The Producers


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

The Producers
"Despite the odd moment when its extravagant routines spill out onto the streets of New York, for the most part the film feels trapped within its stage origins."

In 1968, Mel Brooks had his feature debut with The Producers, a comedy in which shonky producer Max Bialystok and his dreamy accountant Leo Bloom stage an apparently success-proof production (a musical glorifying the Third Reich), assuming that it will flop on its opening night so that they can abscond with all the investments. Of course, the musical turns out to be a runaway hit and so too was Brooks' film.

In 2001, Brooks returned to this material, refashioning it as an (actual) Broadway stage show and, while the intervening three or so decades might have taken much of the edge off its Nazi high camp, the reflexive novelty of framing an appalling musical within an appealing one was to prove irresistible. Even as he sent up the exploitative unscrupulousness of producers like himself and the inscrutable fickleness of his own viewing public, once again Brooks had a runaway hit.

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Now things have come full circle and the musical that was inspired by a film has in turn inspired a musical film. For this new big screen version of The Producers retains all the elements behind the success of the Broadway production. Brooks' jokey lyrics and Thomas Meehan's score have been left largely intact; Susan Stroman has returned to direct and choreograph; key players have reprised their stage roles, including Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, as the two producers trying to put on a singsong without going to Sing Sing, and Gary Beach and show-stealing Roger Bart, as a gay director and his "common law assistant". So this is a fairly faithful reproduction of the award-winning stage show for anyone who was unable to obtain, or indeed afford, tickets to see it live.

Which, in a sense, is the whole problem.

Despite the odd moment when its extravagant routines spill out onto the streets of New York, for the most part the film feels trapped within its stage origins. Though they reel off endless hilarious one-liners, the characters are reducible to two-word descriptions, such as Uma Thurman's statuesque Swede and Will Ferrell's mad German, and their essential flatness, while perhaps disguised by the stylisation of Broadway, is all too apparent when projected onto a two- dimensional screen. Even if The Producers does not pretend to be anything but light entertainment, it surely requires something more substantial than these soulless stereotypes to justify its rather excessive duration.

In a theatre, it can be liberating to see characters burst into full song and shuffle about to the rhythm, but in a cinema the same effect comes across as strangely stilted, especially when (as here) the material is hardly memorable. For all its verbal wit, The Producers is no Chicago, nor does it rival any of the Hollywood Golden Age musicals that it so reverentially pastiches, and the only song that will have you humming (if not quite goose stepping) to its tune is Springtime For Hitler. The pervasive nostalgia makes everything seem not so much charming as just plain old-fashioned, while the film's desperate safeness makes you wish you were watching one of Bialystock's more adventurous theatrical failures, instead.

What keeps it all together is some cracking performances and Brooks' great gags, but none of this ever quite adds up to an experience that feels properly cinematic. The original was far funnier and somehow managed to cut to the chase with less of a song and dance.

Reviewed on: 16 Dec 2005
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Mel Brooks comes full circle as his film-turned-Broadway-musical is turned back into a film.
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Read more The Producers reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray ***

Director: Susan Stroman

Writer: Mel Brooks, Thomas Meehan

Starring: Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Uma Thurman, Will Ferrell, Roger Bart, Gary Beach, Andrea Martin, Debra Monk, Jon Lovitz

Year: 2005

Runtime: 134 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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The Producers