Larger Than Life

Originally meant to be called Springtime for Hitler, Mel Brooks' first feature as writer-director was only a moderate success when released in 1968. Now, it is legendary and for good reason. (It has, of course, also spawned a hugely successful musical.) This story of a manic, larger-than-life Broadway producer (Zero Mostel) and a meek accountant (Gene Wilder) conspiring to put on the worst show of all time blasted out the walls of what was permissible in Hollywood comedy. It's also maniacally funny. It remains neck and neck with Young Frankenstein as Brooks' best film, and, despite its frenetic pacing, it benefits from not being the sort of gag-oriented film that Brooks then switched to. Brooks' later attempt at a more "realistic," character-driven film, Life Stinks, was awful, but here the cast imbues the film with genuine emotion that the later film lacked. This is the fabulous Mostel's greatest legacy on celluloid, and Wilder, Dick Shawn and Kenneth Mars aren't exactly chopped liver either.

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