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THE PRODUCERS, 1968
Movie Review

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THE PRODUCERSTHE PRODUCERS, 1968
Movie Review

Directed by Mel Brooks
Starring: Gene Wilder, Zero Mostel
Review by Mark Engberg




SYNOPSIS:

An unscrupulous theatrical producer joins forces with a paranoid accountant to make a fortune out of a disastrous musical play.

OSCAR WINNER for Best Adapted Screenplay - Mel Brooks

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REVIEW:

Nobody in the entertainment business could make the Nazis funny like Mel Brooks. And they are not the only ones targeted in this anarchistic comedy about the worst show on Broadway. In vibrant style, he ridicules flamboyantly gay couples, beatnik psychedelic musicians, Go-Go dancers, and the entire theater industry.

There is an unmistakable irony that this audacious comedy was adapted decades later into one of the most adored musicals to ever hit the stage it so notoriously mocked. Even more ironic when you consider that the smash play was adapted even further into a twenty-first century cinematic update, which completely bombed at the box office and failed to entertain audiences and critics.

Perhaps Mr. Brooks realized he was wearing a cardboard belt and found the same loophole Leo Bloom discovered while going through Max Bialystock’s tax books.

“The Producers” is Mel Brooks’ first foray into the world of feature length comedy, and what an introduction. While still thriving as a writer on the popular TV show “Get Smart”, Brooks jumped into the director chair at MGM Studios with an innate understanding of farcical humor, and an obvious talent for composing loud yet seemingly friendly comic equations.

Consider the dynamics in the unlikely pairing of Zero Mostel as the boisterous Max Bialystock and Gene Wilder as the neurotic Leo Bloom. This is not just a traditional buddy picture, or a slapstick comedy with fish-out-of-water characteristics. This is a devious plot to steal thousands of dollars from lonely, old women to make a musical production based on the love life of Adolf Hitler.

Has there ever been anything so comically bold and tasteless? If so, Brooks did it himself in one of his subsequent pictures.

Richard Pryor. Woody Allen. Madeline Kahn. His late wife, the beloved Gilda Radner. Gene Wilder has worked with the best comic minds of a fading generation (and it is sad when you realize how it continues to dim). But his teamwork here with the outrageous Zero Mostel is probably the best of his career.

Placed awkwardly next to Mostel’s uproarious behavior and clownish face, Wilder is the perfect straight man in this wicked story about two men attempting to cheat the I.R.S. Their scheme is plain and simple: Raise more than enough money to produce a play that is certain to fail and never pay back the investors.

In a predictable storyline, the conflict would arrive in the quest for money. That is how a contemporary screenwriter would likely compose the second act. But Brooks, who also wrote the screenplay, circumvents that idea and makes the fundraising a disposable part of the plot. The hard part, it turns out, is creating the disaster.

“Will the Dancing Hitlers please wait in the wings?” yells Broadway director Roger De Bris, played with skilled depravity by Christopher Hewitt, the late Mr. Belvedere. “We are only seeing Singing Hitlers.”

How many comic directors can you name who could not only write a line like that, but also deliver it with well-timed direction?

Modern film snobs who watch this film for the first time might find it hard to accept the technical flaws typical of an early Brooks comedy: errors in continuity, inadequate set design, poorly lit backgrounds, etc. Fans faithful to Mr. Brooks will not only ignore these distractions, but also add them to the director’s sense of ribald and flagrant humor.

No matter the decade or the genre he was obliterating, Mel Brooks’ screenplays and cinematic achievements were consistently rife with characters who celebrated anarchy and the carnival spirit with hilarious vulgarity. His fascination with screwball characters and their irreverent behaviors is perhaps best indicated in this picture. And if not here, then definitely his next one: an obscure Western spoof known as “Blazing Saddles”.

If you have never seen the original “Producers”, then you should stop reading this, watch it, and get on with your life. Your lifelong comic soul deserves a screening. And if you can watch the opening number of “Springtime for Hitler” without cracking up, you ought to go see a doctor immediately and make sure you are still alive.

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