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Before Mel Brooks There Was Ernst Lubitsch

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Perhaps no director has displayed his love for movies as explicitly as Mel Brooks. As the recent American Cinematheque retrospective of his work in Los Angeles emphasized, Brooks has always been hellbent on parodying classic genres: from early melodramas ( Silent Movie ) to monster movies (Young Frankenstein) to Hitchcockian suspense (High Anxiety) to the western (Blazing Saddles).

But Brooks didn’t invent the style from nothing. His first film, The Producers (1968) was inspired in part by Ernst Lubitsch’s 1942 Nazi parody To Be or Not to Be — a film that Brooks remade in 1983! In Lubitsch’s mid-century version, a troupe of actors in Poland impersonate their enemies in order to defeat them. “So, they call me Concentration Camp Erhardt,” repeats one character in a running gag. Like Brooks, Lubitsch made the Hitler character less menacing by ridiculing him; having old-school comedian Jack Benny on hard to deliver the one-liners didn’t hurt either.

To get a better idea of the Brooks predecessor, check out the new Criterion Collection Eclipse box set of Lubitsch films released on February 12. To see how Brooks made the Lubitsch style his own, watch Blazing Saddles today at 10 AM | 9C. Click here for the complete schedule .

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