History of the World, Part 1

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
History of the World, Part 1 Movie Poster Image
Dirty jokes, some sparkle in uneven Mel Brooks classic.
  • R
  • 1981
  • 92 minutes

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 3 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

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 & Representations

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.

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byMadeline K. January 26, 2017

Perfect For All Ages!!!!

I love this movie with a passion!My two children (5 and 10) LOVE IT.They always ask to see "quicktime harch".I am so proud of them.My older son says t... Continue reading
Parent of a 11 year old Written byDonald T. April 2, 2018

Good for kids

I think that it is full of good role models and education for life
Teen, 15 years old Written byevolinag May 19, 2012

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 m... Continue reading

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?

The critics who (like a Roman emperor) gave HISTORY OF THE WORLD, PART 1 a thumbs-down probably got spoiled by Brooks' preceding masterpieces. He'd become popular for his 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.

Talk to your kids 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

For kids who love to laugh

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