Review: The Producers

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When The Producers was first released in 1968, it marked the directorial debut of Mel Brooks who was then best known as the co-creator, with Buck Henry, of the popular TV-series Get Smart. Brooks was awarded an Oscar for his first film’s hilarious script about a conspiracy between an impresario and an accountant to mount a deliberately offensive Broadway flop. The sudden success meant Mel would leave television for cinema where he made his name synonymous with comedy by serving up a string of instant screen classics in Blazing Saddles, Young
Frankenstein, Silent Movie, High Anxiety, and Spaceballs.

In 2001, he was inspired by his wife, recently-deceased actress Anne Bancroft, to revive The Producers onstage as a musical comedy. The play, starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, was so well-received that it won a record-breaking, dozen Tony Awards. Instead of then retiring at 79 as one of a handful of entertainers talented and versatile enough to have landed Emmy, Grammy, Tony and Academy Awards over the course of an enviable career, Mel decided it was time to adapt his hit show to the big screen. And to his credit, he managed to keep much of his creative team intact, which helps explain why the seamless masterpiece has the effortless look of the work of veterans who are very comfortable with each other.
Susan Stroman again directs and choreographs, Brooks again writes and scores, while Lane and Broderick reprise their lead roles as fledgling impressario Max Bialystock, and nerdy accountant Leo Bloom, respectively. Also returning are Gary Beach as the flamboyant Roger de Bris and Roger Bart as his equally-over-the-top assistant, Carmen Ghia. Welcome newcomers to the principal cast include Uma Thurman as Ulla, a naïve Swedish ingénue; Will Ferrell as Franz Liebkind, a neo-Nazi nitwit and Jon Lovitz as Mr. Marks, Leo’s overbearing boss.

Set in New York City during the Fifties, the period piece opens with washed-up Max moping in the wake of the closing of just the latest in a long line of Broadway bombs that he’s produced. The fun starts when straitlaced Leo, while examining the books, unwittingly suggests that the only surefire way to make money in the theater business was to put on a play certain to fail.
Max seizes on the offhand observation, and the two devise a plan to bilk investors of millions. They set out in search of the most tasteless script, the worst director and an awful cast in order to be able to split the money when the show closes on opening night. Unexpectedly, of course, the play, Springtime for Hitler, turns out to be a surprising sensation, and major complications ensue.

Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick earn considerable kudos for exhibiting the perfect comic timing of legendary duos like Laurel and Hardy and Abbott and Costello. Plus, they do double-duty, dancing and singing several showstoppers. Also captured at the top of their games are shameless scene-stealer Ferrell, and the skimpily-attired Thurman, who simply does her best to ooze a sinful sensuality.

Yet, perhaps the most chemistry to be found, here, is between Beach and Bart, whose out-of-the-closet hijinks cut such a refreshing contrast to the dour events unfolding between the latent lads in adjacent theaters up on Brokeback Mountain. Be prepared to laugh from the opening credits through the closing credits.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rating: PG-13 for crude humor
and sexual references.
Running time: 134 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures

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