When it comes to comedy, Mel Brooks is one of my all time heroes. The man may not be as popular as Steve Martin, Robin Williams or Steve Carrel (for moviegoers with the memory span of an ant), but even these big stars worship at the altar of Brooks.
What makes Brooks so special? Well, for one it was from his mind that some of the best comedy classics sprung up. Steve Martin may have The Jerk (I can’t even think of a definitive Williams movie) but Brooks can boast of The History of The World, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Dracula Dead and Loving It, and most importantly, The Producers.
The Producers may be one of his most popular works because of its wonderful evolution. The movie is about a pair of bumbling Broadway producers who wanted to make the worst musical in history so that they can earn more money but they inadvertently created a hit and all the trouble ensues from there. The movie, which was shown in 1968, starred the wonderful Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder (who I absolutely miss. You should be doing more movies, Gene!), then a few years ago, it was turned into a hit Broadway musical that starred the duo of Nathan Lane (as Max Bialystock) and Matthew Broderick (as Leo Bloom). The musical gained so many Tony awards that the inevitable had to happen — they decided to turn it into a movie.
The Producers was turned into a movie musical with Lane and Broderick reprising their award winning roles. In a way, the decision to make this movie is a stroke of genius because it gives people the opportunity to watch Broderick and Lane and how well they comandeered their respective roles without forking over cash to go to New York and watch the actual musical. Honestly, how many people can really afford to go these musicals especially those who live in another country? Adapting the broadway hit to the movie was made effortless with the involvement of Susan Stroman, who also directed and choreographed the Broadway show.
What can I say about Lane or Broderick that hasn’t been said before. They really owned their roles. They were so effective that the moment you see them on screen you already believe that you are watching the gold digging Bialystock and the security blanket-loving Bloom. They incorporate their own little personalities into the bigger characters that they play and this is what makes them really funny and effective. The same goes with the equally humorous characters of Gary Beach and Roger Bart as Roger DeBris and Carmen Ghia. They are pitch perfect in their roles and their interaction was a nice little contrast to Lane and Broderick’s. Another standout is Will Ferrell as Franz Liebkind. He was a joy to watch as the nutcase German playwright. He even surprises with a more than passable singing voice that is just perfect for his role. The only miss in terms of casting is Uma Thurman. She is a lovely woman and, physically, a perfect choice for Ulla but she just could not compete with the wattage that the rest of the cast generates. She was not entirely bad but she really just fades into the background whenever Bialystock, Bloom, Liebkind or DeBris is on screen — which is practically every scene she is in.
Because of the number of transformations the original material went through (from movie script to musical to movie script again), the whole movie is very tight. All the scenes are wonderfully brief when it has to be and lengthy when it needs to be so. There is a wonderful efficiency in the way the movie is paced, which is a surprise since most other musicals suffer from having scenes that extend and drag the movie down. The jokes are all well placed and are knee-snappingly hilarious. I’m sure anyone who watches The Producers will have their own favorite funny scenes (I particularly love the play acting scene between Bialystock and one of his geriatric paramours).
The libretto for the musical (which was also written by Mel Brooks) is equally funny. Some of the lyrics are so witty and will make you laugh out loud. Along Came Bialy is one of those really funny songs that Lane really sings with gusto, and for me, it is one of the highlights of the film.
Brooks crams The Producers with every possible comedic gag in his arsenal — and he does it with intelligence and, yes, a little crassness. The obvious jabs at stereotypes may offend some but, really, it is just refreshing to throw political correctness sometimes and just have a little fun. Brooks does it with no apologies and the movie is all the better for it.
The Producers will definitely go down as one of the best movie musicals of all time.