Silent Movie (1976)

PG | 87 mins | Comedy | 1976

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HISTORY

The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Tanya Goldman.

Although director Mel Brooks appeared onscreen as an actor in previous directorial efforts such as Blazing Saddles (1974, see entry), his performance as “Mel Funn” marked his first leading role in a theatrical motion picture.
       The film contains only one word of dialogue. Famously silent mime Marcel Marceau uttered the French word “non” to decline Mel Funn’s request for him to perform in his film. As discussed in a Time review on 12 Jul 1976, Silent Movie features vivid sound effects, music and a dramatic soundtrack despite its lack of dialogue.
       As noted by critic Roger Ebert in his Chicago Sun Times review on 1 Jan 1976, the film’s conglomerate “Engulf & Devour” is a parody of the Gulf & Western Corporation and its takeover of Paramount Pictures.
       According to the May 1976 edition of Esquire , the production cost $6 million. On 9 Feb 1976, Box reported that shooting began on 5 Jan 1976, and on 5 Mar 1976, LAT noted that the production was ending that weekend with Liza Minelli’s scenes. In a news item on 16 Aug 1976, People referred to Brooks’s claim that Burt Reynolds, Paul Newman, James Caan, and Liza Minnelli were paid $138 per day for their cameo appearances.
       On 12 Jul 1976, WSJ reported that the film grossed over $2 million within the first five days of a limited release. ... More Less

The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Tanya Goldman.

Although director Mel Brooks appeared onscreen as an actor in previous directorial efforts such as Blazing Saddles (1974, see entry), his performance as “Mel Funn” marked his first leading role in a theatrical motion picture.
       The film contains only one word of dialogue. Famously silent mime Marcel Marceau uttered the French word “non” to decline Mel Funn’s request for him to perform in his film. As discussed in a Time review on 12 Jul 1976, Silent Movie features vivid sound effects, music and a dramatic soundtrack despite its lack of dialogue.
       As noted by critic Roger Ebert in his Chicago Sun Times review on 1 Jan 1976, the film’s conglomerate “Engulf & Devour” is a parody of the Gulf & Western Corporation and its takeover of Paramount Pictures.
       According to the May 1976 edition of Esquire , the production cost $6 million. On 9 Feb 1976, Box reported that shooting began on 5 Jan 1976, and on 5 Mar 1976, LAT noted that the production was ending that weekend with Liza Minelli’s scenes. In a news item on 16 Aug 1976, People referred to Brooks’s claim that Burt Reynolds, Paul Newman, James Caan, and Liza Minnelli were paid $138 per day for their cameo appearances.
       On 12 Jul 1976, WSJ reported that the film grossed over $2 million within the first five days of a limited release. The article speculated that, not unlike the plot of the film, itself, Silent Movie ’s success represented a new potential for the Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation to revive its position with investors after it reported poor first and second quarter earnings.
       According to DV on 24 Dec 1976, Twentieth Century-Fox’s decision to cancel $1 screenings of Silent Movie at “underbelly” theaters nationwide provoked the New Jersey chapter of the National Association of Theater Owners to force the studio into reinstating the film in New Jersey and New York for one week. Twentieth Century-Fox’s cancellation of the screenings was reportedly a response to pressure from Brooks, who feared that his film was being overexposed.
       The film was nominated for four Golden Globes in 1977: Best Motion Picture – Musical/Comedy, Best Motion Picture Actor – Music/Comedy for Mel Brooks, Best Motion Picture Actor in a Supporting Role for Marty Feldman and Best Motion Picture Actress in a Supporting Role for Bernadette Peters.
More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
9 Feb 1976.
---
Chicago Sun Times
1 Jan 1976.
---
Daily Variety
24 Dec 1976.
---
Esquire
May 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jun 1976
p. 2, 4.
Los Angeles Times
5 Mar 1976.
---
Los Angeles Times
27 Jun 1976
p. 1.
New York Times
1 Jul 1976.
---
People
16 Aug 1976.
---
Time
12 Jul 1976.
---
Variety
23 Jun 1976
p. 16.
WSJ
12 Jul 1976.
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT

PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Mel Brooks Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
Prod mgr
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
Scr
Story
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Key grip
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Asst prop master
Const coord
COSTUMES
Cost des
Men's ward
Men's ward
Ladies' ward
MUSIC
Mus cond
Mus rec
Orch
SOUND
Sd ed
Rerec mixer
Rerec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
DANCE
Choreog
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Makeup man
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Prod consultant
STAND INS
Stunt coord
DETAILS
Release Date:
1976
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 30 June 1976
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Copyright Date:
30 June 1976
Copyright Number:
LP46786
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Color
De Luxe®
Duration(in mins):
87
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
24597
SYNOPSIS

Director Mel Funn, who lost his career due to alcoholism, drives through Hollywood to Big Picture Studios with his friends Marty Eggs and Dom Bell. Now sober, Mel plans to re-establish his credibility by making a silent movie, but Marty and Dom caution the studio may not be interested in such an outdated concept. As Mel goes to meet the studio chief, Marty and Dom worry that a rejection will prompt their friend to relapse. During the meeting, the chief receives a telegram stating that the conglomerate, Engulf & Devour, will take over Big Picture Studios in one month if they do not show profits. Mel vows to save Big Picture Studios with his film, but the chief argues that there is no market for silent movies. Mel is ordered to leave, but when he offers to cast the biggest stars in Hollywood, the chief agrees to produce the picture. Mel, Marty and Dom go to extreme measures to recruit Burt Reynolds and James Caan. Meanwhile, the board of Engulf & Devour meets in New York to reports of zero profits. Hearing that Big Picture Studios rejected their offer and signed stars for an upcoming film, the enraged studio heads, Engulf and Devour, leave for Hollywood. Back in Los Angeles, Mel, Marty and Dom join the chief of Big Picture Studios for a screening of one of its recent low-budget films. When the chief learns of Engulf & Devour’s plot to forcibly carry out their takeover, the trio promise to rescue the studio. At the commissary, they disrupt Liza Minnelli’s lunch by cavorting in knight costumes, but she ... +


Director Mel Funn, who lost his career due to alcoholism, drives through Hollywood to Big Picture Studios with his friends Marty Eggs and Dom Bell. Now sober, Mel plans to re-establish his credibility by making a silent movie, but Marty and Dom caution the studio may not be interested in such an outdated concept. As Mel goes to meet the studio chief, Marty and Dom worry that a rejection will prompt their friend to relapse. During the meeting, the chief receives a telegram stating that the conglomerate, Engulf & Devour, will take over Big Picture Studios in one month if they do not show profits. Mel vows to save Big Picture Studios with his film, but the chief argues that there is no market for silent movies. Mel is ordered to leave, but when he offers to cast the biggest stars in Hollywood, the chief agrees to produce the picture. Mel, Marty and Dom go to extreme measures to recruit Burt Reynolds and James Caan. Meanwhile, the board of Engulf & Devour meets in New York to reports of zero profits. Hearing that Big Picture Studios rejected their offer and signed stars for an upcoming film, the enraged studio heads, Engulf and Devour, leave for Hollywood. Back in Los Angeles, Mel, Marty and Dom join the chief of Big Picture Studios for a screening of one of its recent low-budget films. When the chief learns of Engulf & Devour’s plot to forcibly carry out their takeover, the trio promise to rescue the studio. At the commissary, they disrupt Liza Minnelli’s lunch by cavorting in knight costumes, but she is eager to join the project when she learns that Mel is directing. Later, Mel, Marty and Dom perform at the Rio Bomba club to attract the attention of Anne Bancroft. Although she complains about them to one of her escorts, Bancroft decides to sign on to the picture after dancing with them onstage. As the crowd cheers her announcement, Engulf and Devour arrive at Rio Bomba and discover that they are too late to prevent another star from joining the silent movie cast. The next day, the friends stop at a vending machine that precariously launches Coke cans into the air. Just as the fortunes of Big Picture Studios improve, the studio chief is rushed to the hospital. While visiting him, Mel calls Marcel Marceau in Paris to offer him a role, but the mime turns him down. From the hospital room window, Mel, Marty and Dom notice Paul Newman and pursue him in a wheelchair race. After winning, Paul Newman asks for a part in their film. At the West Coast headquarters of Engulf & Devour, Engulf announces that he has hired showgirl Vilma Kaplan to distract Mel. That night at the Rio Bomba, Mel becomes entranced by Vilma’s performance. As the new couple’s courtship draws Mel’s attention away from his production, Marty and Dom discover that Vilma is working for Engulf & Devour. When they show Mel her paycheck for $50,000 the night before the shoot is set to begin, Mel relapses into an alcoholic stupor and disappears. As Marty and Dom leave Rio Bomba to look for their friend, they overhear Vilma on the phone with Engulf & Devour, quitting her job because she has fallen in love with Mel. Together, Vilma, Marty and Dom search the city and bring Mel to sobriety before the shoot. Production begins as planned and the film is completed in record time. At the sneak preview, Mel, Marty, Don, Vilma, and the recovered chief of Big Picture Studios nervously wait in the theater lobby. As a crowd pours in, the theater manager reports that the film has been stolen. Mel, Marty and Dom set out to retrieve it while Vilma entertains the crowd. Back at Engulf & Devour headquarters, Engulf throws the silent movie onto the fire and raises a toast to their victory, but two hands reach down the chimney and pull the film to safety. Mel, Marty and Dom speed toward the theater as Engulf, Devour and their board members chase behind. The pursuit continues into the night, but when they are cornered in front of the Coke vending machine, the trio fends off their attackers by launching explosive cans. Devour is injured when a can detonates underneath him and the three friends escape. They arrive at the theater just as the audience starts to leave. Although Marty has tangled himself with film in an attempt to rewind the reel, the projectionist manages to screen it for the audience. As the lights go up, the crowd cheers with approval and marches from the theater while Mel, Marty, Dom, Vilma and the chief of Big Picture Studios celebrate triumphantly. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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