Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Producers (Brooks. 1968)

"Don't be stupid, be a smarty. Come and join the Nazi party."


As we know, there are few things funnier than the story of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. That is why it was so easy for Mel Brooks to make a film which directly mocked that story. We also know that Brooks is not the type of director that would push the envelope with his brand of humor. In fact, his biggest flaw is his debilitating desire to be liked by everyone. It is this flaw that makes a film like The Producers seem so very bland and humorless. The 1077 Films to See Before You Die must enjoy torture by making film fans sit through this very inside-the-box comedy.

I should not have to point out that I am obviously kidding about Mel Brooks and Adolf Hitler. Brooks is a filmmaker and screenwriter who seemingly gets off on making jokes in the worst of tastes. He is known as a sort of "spoof" director, but The Producers does not parody something the way that we might be used to seeing. Instead of blasting an actor or a genre, Brooks tackles what was once thought impossible. He made a joke out of Adolf Hitler - and based a film around it.

On the surface, Hitler is a relativity small contributor to The Producers. The film follows the story of a once great, now washed up, Broadway producer named Max Bialystock. In the midst of an awkward romp with the elderly "Hold me, touch me"- Bialystock is introduced to the neurotic and socially inept, Leo Bloom.

Bialystock is played by the comedy veteran, Zero Mostel. Mostel's performance is spot on. He presents a character with whom it is nearly impossible to relate. Bialystock even has a disgusting comb-over to add to his already icky demeanor. His personality is a perfect match for his appearance. He is selfish and irresponsible. He even takes advantage of little old ladies. His moral shortcomings are unrivaled in the history of comedy.

On the other hand, Leo Bloom is played by a newcomer at the time named Gene Wilder. Of course, we all know that Wilder went on to do some pretty iconic stuff- Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)- but at this time it was questioned if he could hold his own opposite Mostel. Not only did he succeed, but he completely outshines his co-star. Wilder's character was so timid and adorable, so defeated and unhappy that it was impossible to not love him. Even as we watched him slip morally, we hoped that we would get the best of things. He deserved the best of things.

Mostel and Wilder's chemistry keeps The Producers from becoming too out of control. The idea that a producer could make more money from a flop than a hit can be presented believably, but that is about this film's extent for believability. Though it is never stated, it is rather obvious that Bloom and Bialystock are Jewish. In one scene, they are embarrassed to be wearing Swastika arm bands. As they throw them in the trash we see both characters spitting on them in disgust. This type of moment is needed to occasionally knock us back into reality.

Mostly because of Mel Brooks' extremely successful Broadway musical adaptation, we are already familiar with "Springtime for Hitler." This is the musical that is supposed to be the biggest flop on Broadway. Though the show is noticeably awful, the man cast as Adolf Hitler (Dick Swan) was so hilarious that the show became a gigantic hit. Swan mocks the infamous legacy of Hitler by portraying him as a slick and smarmy flower-child with a very limited vocabulary. To this day, critics and movie lovers are not sure how Brooks got away with this. Maybe he knew that his idea was so offensive that it would be looked upon as genius. Whatever he thought...it worked.

The Producers is an outrageous and zany comedy that will keep you laughing throughout. In terms of comedic films, Mel Brooks has a bundle of great ones, and few good ones and a couple of stinkers. The 1077 Films to See Before You Die has a deep respect for Brooks' contribution to comedy. And though Blazing Saddles is a much funnier film, The Producers is his best work. This is an Academy Award winning film that anyone interested in comedy should see. Go ahead and study Mostel's timing, Brooks direction or Wilder's brilliance. Either way, you cannot miss.

The Producers: A

My Next Film....Ferris Bueller's Day Off (Hughes. 1986)

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