“The Producers” (1968): Mel Brooks snagged an Academy Award for his ingenious and hilarious screenplay about a shady Broadway producer (Zero Mostel) who schemes to make a fortune by overselling shares in a musical that is so mind-bogglingly terrible that it will close on opening night, allowing him to pocket most of the cash. Unfortunately, his chosen property — “Springtime for Hitler” — is such a surreal train wreck that audiences embrace it as a screwball comedy. Gene Wilder also was Oscar-nominated as Mostel’s high-strung accomplice.
“Blazing Saddles” (1974): On its original release, some critics must have stared aghast at “Blazing Saddles” like that “Springtime for Hitler” Broadway audience in “The Producers,” as Brooks gleefully challenged good taste to a gunfight at the Oy Vey Corral with his sendup of Western cliches that, among other things, lampooned the virulent racism of that period and pointed out the logical outcome of an on-the-trail diet that consisted entirely of canned beans. It’s now rightfully considered a comedy masterpiece.
“Young Frankenstein” (1974): The same year “Saddles” was released, Brooks went two for two with this sidesplitting spoof of classic horror movies, co-written with leading man Wilder. Filmed in black and white to achieve a faux-vintage look, this film is a treasure trove of great performances, including Peter Boyle’s Creature and Marty Feldman’s zany Igor (pronounced “EYE-gor”), but none of them can touch the dizzy heights of Golden Globe-nominated Cloris Leachman’s deranged housekeeper Frau Blucher (cue terrified horse whinny).
“High Anxiety” (1977): Alfred Hitchcock reportedly sent Brooks a case of expensive wine after viewing this affectionate and very funny parody of the British director’s “Vertigo,” along with nods to several other Hitch classics. For the first time, Brooks takes the starring role as neurotic shrink Dr. Richard Thorndyke, abetted by Brooks regulars Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman and Leachman.
“History of the World, Part 1” (1981): Not really in the same league as the previous four hits, this uneven assortment of ersatz historical vignettes is best remembered today for introducing the line “It’s good to be the king,” and some funny bits by Kahn, Korman, Leachman et al.