Around the same time I watched ‘The Graduate’ (1967), I went to see a new American comedy called ‘The Producers’. I didn’t know too much about the film, though I had heard of both stars, Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, and I was aware of the writer and director, Mel Brooks, mainly because he was married to the gorgeous Anne Bancroft.
This great film had me in stitches, with its crazy story, brilliant comedy routines, and hilarious musical numbers. Mostel and Wilder played together like Laurel and Hardy, and the completely over the top style suited the film so well. If you don’t know what it’s about, I will give you an outline. But don’t just go by that, as it is a sheer delight to watch it unfold on screen, in the hands of cast members whose timing and skill is second to none in this genre.
Broadway legend Max Bialystock (Mostel) has fallen on hard times. He has sunk so low that he now just cons old ladies out of money for non-existent productions, bestowing his dubious sexual favours in return. When Leo, a young accountant, (Wilder) discovers severe discrepancies in his accounts, he is persuaded by Max to cover up the fraud. It dawns on both men that the way to make a real fortune is to stage an actual expensive flop. The show will fail on the first night, but they will get to keep the money invested by the old ladies.
They set about finding the worst script available, and track down an ex-Nazi who has written a musical celebration of Adolf Hitler. Then they hire the worst leading man they can find, Lorenzo St Dubois, a useless actor (played by comedian Dick Shawn) who plays Hitler as if he was a trendy beatnik. Then they stage the lavish production, so sure it would fail, they head off to celebrate their success in scooping the money. But it all goes wrong of course. After the initial shock felt by the audience, the play is seen as a comedy and becomes a huge success, exposing the pair as fraudsters and crooks.
I really cannot recall how many times I have seen this film. It’s just wonderful. Funny, warm, charming, witty, and incredibly inventive. Mel Brooks’ finest hour, with tremendous performances all round. (Can you tell how much I like it yet?) Here is the signature song from the show.
Then they had to go and remake it, in 2005. After a revival on the stage, Hollywood decided it was time to desecrate yet another classic. (And Brooks participated in the sacrilege) Along comes Nathan Lane playing Max, and Matthew Broderick as Leo. With Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman thrown in for ‘star’ value, they took the basis of the film from the stage play. By doing so, they lost the feel of the original, making it look like a filmed theatrical production in many respects. Despite the talented cast, it was yet another pointless and unnecessary exercise, I’m sorry to say.