Cinema: Card Tricks

THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD-PART I

Directed and Written by Mel Brooks

If history, as they say, is a pack of tricks the living play on the dead, then Mel Brooks, who should be good at this game, is playing with a very thin deck. In his recreation of four epochs (prehistory, the Roman Empire, the Spanish Inquisition and the French Revolution), he uses only two cards: cruelty and scatology. They are not aces. They are not even jokers.

It may be that Brooks requires something specific—like an old movie genre —on which to focus his talent. His attempt to make...

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