The Austin Chronicle

Home Entertainment for the Holidays

Best bets for DVD and Blu-ray

By Robert Faires, December 14, 2012, Screens

The Incredible Mel Brooks: An Irresistible Collection of Unhinged Comedy

Shout! Factory, $89.93 (DVD)

Just how irresistible you find this grab bag of odds and ends from Mel Brooks' six decades of making the funny may depend on how you view, of all things, Broadway Danny Rose. Remember that modest little showbiz comedy from Woody Allen? Well, if you were more swept up in the farcical shenanigans of Allen's sad-sack talent agent and Farrow's ball-busting moll, then might I interest you in a fine compendium of the riotously funny films for which Brooks is most celebrated (none of which are included here)? If, on the other hand, you wondered why the Woodman had to keep cutting away from the Carnegie Deli table where those half-dozen Borscht Belters were regaling each other with yarns about killer gags and murderous gigs, then have I got a box set for you.

Much of the 11 hours in this 5-DVD/one CD collection is taken up with talk about the craft of comedy and the business of show: Mel with Dick Cavett, with Johnny Carson, with David Susskind, with Mike Wallace, with the staggeringly brilliant staff of Sid Caesar's 1950s TV shows (Larry Gelbart, Neil Simon, Carl Reiner, Mel Tolkin, not to mention Caesar himself) – and, of course, no shortage of Mel-on-Mel chatter. Each disc has our Mr. Brooks holding forth on his movies and how they came to be. For the lover of showbiz arcana, the anecdotes are priceless. (Brooks' account of dining with Hitchcock is alone worth the price of admission.) Not that there aren't juicy chunks of comedy here – Brooks guesting on The Tracey Ullman Show and his Emmy-winning turn on Mad About You; the pilot for Get Smart, which he co-created with Buck Henry; an episode of his proto-Robin Hood: Men in Tights TV series, When Things Were Rotten; cartoon clips from The Electric Company; his Oscar-winning animated short "The Critic"; and clips of Reiner and Brooks performing their justly beloved "2000 Year Old Man" routine – but the conversations and reminiscences showcase the side of Brooks that his scripted comedy never can: the astonishingly inventive improviser, a man so hard-wired for humor that he can riff off any remark, any event, to gut-busting effect. Once you absorb that along with the 65 years of work represented here, you may well come away believing, as Carl Reiner asserts here, that Mel Brooks is the funniest man in the business and maybe on the planet.

More gut-busters The Ultimate Buster Keaton Collection (Kino Lorber, $299.95, Blu-ray), The Dick Van Dyke Show: The Complete Series (Image Entertainment, $349.98, Blu-ray), Girls: The Complete First Season (HBO Home Video, $49.99, Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)

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