Tuesday, February 15, 2011

R.I.P. KENNETH MARS. Attention must be paid.

He was lovely in Young Frankenstein, nastily impersonated the critic John Simon in What's Up, Doc?, and did a lot of TV, most of which I missed (though I have misty memories of him on He & She). But to me he will forever be Franz Liebkind.

In a way he had the most difficult job in the movie -- making an unrepentant Nazi funny -- but like all the other major players in The Producers, by going absolutely balls-out with his performance he achieved escape velocity. Roger Ebert recalls that one time Mel Brooks, chided by a woman for having created this "vulgar" film, answered, "Lady, it rose below vulgarity." That's what Mars did, too, turning the previously scary idea of the Hitler holdout dwelling amongst us into a ripe vaudeville joke: all tantrums, cowardice, sentimentality, and (best of all) absurd dignity ("Gentlemen, it iss magic time").

And timing. Never, ever forget timing. And lazzi. Check the nose wipe during the Churchill rant.

This is not to claim that the movie or Mars' performance did anything uplifting, but to note that they were in the very, very best of bad taste. And, in the words of the ad campaign for another old movie, boy, do we need it now.

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