Silent Movie is a 1976 satirical comedy film co-written, directed by, and starring Mel Brooks, and released by 20th Century Fox on June 17, 1976. The ensemble cast includes Dom DeLuise, Marty Feldman, Bernadette Peters, and Sid Caesar, with appearances by Anne Bancroft, Liza Minnelli, Burt Reynolds, James Caan, Marcel Marceau and Paul Newman playing themselves. While indeed silent (except for one word and numerous sound effects), the film is a parody of the silent film genre, particularly the slapstick comedies of Charlie Chaplin, Mack Sennett, and Buster Keaton. Among the film's most infamous gags is the fact that the only audible line in the movie is spoken by Marcel Marceau, a noted mime. Sound is a big factor in the film's humor, as when a scene that shows New York City begins with the song "San Francisco", only to have it come to a sudden stop as if the musicians realize they are playing the wrong music. They then go into "I'll Take Manhattan" instead.
Mel Brooks has never exactly been a master of subtlety. He’s also never known when a joke is worthy of a five-minute bit and when it’s something you can flesh out into a full length feature.
Silent Movie is exactly what it says in the title: An honest to God silent film. In fact, it’s a silent film about the making of a silent film. Brooks plays, basically, himself, a movie producer who’s trying to get funding for the first silent film in 40 years. The studio is on the verge of bankruptcy, and our hero attempts to save the studio by rustling up Hollywood’s biggest stars to appear in the show. They play themselves and, indeed, represent some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
Ultimately the film has little to do with this setup: It quickly becomes a platform for Brooks to make slapstick jokes that have little or nothing to do with the film at large. A guy is (seemingly) run over by a steamroller. A Pong game plays out with out-there sound effects. Brooks pokes fun at Hollywood while playing with the absurdity of the silent movie format. Shenanigans from start to finish.
And that is what wears thin. I love a good slapstick, but the idea of combining it with a mock silent movie is just silly. Imagine a Marx brothers flick without Groucho’s voice. It doesn’t always work as well as it might have with an honest to God soundtrack. But then again, I guess Movie just wouldn’t have been that compelling.