The Producers

 
Directed by: Susan Stroman
Written by:Mel Brooks, Thomas Meehan
Starring: Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Uma Thurman, Will Ferrell, Roger Bart, Gary Beach, Jon Lovitz
Released: January 12, 2006
Grade: B

In 1968, comedy writer Mel Brooks wrote and directed his first motion picture, The Producers.  Starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, it won Brooks an Academy Award for best original screenplay.  In 2001, Brooks turned his famous film into a Broadway musical.  It went on to win twelve Tony Awards, more than any other musical in history.  The musical spread around the world and you may have seen it here in Brisbane in early 2005 (starring Reg Livermore and Bert Newton).

Having gone from the screen to the stage, The Producers now returns to screen.  You could call it a remake of the film but this version has been heavily influenced by the musical version.  For starters, the new movie has been directed by Susan Stroman, an acclaimed theatre director and choreographer.  Further, the film stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick - the two actors who starred in the musical’s first run on Broadway.  The most obvious difference though is that this film is a musical.  If you’ve seen the 1968 film, you will remember that it is not.

If you’re new to the story, the comedic mayhem begins when nerdy accountant Leo Bloom (Broderick) first meets struggling theatre producer Max Bialystock (Lane).  Leo suggests that more money could be made from a flop than a hit, if you knew that it would fail from the very beginning.  This idea fascinates Max who desperately needs the cash.  They start the partnership of Bialystock & Bloom and go in search of a guaranteed failure.

They find it in the form a script from German born Frank Liebkind (Ferrell).  It is titled “Springtime For Hitler” and is a fluffy musical which glorifies the life of Adolf Hitler.  How could this not be a spectacular failure?  The wheels have been set in motion and their actions now turn to finding a cast and some rich suckers to finance it.

I haven’t seen the any previous adaptations of this story whether they be on stage on screen.  It’s a funny story but as a musical being shown on a big screen, it doesn’t quite work.  I am reminded of two brilliant musicals we have been treated to in recent years – Moulin Rogue and Chicago.  These films were musicals but utilised the benefits available to the film medium, such as editing.  They were incredibly stylish and there would be no way to recreate the visuals in a live stage show.

The Producers on the other hand, is very ordinary from a visual perspective.  It’s as if a few video cameras were used to film one of the live shows and this footage has been used to make a movie.  I know this is not the case but it’s how it looks.  I’d much rather have seen the stage musical than the movie musical.

The film does have a few high points with the performance of Will Ferrell an obvious standout.  With a crazy German accent and range of insane quotes, I chuckled almost every time I saw him.  Comedy is often overlooked by the Academy but I’m hoping they honour Ferrell with a supporting actor nomination. He’s the best part of the film.  As for the rest, I’ve mixed feelings.