The Producers

Review No. 477

“Where did I go right?” Just about everywhere, Mr. Brooks.

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DIRECTED BY SUSAN STROMAN. PRODUCED BY MEL BROOKS.  WRITTEN BY BROOKS AND THOMAS MEEHAN. STARRING NATHAN LANE (MAX BIALYSTOCK), MATTHEW BRODERICK (LEOPOLD “LEO” BLOOM), UMA THURMAN (ULLA), AND WILL FERRELL (FRANZ LIEBKIND). ALSO STARRING GARY BEACH, ROGER BART, JON LOVITZ, MICHAEL MCKEAN, DAVID HUDDLESTON, RICHARD KIND, EILEEN ESSELL, DEBRA MONK, ANDREA MARTIN, JOHN BARROWMAN. FEATURING A CAMEO BY BROOKS. DISTRIBUTED BY UNIVERSAL STUDIOS ON DECEMBER 16, 2005. PRODUCED IN ENGLISH BY THE UNITED STATES. RUNS 2 HOURS, 14 MINUTES. INTENDED FOR MATURE AUDIENCES, DUE TO SEXUAL SITUATIONS.

THE PRODUCERS WAS WATCHED ON MAY 11, 2013.

“Springtime for Hitler and Germany
Winter for Poland and France
Springtime for Hitler and Germany
Come on, Germans, go into your dance”
–“Springtime for Hitler”

“That’s it, baby, when you’ve got it, flaunt it! Flaunt it!” The moment Zero Mostel uttered that timeless line in 1968’s The Producers, an update was on the horizon. This was an impressive directorial debut for Mel Brooks, and it’s outrageous black comedy set high standards for the rest of his career. But the film was in 1968, and it clearly needed to be politically incorrect enough to offend any decade.

And here we have 2005’s The Producers, nearly four decades later. This rendition is a movie musical based on a Broadway musical based on Brooks’s own movie about musicals. It’s offensive by any standards, but we’d rather not care. We’re too busy splitting our sides at every outlandishly dark, witty joke this one has in store. I’d go as far as to say that this edition is better than the classic to which it traces its heritage. It’s not directed by Mel Brooks himself, but knowing that he operates as producer, musician, lyricist, and co-writer, there isn’t much surprise.

The Producers reprises a story that is radical in every sense of the word. Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane) is a man who desires money more than anything in the world. He is a theatrical producer with a good amount of money as it is, and yet he “shtupps” every senior woman in the Bronx, on a daily basis, to earn more money. When a somewhat reserved accountant, Leopold “Leo” Bloom (Matthew Broderick), comes to work for this famed man, it becomes apparent that not only does he desire incredulous amounts of money, he is still holding onto a ridiculous amount of cash that he was supposed to use for financing his most recent production–a comedic rendition of Hamlet entitled Funny Boy.

At this point, Leo just doesn’t know Max well enough to realize that he shouldn’t be helping out at all; in fact, he discovers that the two of them (which, of course, means just Max to Max himself) can become rich instantly if they produce a “surefire flop.” They find Franz Liebkind (Will Ferrell), a psychotic man who fanatically worships Adolf Hitler, and purchase the rights to his play, Springtime for Hitler. They find the aptly named Roger de Bris (Gary Beach), an ostentatious, stereotyped gay man who could probably direct the play into the flop that it is, if not worse. They find a Swedish blonde, Ulla (Uma Thurman), who is fit for a “secretary-slash-receptionist” job in every way, except that it’s impossible to understand her accent. And despite all this, the play is a hit, which puts Bialystock and Bloom not only in financial crisis, but also in legal crisis.

The film does have its missteps. An over elongated, rewritten ending can do that. And if it weren’t for the cast, this would be merely a farcical schlock with a little bit of Mel Brooks’s touch. Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick are the perfect “odd couple.” They can act ridiculous in normal situations (instead of the preferred: acting normal in ridiculous situations) and it’s still funny. Their characters are developed from the moment we begin, simply because they know the musical well enough to present its theatricality with chaotic fun. In addition to Susan Stroman, who directed both musical and movie, the entire Producers cast is from the 2001 Broadway musical itself, save for Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman. Even among these flamboyant nutcases, both steal every scene they have–Ferrell for his bizarre, riotous, Nazi-esque behavior; Thurman for her amusing Swedish accent.

I’m not a fan of theater, simply because the flashiness drives me nuts; thus when it comes to mocking theater, you can’t avoid the naturally over-the-top attitude of theater, or else it’s not funny. You could say The Producers hits a satirical bull’s-eye.

“Don’t be stupid, be a smarty, come and join the Nazi party!” –cameo by Mel Brooks

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