This film was Mel Brook’s first movie, which was ironically sort of a flop when released, forgotten and later rediscovered by accident. It is hard to imagine that someone from Jewish ancestry would make fun of Nazi Germany only 20 years after the end of WWII, but this is the tip of the iceberg in terms of Mel’s creative genius (which showcases a clear ‘what the heck’? style throughout his movies). This is a satirical dark comedy that centers around a slick producer who sets off to commit fraud by raising money for a broadway play intended to fail. To this end, he find the worst play ever written, titled: Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden. The movie was re- released in 2002 as a broadway musical and has won numerous awards. Today it is considered one of comedy’s timeless classics. There are some things that I love about this version and overall, I think it is funnier than the musical. I have laughed until running out of air with this one.
For instance, the story opens showing some innocent foreplay between Bialy Stock (The Producer played by Zero Mostel) and a bunch of little old ladies. Imagine two very old and out of shape people playing cat and dog on the big screen. Followed by a scene of ‘the milk maid and the naughty stable boy’ 😂 It is far more traumatizing than thinking about your parents getting down to business. The other interesting layer to this movie is that despite laughing so hard you can’t shake the “what the heck” feeling. Why did Mel pick such a sad part of history to create a comedy and why are we laughing about it? Is there something wrong with us as a society? It is hard to say for sure, but I think that part of the humor is rooted in the ridiculousness of the plot and everything that goes wrong during the process. Perhaps this was Mel’s way of helping us heal from such an atrocious part of our history.
The overall performance of Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder as Leo (the creative shy accountant) is far much better in my opinion. Gene takes the cake when it comes to showing neuroticism and panic attacks. He gets so into the character (of someone with special needs) that makes you feel bad for laughing so hard. After he goes all the way, he calls his tantrum a ‘minor compulsion,’ something really worth seeing. This was Gene’s first opportunity as an actor. He and Mel went on to make many more hilarious movies together. One can see the birth of a beautiful friendship and a prolific working relationship.
The crew (Leo and Bialy) has set out to find the worst play ever written along with the worst director and actors in order for their fraud scheme to work. This is when the energy of the humor goes into a crescendo that culminates in the auditions to find the ‘right Hitler.’ Leo and Bialy get a hold of LSD (the name of the character) whose audition has brought me to tears 😆
Needless to say that the scheme never works, and you will have to watch the movie to find out why.
Here is a clip of the Hitler audition.
After opening night, it feels like Mel was not sure how to end the movie and the intensity of the humor goes down. In my opinion, the 2002 musical version does a better job picking up on where he left off. The Hitler performance in the newer version is also utterly creative and truly ridiculous. It features the gorgeous John Barroman as the leading tenor, before he became widely known by his role as Captain Jack Harkness in the rebirth of the Doctor Who series. Below is an excerpt.
The 2002 version even has somewhat of a fable built into the humor.
“It ain’t no mystery
if it is politics or history
the thing you gotta to know is
everything is show biz”
I am curious to know which version you liked best 🙂 Leave your comments below.