Producers (1968)
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The Producers (1968)

There is an old saying ‘everything that was old will be new again’ and in the last few years it has become the mantra of the entertainment industry. With a huge increase in remakes and so-called re-imagined movies it seems that the original material id getting lost. It’s a shame since inevitably the first incarnation of these stories is better than any that follow. One prime example is a little film ‘The Producers’. The 1968 movie under consideration here was made into a Broadway play in 2001 which then served as a twice removed basis for a 2005 film of the same name. Much like a photocopy of a photocopy fidelity is lost with each incarnation. Going back to the original film is like drinking from a pure mountain spring. All the humor, mirth and unadulterated enjoyment are present. After review a birthday celebration for Broadway legend Steven Sondheim I was in a musical comedy frame of mind and decided to revisit one that my late wife and I enjoyed many, many times. When you get tired of second hand stories or just want to witness true comic genius give the original a chance. One of the many advantages of the DVD media is it longevity. Unlike its processor, magnetic tape, most discs remain intact for years. This means you can come back to a DVD released years ago and be certain you will enjoy excellent audio and video. While there has been much in the way of technical advancement in presentation nothing could improve upon the material or performances of this ground breaking original movie. A film like this never goes out of style. This is one reason why some many revivals have been successful. Even with that in mind returning to the original it is easy to see why it inspired repetition; this movie represents the perfect combination of ideal cast, expert direction and brilliant writing creating a film that helps to define the genre of comedy.

The screenplay for this film won an academy Award for master comedian Mel Brookes. His name makes several appearances in any definitive list of cinema’s great comedies. Films such as ‘Young Frankenstein’ or Blazing Saddles’ literally have brought fits of laughter to millions of his loyal fans. ‘The Producers’ initiated the film direction aspect of his brilliant and diverse career. Almost every one of the dozen movies he has helmed since then has been a memorable comic film. Not only did he redefine comedy in films but he was one of the pioneers in the now familiar medium of television. It is rare to see true genius at work but this film is such an examination. D This film is a prime example of low comedy used to execute a concept piece. The concept is a standard in comedy; a crime gone terribly wrong. The low comedy portion comes in with the often juvenile sight gags and slap stick pratfalls that became a standard in the vox populi of humor. Many of the comic devices here are directly descended from the old ethnic theaters that once thrived in the neighborhoods of New York City and the famous Borsch belt. In keeping with that tradition the story introduces us to a pair of rather strange characters. Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) is a con Man who prefers to target little old ladies with disposable savings. Max never did an honest day’s work mostly because an honest thought has never been found in his deceptive mind. Obsessively, Max was a Broadway producer but that was only the format his con took. One day he was going over the failure of his last production with his meek, socially awkward accountant, Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder). Leo noticed something odd and makes a casual comment. Under the right conditions a play could make more money on a play that fails than one that becomes a hit. Immediately Max gets an idea; nothing good has ever come from his ideas but he talks Leo into in. they will produce the world’s worse play, over sell the shares by millions and take it all when the play flops. This is the concept that takes flight with this premise, soaring into cinematic history.

Of all the comedy duals that have graced the silver screen Mostel and Wilder are among the best. Although this is their only film together it is perfection. The key factor in a successful comedy team is for one to play it funny working off the straight man. In this case Mostel is wide, unpredictable and in a constant state of ever intensifying frenzy. Opposite him is Gene Wilder, not only the best straight man possible but a fantastic comedian on his own. Placing to two together was lighting a fuse on comedy dynamite. With such an exuberant performance as the one Mostel provides you need something to keep things somewhat grounded. Wilder gives such a foundation. Although his share of the physical comedy is amazing it is a notch below the super nova energy extended by Mostel. Everything about Mostel is physically over done adding to the joke. This begins with the worse comb over in history. It begins as a few strands of hair that wind their way across an expanse of bald pate ending in a jagged line of greasy ends. His rotund gift can move with an amazing agility seemingly defying the laws of nature. John Belushi and John Candy followed in Mostel’s image but he paved the way. The play they decide to do is ‘Springtime for Hitler.’ And normally a musical romance about one of the most hated men in history would be certain to fail but it comes across as a satire making it a smash hit. Writing the play within the movie was Kenneth Mars as former Nazi Franz Liebkind. He play the man as someone still completely devoted to the Fuhrer who wants the world to know he could dance. Chosen to bring Hitler to the stage is a hippie/beatnik through back 'L.S.D.' - Lorenzo St. DuBois delightfully played by Dick Shawn. He is portrayed as a man entirely devoid of reality. Some old time TV fans will recognize Mr. Belvedere, Christopher Hewett as the cross dressing director, Roger De Bris. No source of comedy, no matter how outrageous is overlooked here. This is one of the best comedies ever so no matter what you might have thought about the remakes be sure to get this in your collection.

Posted 11/12/2010

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