Warning: "continue" targeting switch is equivalent to "break". Did you mean to use "continue 2"? in /homepages/22/d134208099/htdocs/keith/wp-includes/pomo/plural-forms.php on line 210
Zettel Film Reviews » The Producers – slap-schtick

  • Pages

  • Site Sections

  • Tags

  • Archives

The Producers – slap-schtick

make 'em laugh

make 'em laugh

The Producers – Director Susan Stroman

Make ’em laugh… make ’em laugh…The Producers was always a musical trying to get out. Both satirical farce and farcical satire, its broad, exuberant style and totally performance-dependent appeal is made for the immediacy of the stage and the vitality of live audience participation. Its intentionally tasteless premise of a neo-Nazi musical as a vehicle for a financial scam, the success of which depends on opening and closing in one night, mocks Broadway, Nazism and any other prurient targets that get in the way. Brooks’s satirical weapon of choice is definitely not the rifle but the blunderbuss, or even on occasion, an anti-tank gun.

Clown and comic turned serious actor, Zero Mostel (“here’s a guy starting from nothing”) used all his experience playing off newly discovered Gene Wilder’s bewildered neurotic comic schtick, to tease every ounce of off-the-wall fun out of the original 1968 movie. Scripted and directed by Brooks, The Producers was what we now call a ‘sleeper’. Relatively unsuccessful on first release, word of mouth projected it first into re-release and then into cult status and became Brooks’s most successful, and personal favourite film winning an original screenplay Oscar (1969).

Perhaps sensing its natural form Brooks added music and songs to re-create the film on Broadway in 2001 eventually winning the most Tony theatre awards ever. Here, the predictably brilliant Nathan Lane teamed up with an unlikely Matthew Broderick to provide the essential performance chemistry to make the knockabout chaotic tone of the piece overwhelm all doubts and really play. I saw Lane in the London production (teamed with Lee Evans) and can say that Susan Stroman has faithfully re-created the stage musical on screen. And there’s the rub: Brooks’s additional songs and music are merely adequate to shift the genre from film to stage and back. They also seem to seek a consistency of tone or narrative at odds with the delicious moral anarchy of the original.

However, performance is all and the Lane/Broderick double act works at least as well as the Mostel/Wilder duo. In both movies the live theatre essence of the piece is demonstrated by the constant playing to the camera as a surrogate audience. Interestingly this works OK in the cinema as it helps break down the inherent ‘naturalism’ of film to create a kind of ersatz sense of ‘live’ performance. Only imitation though, as on stage both central performances play off the immediacy of the audience’s reaction on the night.

Mel Brooks cut his professional teeth in 50’s live TV like The Sid Caesar Show, but his comedy is rooted in the broadly based tradition of American vaudeville and burlesque. Stir in the heart of a farceur and clown, add an undertone of deep Jewish irony held together by a well hidden intellect and you have the comic ‘bubble-and-squeak’ of The Producers. Uma Thurman has a bit of watchable fun but it would need a genuinely comic actress like say Jane Krakowski (Ali MacBeal and seen recently in the London production of Guys and Dolls) to squeeze some comic juice out of the nothing part of dumb blonde Ulla. Matthew Broderick proves to have a pleasant singing voice, a competent if slightly watching-his-feet dancing style and a better than expected comic timing.

The re-invented Producers makes much more cheap play with outrageously stereotypical camp gays than the first film, collapsing at times into Bud Abbott and Lou Costello meet the Village People. But it’s nothing personal, homophobic, or ethnic: everyone is a stereotype in The Producers – Nazis, Swedes, Gays, Theatricals, Old Ladies, Young Women, even I guess Jews. We’re in ‘Brooksville’ USA where you laugh at and in spite of, yourself.

Great, if at times slightly guilty fun, played for keeps by two actors on the top of their game. Going OandOandOTT. You’ll laugh. Guaranteed. Because Brooks keeps hitting you again and again and again until you do. He’s right to do it and we’re right to respond. A good night out at the movies.

(December 2005)

Leave a Reply