Zero Mostel

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Birth Name: Samuel Joel Mostel

Birth: February 28, 1915

Death: September 8, 1977

Number of Films Zero Mostel Made with Humphrey Bogart: 2

The Lowdown

Nicknamed “Zero” for his poor performance in grade school, Mostel was born in Brooklyn, NY, moved to a Connecticut farm with his family, and eventually made his way back to the big city for what should have been a smooth and successful career on stage and in film.

Beginning as a popular nightclub act, a radio star, and a budding TV actor, Mostel rose to fame for his impeccable timing, biting sense of humor, and incredible physicality. But much like the namesake for this blog, Mostel’s political beliefs became a problem for his career after testifying for the House Un-American Activities Committee. Blacklisted for much of the 50’s, Mostel would once again rise to prominence on stage, one crowd at a time, until his eventual return to the big screen for such classics as A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and The Producers.

Mostel’s work with Bogart was certainly a step out from his usual comedic performances. While not playing completely straight in either film, his characters’ physical, mental, and moral deficiencies sometimes come off as more sympathetic than comical.

I’ve never met a man or woman who wasn’t a fan of at least one of Mostel’s films, and I’d consider both of his Bogart collaborations personal favorites. So without further ado, let’s welcome Zero Mostel into the pantheon of The Usual Suspects!

The Filmography

The Enforcer – 1951

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Mostel plays “Big Babe” Lazick, a bumbling hitman that Bogart’s District Attorney Martin Ferguson has to question in order to find an elusive gangster.

Mostel is wonderful playing around with all the skills and talents that made him a great comedic actor, but here, those attributes are played straight, making him look pathetic and in over his head. From his first scene where he’s being carried out of a church by the cops, to his tension filled first meeting with the crew of hitmen who hire him, Mostel is perfect in the role of a criminal flunky who just doesn’t have the gusto to finish a job.

Mostel and Bogart get a great interrogation scene together, and it’s a shame they only share two films. Mostel’s wimpy loser next to Bogart’s confident tough guy makes a great pairing.

You can read my original post on the film here.

Sirocco – 1951

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Mostel plays Balukjiann, a local businessman who’s rounded up with Bogart’s black market gun runner when the French Army tries to locate Syrian sympathizers during a 1925 insurgency. Bogart plays it cool. Mostel jumps readily to the other side.

It’s not as memorable of a role as Mostel had in The Enforcer, as his character serves more of a “yes man” role next to Lee J. Cobb and Everett Sloane’s French officers, but I’m always fine with an overqualified actor playing a smaller part in a film.

No big laughs to be had from Mostel here, but he does add just a touch of comedic relief to an often dark plot – and the film is far more solid than the reviews let on. It’s worth checking out.

You can read my original post on the film here.

*The Usual Suspects is an ongoing section of the blog where I highlight some of Bogart’s more regular collaborators. You can read the rest of the write ups here.*

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