Tag Archives: Zero Mostel

The Set of 400: #44 – My Favorite Prince Myshkin Shoutout

Today! Because he was a better dresser than Churchill! He had more hair! He told funnier jokes! And he could dance the pants off of Churchill!

The Producers (1968)

Directed by Mel Brooks (x6)

Starring Zero Mostel (x3), Gene Wilder (x5), Dick Shawn, Kenneth Mars, Lee Meredith, Christopher Hewett, Andreas Voutsinas, William Hickey (x4), Renee Taylor (x2), Estelle Winwood (x2), Barney Martin, Madelyn Cates

You know I love me some movies about plays, and really stagey ones at that, and so – The Producers! While it would take decades for Mel Brooks’ classic to actually make it to Broadway, it should come as no surprise that it made the leap pretty seamlessly. The entire first half hour of the movie is just Zero and Gene’s one room shtick to set up the plot – and wildly funny shtick it is. And with the exception of a handful of NYC street scenes, it’s just one room after another hosting wacky characters and even wackier theatrics. A few of his other films would grab Oscar nominations, but The Producers is the reason Mel is rocking that EGOT – winning Best Screenplay in 1968, as well as Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score for the stage version in 2001 (He also won Grammys for Producers related work, but already had one on the shelf for The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000 as Best Comedy Album).

Just to wrap this up, he also won three Emmys for Guest Comedy Actor on Mad About You, and one for writing on a Sid Caesar special in the ’60s

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The Set of 400: #270 – My Favorite Ghost Writers

Today! Because I don’t recognize the right of this committee to ask me these kind of questions. And furthermore, you can all go fuck yourselves –

The Front (1976)

Directed by Martin Ritt

Starring Woody Allen (x3), Zero Mostel (x2), Herschel Bernardi, Michael Murphy (x2), David Margulies, Charles Kimbrough, Andrea Marcovicci, Lloyd Gough, Danny Aiello, Remak Ramsay, Marvin Lichterman, Joshua Shelley

A markedly serious film despite the starring comedians, The Front features Woody Allen in a non-Woody Allen movie, and a drama at that (an extreme rarity), playing a cashier roped in by blacklisted writer friends to submit television scripts on their behalf, to enable them to keep earning, in the McCarthy Communist witch hunt of the early 1950s. And while there are funny bits here and there, the film attempts to explore the subject more or less straight, to devastating effect.

But people have had some tonal problems with the movie over the years – the television programs are largely comedies, and Zero’s Hecky Brown, in attempts to keep making money, does continue to perform live comedy acts. Because of this, some take issue with The Front for not taking the whole matter more seriously, but without this – I propose – you’d end up with Guilty by Suspicion, which is a fine movie in its own way, but a touch too unbearable and infuriating (and equivocating in its message and source facts). The Front works all the better because of the lighter moments – the sad clown is almost always going to be a more impactful character.

Zero!

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The Set of 400: #280 – My Favorite Shadow Horn

Today! Because I will not submit –

Rhinoceros (1974)

Directed by Tom O’Horgan

Starring Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder (x2), Karen Black, Joe Silver, Robert Weil, Marilyn Chris, Percy Rodrigues, Don Calfa (x2), Anne Ramsey

Just barely reaching our minimum requirements for inclusion on this list, Rhinoceros has virtually never been shown in a movie theater. It was produced as part of a brief early ’70s experiment called the American Film Theatre, wherein popular stage plays were adapted to film and had limited engagements at select theaters. It really was an idea ahead of its time, as Fathom Events does similar releases nowadays with operas and British theater offerings, but in ’74 it wasn’t exactly a monster hit concept.

Some of these productions have found minor success on home video, particularly Lee Marvin’s Iceman Cometh, and this ingenious re-teaming of 1968’s The Producers, with Zero recreating his Tony winning turn as Jean/John from the 1961 staging of the Ionesco play, and Wilder in the less flashy Stanley/Berenger role. It’s not a movie or play for everyone, with its wildly absurdist plot and heavy, talky scenes, but the novelty of there existing a Rhinoceros movie has always outweighed the inherent stagey-ness of the film for me.

Plus, Dick Nixon cameos!

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