Silent movies after the talkies took over have always been a bit of a novelty. Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie is no different, but it could actually be argued Brooks is able to turn his movie into more than a simple gimmick. It is a largely a homage to the silent era just like any other silent film shot after the sound revolution, but the way Brooks lampoons silent movie as a genre goes beyond just using lack of sound as a neat stylistic gimmick. Rather than doing a modern silent comedy film, the movie is a comedy film that uses silence as part of its joke. After all, the plot is very meta about this and involves Brooks being a movie director trying to do the first big Hollywood studio silent movie in decades.
The movie has a good grasp at what makes for a great silent era comedy and utilizes that knowledge to produce many hilarious skits. Sometimes its very simple and goofy such as the shower scene with Burt Reynolds, James Caan and his rocking trailer, or the several “the gang riding their automobile until something silly happens” jokes, but you also get brilliant scenes like the outrageous and high stake Keystone Kops style wheelchair chase in the grounds of the hospital between Brooks and his entourage against Paul Newman, who appropriate enough was wearing a race uniform. Even when you don’t necessarily get what silent movie gags the movie is playing homage to, it still works because it’s great physical comedy that’s timeless.
Perhaps the most humorous scene in the entire movie is when Marcel Marceau of all people appears, and after recreating his “walking into the wind” routine to reach the phone, he rebuffs Mel’s request to appear in his silent movie with the single audible word in the entire movie: an affirmative and jovial refusal in the form of “non!” And as if it wasn’t already funny joke, Mel on the other end of the line continues the skit with a gag where does not understand what Marcel has said because Mel doesn’t speak French. It’s quite brilliant little scene that plays well with the meta aspect of the movie in a cheeky way. Another thing that the meta aspect of the movie excels in is the enormous amount of Tinseltown satire. Everything from the elaborate schemes to recruit big name actors to the nefarious meddling of Engulf & Devour conglomerate and their daily praying ritual to the all might dollar, it’s funny and still has bite to it, even after all these years.