History of the World, Part 1

 
Dirty jokes, some sparkle in uneven Mel Brooks classic.
  • Review Date: May 5, 2010
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release Year: 1981
  • Running Time: 92 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Not much of a cohesive moral to Brooks' pageant of puns and "blue" humor, except maybe that the so-called dignity of man doesn't amount to much. The catchphrase repeated in the French Revolution segment has become something of a motto: It's Good to Be the King.

Positive role models

Most everyone is a buffoon of some sort, with some characters, like Emperor Nero and King Louis XVI silly but skin-deep caricatures of lust, power, and callousness. The only person of color, an "Ethiopian" (played by dancer-actor Gregory Hines) seems to know more than anyone else about marijuana. Exaggerated Jewish accents distinguish some characters (like Moses).

Violence

Jokey violence-slapstick includes a caveman killed by a spear and another grabbed in a dinosaur's jaws (neither very realistic). A punch-out. A horse is whipped. Slapstick battling with swords and shields and crotch kicks. Tortures of the Spanish Inquisition are rendered all in fun (no gore) as sight gags.

Sex

Male bare-butt scene in a lineup of potential lovers for a queen. King Louis fondles breasts and otherwise sexually harasses women, one of whom agrees to trade sex for clemency (but doesn't have to go through with it). Sex jokes about virgins, "gang bang" orgies, masturbation, verbal double-entendres about penises, homosexuality, and sodomy. A Roman empress is named Nympho. Revealing costumes worn by buxom women.

Language

The s-word, "anus," "piss," "ass," "f----t," a few racial slurs. The f-word. "S-O-B," "bastard," and "Jesus!"

Consumerism

Caesar's Palace casino in Las Vegas gets a couldn't-resist plug. Talk of Preparation H.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Marijuana plants, joint-rolling, and mellow "highs" are part of the Roman storyline. Wine drinking and drunkenness.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that sex-based humor and bathroom-level gags abound, about flatulence, urination, erections, and other body functions. There is regular swearing, with one use of the f-word. Certain dirty jokes (like the opening masturbation scene) will call for uncomfortable explanations for young audiences; others -- like reference to showbiz icons Irving "Swifty" Lazar and Henny Youngman -- will need historical enlightenment. There is a lengthy marijuana gag, in which a gigantic joint (rolled by the only black character) mellows out antagonists. Some scenes make fun of nuns and Catholic iconography. Jesus Christ shows up in one sketch, but actually gets treated more or less respectfully. Moses is not so lucky, oy veh.

Parents say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

What's the story?

Around the high point of his Hollywood box-office marketability, comedy specialist Mel Brooks wrote, directed, and played multiple roles in this hit-or-miss grab-bag of sketches spanning human history, starring actors who worked for him regularly (including himself). Sid Caesar is a hapless caveman who bumblingly tries art, music, and invention. During the Roman Empire, Brooks himself is a "stand-up philosopher" named Comicus, who ends up playing a significant role in the Last Supper. During the French Revolution Brooks reappears in dual roles, as the spoiled, lust-driven King Louis XVI, who escapes the guillotine by switching places with a mild-mannered, lookalike urine-bucket servant. Gag coming attractions of the (never-made) History of the World, Part 2 include a skating "Hitler on Ice" and "Jews in Space." Surprise celebrity appearances throughout include John Hurt (as Jesus Christ), Jackie Mason, Bea Arthur, and Hugh Hefner.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

The critics who (like a Roman emperor) gave HISTORY OF THE WORLD, PART 1 thumbs-down probably got spoiled by Brooks' preceding masterpieces: Knowing, affectionate Hollywood-genre spoofs like Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. This doesn't even try subverting old gladiator flicks or epic movies (neither did Epic Movie). It's just Mel having fun with puns, big sets, period costumes, and fave actors for 90 minutes, offering up some hoary clunkers, ("walk this way..."), comedic brilliance (a laugh-out-loud cameo by Moses), and a few ebullient song-and-dance routines -- like a keeper production number on the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition.

Clean jokes and tasteless gags bump around in equal measure (if the PG-13 had existed in 1981, this could have dodged the R), sometimes funny, sometimes not. The French Revolution segment, pretty much the third act, is the weakest. Every funnyman knows you need a big finish.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what parts kids thought were funny or not, and why. What makes a good spoof? Which are your favorites?

  • Explain the "Borscht Belt" brand of Jewish-American humor and the classic TV comedy revue Your Show of Shows, that was the cradle of so much Mel Brooks jocularity.

  • The French Revolution segment is the first many American kids may see of

  • madcap Irish comic-author-poet-playwright Spike Milligan (as the old

  • prisoner). A cohort of Peter Sellers and a UK favorite, Milligan's

  • bizarre freeform surrealism inspired a whole style of humor (and

  • influenced Monty Python).

Movie details

Theatrical release date:June 12, 1981
DVD release date:April 4, 2006
Cast:Dom DeLuise, Harvey Korman, Mel Brooks
Director:Mel Brooks
Studio:Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Genre:Comedy
Run time:92 minutes
MPAA rating:R

This review of History of the World, Part 1 was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

Quality

Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Teen, 15 years old Written byevolinag May 19, 2012
age 12+
 

Hilarious parody is crude, but not too strong at nowaday's standards

This is a funny satire/parody by Mel Brooks making fun of the world history. This is a movie made at the time where Mel Brooks was still funny, and so is this movie. Memorable moments are the hilarious discovery of music, the spanish inquisition in musical form or the last supper. This movie features one laughter after another - and surprisingly, they all work. Also, the idea behind this movie is far more original than most of nowaday's comedies. The movie is not too strong, and i think it would be re-rated PG-13 nowadays. There are some sex references, but no nudity. No sexual act is depicted except for an exotic dance, but she is clothed. There is a scene in which the protagonists smoke a giant joint, but it is unreallistically big and no one will be interested in drugs after watching this movie. There is some language. Thoughout the movie, there is no blood. A man throws a cat somewhere out of the screen. The same man then throws dead birds (fake) out of the window. A man shoots people who are thrown into the air as some kind of sports (again, it is clearly fake). A man is supposed to be decapitated, but he flees before it happens. The spanish inquisition features scenes in a torture chamber. However, it is very comical and no disturbing or bloody images are shown. This movie is okay for teens and up, around the age of 12.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 13 years old Written byswagasaurusrex January 8, 2015
age 15+
 

since im only 13 my parents only let me watch about half of this

Written byAnonymous November 29, 2014
age 15+
 

Kids won't get crass historical comedy

My rating:R for off color humor and language

Poll

Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Digital Compass