Mel Brooks’s 11 Favorite Movie Scenes: ‘Psycho’ to ‘Some Like It Hot’
Mel Brooks: Make a Noise airs on PBS tonight. In advance of the American Masters episode, The Daily Beast asked Brooks to give us his favorite movie scenes of all time.
Swing Time: Fred Astaire’s Big Dance Scene
Let’s start with one of my favorite movies. That’s from 1936, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The scene that I really love has Eric Blore as a character running a dance studio, and he employs Rogers to teach people how to dance. Astaire gets mixed up with her and falls madly in love. We know it’s Fred Astaire, the greatest dancer who ever lived. In order to stick with her, he acts helpless. He keeps flipping so he can hold her. Finally, she says, “Save your money, you’ll never learn how to dance,” which is pretty funny. And Blore overhears her and fires her. Astaire begs him to reconsider—he says, I’ve learned a lot from her. He amazes Blore and the audience with this incredible dancing that saves her job. It’s absolutely one of the most thrilling scenes in the movie. So I recommend everybody in the world who has never seen Swing Time to get it somehow.
Psycho: The Shower Scene
It’s an amazing scene. I did a movie called High Anxiety. I sent a rough draft of it to Hitchcock. I called him and I said, “I do genres. I do space. I do Westerns. I'm going to do High Anxiety about your stuff.” He said, “Come over,” and he helped me write it—he didn't take credit—and he became a pal of mine. He watched it. At the end of it, he got up and he left. The next day, on my desk, was a wooden case of Chateau Haut-Brion, 1961, with a note, "Have no anxiety about High Anxiety, it's a wonderful film. Love, Hitch." Great man. Great story.
Singin’ in the Rain: “Good Morning”
The next one is another musical. It’s the “Good Morning” number with Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor. It’s just a great number.
Treasure of the Sierra Madre: Walter Huston’s Crazy Dance
Remember, he folds his arms and does a crazy jig? It's a great, great movie. And I also love that there was a bad guy in it played by Alfonso Bedoya. He was the guy with the gold hat. Humphrey Bogart says, "Where are your badges?" And Alfonso goes, "Badges, we don't need no stinking badges" and starts shooting at them. I used that in Blazing Saddles.
Some Like It Hot: “Nobody’s Perfect”
Jack Lemmon, when he says "I'm not a girl, I'm a guy." He confesses and Joe E. Brown says, “Nobody’s perfect.” He's still going to marry him! I think Billy Wilder is a genius and came up with the perfect brief comic ending. That's really skillful comedy writing. That's Billy Wilder.
A Streetcar Named Desire: “Stella!”
Marlon Brando screaming, “Stella!” It's that he's very tough, but his heartbreak and his anguish are all in that one word. It's just amazing. And it's a great play turned into a great movie. It’s unforgettable.
City Lights: Flower Pot Scene
When Charlie Chaplin is sitting there, and Virginia Cherrell empties a can of dirty water from her flower shop onto his face. She's blind. She doesn't see him there. He's madly in love with her. He's holding a little rose. She hits him in the face with water; it’s hysterical. It’s funny because it’s so sad and you can’t blame her. She’s just throwing out water. He was very brave to have fun with a blind girl. Chaplin was one of the best.
Citizen Kane: “Rosebud”
When the snow-filled glasses falls from his hand and he says, “Rosebud.” It’s a close-up of his lips and his moustache just saying, “Rosebud.” I’ll tell you why I love it. The whole movie is an incredible mystery of why he behaved the way he behaved. It’s a psychological explanation: he behaved that way because of his sled when he was a little kid and the name of his sled was Rosebud. His life as a little boy was so important. We didn't know what drove him and made him this monster. Orson Welles was a flat-out genius. Too bad it was his first movie. Because when your first movie makes such a wave, it’s so hard to do the next one and be saluted. It happened with me with The Twelve Chairs. It was overlooked because the first one, The Producers, was seen as a little comic masterpiece. I was lucky to get one more hit with Blazing Saddles, where I was restored. Orson Welles was never restored; he never came back with another big movie like Citizen Kane.
Dracula: Dead and Loving It: The Vampire Stake Scene
Let me give you one of my movies that I love. I’m really proud for sure of this insane comedy I made called Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Steven Weber is driving a stake through Lysette Anthony's heart. Mel Brooks is playing Van Helsing. I say to him, “Drive the stake through her heart! Hit her hard.” So he drives the stake through her heart. There’s an incredible gush, an incredible fountain of blood that sprays him. He just gets covered in blood. I say, “Hit her again.” There’s an even bigger, 20-foot fountain of blood all over him that comes out of her. And then he’s standing there drenched, the blood dripping from him. He can’t believe it. I say to him, “She’s not dead yet. Hit her again!” He looks at me and says, “She’s dead enough." It was a great scene. It was irresistible for laughs for the audience. It’s one of the biggest laughs I’ve ever gotten in any movie.
The Bicycle Thief: Stealing the Bicycle
I don’t think he had a professional actor in the movie. So in the beginning, you see he’s out of a job. His family is hungry. Then you see him stoop to something this kind of person would never do, steal a bicycle. His little son with him is brokenhearted, because he didn't think his father would do anything like that. The message is sometimes we are forced to do things that are really not natural for us, that go against our nature.
The Hangover: Tiger in the Bathroom
I liked The Hangover so much! The discovery of the tiger in the bathroom, it was hysterical. Oh my God! There’s a tiger in the bathroom that they stole from the heavyweight champion of the world. It’s an amazingly funny concept.