The Producers (2005)
Ever since Al Jolson started to sing in the Jazz Singer musicals have been one of the most popular genres in cinema. Many of the most famous and beloved musicals started on the stage. Now, we have a situation where a film became a Broadway musical which now has become a musical film. Back in 1968 one of the truly funniest films ever made was released, Mel Brooks’ ‘The Producers.' In 2001 the esteemed Mr. Brooks brought his masterpiece to the stage with unprecedented success. Naturally, when studio executives get a whiff of such incredible potential for money a film version of the stage musical was created. To be completely honest I have to admit that I have considered the original comedy not only one of my favorites but one of the best comedies ever made. This sets the bar mighty high for the latest incarnation. While it was almost impossible to capture the lightning in a bottle that was the 1968 version the 2005 remake holds its own, especially if you look at as an entry in a completely different genre.
Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane) tries his best to be a Broadway producer, but unfortunately, he is at the very bottom of his profession and success constantly eludes him. His latest endeavor, Funny Boy, a musical version of Hamlet closed shortly after its opening dragging down all hopes of financial greatness. While consulting with his meek and mild accountant, Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick), the poor belabored number cruncher makes an off the cuff remark. Under the right circumstances, a flop could make more money for the producers than a hit. Of course, that would require a dishonest producer, a moral dilemma that is not an issue for the shady Bialystock. The plan is an almost genius in its simplicity, find the worse play in the history of the stage, get a legion of little old ladies to each invest in it selling thousands of percentage points and keep the money when the play closes to the hateful reviews it is bound to get.
The charismatic Bialystock lures the honest Bloom with visions of fame, fortune, and success. The dubious duo set out to local the horrible play and come across ‘Springtime for Hitler,' a musical romp through the life of the Fuhrer in the last days of the Reich. The play was written by neo-Nazi Franz Liebkind (Will Ferrell) who lives only to extol the virtues of Hitler and tend his flock of pigeons on the roof of his apartment. The depths to which Bialystock and Bloom are willing to degrade themselves becomes very apparent when they put on swastikas to woe the demented Liebkind. Now that the producers have a sure fire hit they have to make sure by getting the worse director possible. They hire Roger De Bris (Gary Beach), a director who would look at The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and feel it was too straight. De Bris just doesn’t feel the end of the play works, so he changes it so that Germany wins the war, far more upbeat. To give an appearance of at least, a modicum of professionalism Bialystock and Bloom hire a Swedish secretary, Ulla (Uma Thurman) whose physical attributes soar way above any office skills.
What does work with this film is the basic material? Many of the scenes are directly from the 1968 flick, and that alone manages to keep the film afloat. On the other side of the coin, many of the new musical numbers seem somewhat contrived. The musical number with the legion of little old ladies that Max beds for funds, dancing with their walkers was just a bit out of line with the combination of dry and slapstick humor that made the original so great. This musical was without a doubt great when it had the energy of a live performance, but like many stage productions that come to the screen, that aspect is lost here.
The cast here does a great job considering the almost insurmountable task given to them. They are not only in the shadow of the original film but had to meet the expectations of those that have seen the stage play. They give it their all and that in itself is admirable. Nathan Lane is one of the funniest men on the scene today. He has a natural way of getting people to laugh. Instead of trying to channel Zero Mostel he creates a Max Bialystock that is his creation. While Mostel was very oily in this part Lane makes Max into a smooth operator that can get the last penny from a rich, lonely senior woman. Matthew Broderick is completely in his element here. He plays the nebbish Leo with grace and humor. His version of Leo is one that comes over to the dark side a little too easily, but it works with the pacing of the film. There is incredible chemistry between Lane and Broderick that transcends the limitations of the media and makes their appearance here fun to watch. Uma Thurman has the body and skill that makes Ulla a lot more than just a background character. Although many of her dance numbers were provided by a double, it is easy to see why Max and Leo would hire her. Will Ferrell has come a long way from his roots on Saturday Night Live. He has been honing his acting skills and incorporating them with his comedy slowly with many lesser roles. Here his Franz comes across almost like a skit on SNL.
Director Susan Stroman has spent most of her career behind the scenes as a choreographer, and it shows here. The dance numbers are lavish and over the top, perfect for the sardonic mood of the story. For filming, she was able to get into the new Steiner Studios right here in Brooklyn, New York. Since the two principles are reprising their roles from the stage, Stroman already had a good deal of chemistry to work with. Instead of trying to film a stage production Stroman makes very good use of the larger scope afforded by film sets. While this loses some of the intimacy of the stage show, it makes for a spectacle.
Universal Studio brings this film to DVD with fitting flair. The 2.40:1 video is bright, well balanced and free of defect. The Dolby 5.1 audio makes little use of the sub woofer, but the rear speakers provide a full, realistic ambiance. The channel separation of the front speakers is better than the average musical. The Stroman audio commentary does show her dance background as she focuses on the trials and tribulations of the many dance numbers. There are also some deleted scenes and outtakes that show just how well the cast worked together. This is an entertaining film that while a shadow of the original is worth while. Try watching both versions back to back to the best of both worlds.
Posted 5/15/06 08/04/2017