One film, two versions: The Producers

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.

35 thoughts on “One film, two versions: The Producers

  1. Great post 🙂 The 1968 version of The Producers is very good. For me, Young Frankenstein still ranks as Mel Brooks crown jewel, but this and Blazing Saddles are still funny. As for the 2005 version, people should just avoid it at all costs. That is just my opinion though. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the original Pete. In fact, it is one of my favorite movies. Absolutely hilarious. Zero’s hair alone is worth the price of admission. (Perhaps, Trump should watch it. But he wouldn’t get it.) The remake is anathema. There aren’t enough (or good enough) words to describe my loathing for it–and I revere the English language.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree Cindy, it is a sin that you haven’t seen the original. You must see it or risk a punishment worse than death.
      That said, you’re lucky you haven’t seen the remake. That’s a good sign–had you seen it you would have received your punishment for not seeing the original. Whew! There’s still time.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “The Producers” has been on my wish list for a few years. I’ll order the DVD one of these days. I’m a big fan of Gene Wilder, and have several of his films. “Young Frankenstein” is my favorite comedy of all time. I’m not sure if “The Producers” can top that film, but I want to give it a try.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Did not see either. I remember people raving about the Broadway version but I could not for the life of me figure out the plot line as they described it. Maybe they were laughing too hard. Thanks for clearing that up.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Haha: hmm…no I really could not tell how much you liked this one lol. Haven’t seen either of the two versions, but that’s because I am just not a really big comedy fan. That said as always I did enjoy reading your post 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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