You can certainly enjoy the 2005 remake of “The Producers” without having seen the 1968 original, but why should you deny yourself the pleasure? That would be like eating one dessert when you can have two. Never mind the calories, indulge in both!
Mel Brooks wrote a brilliant comedy that was way over the top. None of the major studios would touch it, and you can see why. Imagine auditioning Hitlers for a Broadway musical, singing Hitlers, dancing Hitlers, each with his own take on the trademark führer mustache. What kind of person would write such a play? Well, we know the answer to that one: a not-too-smart Nazi with anger management issues. Franz Liebkind trained carrier pigeons during the war. He named his favorite Adolph. Of course. Franz’s admiration for his hero is bottomless, and unfathomable. “Hitler… there was a painter! He could paint an entire apartment in ONE afternoon! TWO coats!”
Now add to that a director who is a flaming homosexual, with a knack for chorus numbers. The curtain opens on a rousing song-and-dance routine involving Ziegfield Girl frauleins in tacky costumes, tap-dancing stormtroopers, including Brooks himself in a cameo (“Don’t be stupid. Be a smartie. Come and join the Nazi Party!”), goose-stepping chorus girls who dance in swastika formation, filmed from above Busby-Berkeley style. And to top it off, you’ve got Zero Mostel in the role of Max Bialystock, the has-been producer who watches his sure flop turn into a hit, crying on the shoulder of Gene Wilder’s nebbishy accountant. What’s not to love, right?
Brooks revisited his masterpiece in 2001, adapting it for the stage and making it even more outrageous. The 2005 movie, based on the musical, is different enough to be enjoyed on its own terms, but it pays tribute to the original. The Busby-Berkeley swastika number is still there, and in this version, Franz has taught Adolph to give the Nazi salute.
When you take something that’s offensive as far as it can go, it loses its power to wound. Here’s to Mel Brooks for showing us how to disarm hate with laughter.
(8 April 2011)