A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

The Producers (1968)

June 7, 2011

The Producers (1968)

This is our second Gene Wilder movie in less than a week. All weeks should be so full of insanity. This is also the second time that we’ve watched the original movie that a musical we’ve already reviewed was based on, and it’s a very strange way to do things. We’ve seen the movie of the musical that Mel Brooks adapted from this movie many times. I’ve become very familiar with the performances of Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane in the roles of Leo Bloom and Max Bialystock. It’s disorienting to see the original performances of Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel.

In Mel Brooks’ original Oscar winning comedy the plot was actually simpler and more straight forward than the later musical. There’s no romantic subplot with Leo and Ulla. Leo never runs away to Rio. It’s just the story of a failed Broadway producer and his timid accountant who strike upon a scheme to produce a guaranteed flop. They find the worst play ever written. Then they hire the worst director in all history. Then they hire the worst actors they can find.

It’s easy to see how this was adapted into a musical that won a record 12 Tony awards – nobody who has ever seen this movie can have avoided having the musical number “Springtime for Hitler” stuck in his or her brain. For that one piece of pure irreverent genius this movie instantly becomes an impossible to forget classic. Certainly that’s what stuck in my mind about the movie long after I had first seen it. That’s not the best thing in the movie though – what really makes this movie come alive are the performances of Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder.

Zero, as Bialystock, is all smarm and sleaze. From his paunch to his crazy combover he’s the the very picture of a desperate man on the edge. Then there’s Gene Wilder (he’s so young here!) as Leo Bloom. Wilder’s usual desperate energy is perfectly channeled in the role of the timid, panic prone accountant who doesn’t have the courage to ever stand up for himself until Max showed him how to live for himself. What fascinates me is that according to the trivia the two actors got along like water and oil and swore never to work together again. Their on-screen chemistry is fantastic and caries the film.

It strikes me that most of my favorite interactions between Bialystock and Bloom from the musical are verbatim from the original movie. I might be more familiar with the newer version, but it’s the original that created all these moments. When Leo is in pain, wet and still hysterical. When he accuses Max of being a fatty fat fat. Broderick and Lane do add some to the roles and make some effort to make them their own (particularly in light of the fact that they’ve probably played the parts hundreds of times on Broadway before the movie version we own) but they’re ultimately doing an interpretation of these perfectly acted moments, and they’re using almost exactly the same script.

This is the original. It’s a little rougher around the edges, but you can’t deny that it’s simply fun to see Zero and Gene doing their thing. I’m so very glad we own this. Now we have to go get a whole bunch more Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder films. (Why do we not own Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles?)

June 7, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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