsayer
- John Hurt - Jesus Christ
- Andrew Sachs - Gerard
History of the World, Part I was a box office success, taking in $31,672,907 domestically from an $11 million budget.
The catchphrase "It's good to be the king.", which entered into popular culture, originates in this film, being used repeatedly during the French Revolution segment of the film. Brooks, as Louis XVI, says this into the camera in three different scenes, breaking the fourth wall, as if to justify the king’s wanton behavior. Brooks also portrays "Le Garçon de Pisse," the "lowly pissboy", who carries a bucket for royalty to urinate into and later impersonates the king. Brooks as the piss boy delivers the same line with a sense of surprise when he is able to sample the king's luxurious lifestyle for the first time. Brooks recorded a hip-hop song of the same name which reached the 67th position on Billboard’s Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart. The line was used by Brooks thrice more: in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, when King Richard kisses Maid Marian; in Spaceballs when President Skroob is in bed with the twins (modified to "It's good to be the president"); and in the stage musical The Producers, as a lyric in the song "The King of Broadway".
- History of the World, Part I at the Internet Movie Database
- History of the World, Part I at AllRovi
- History of the World, Part I at Box Office Mojo
- History of the World, Part I at Rotten Tomatoes
Mel Brooks Feature films Productions Television programs Broadway productions Collaborators
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