Viking Night: The Producers
By Bruce hall
May 31, 2011
Hey, how would you like to see a Broadway play about Hitler? Don’t answer too fast, because Mel Brooks has something to show you.
Many first time directors go out of their way to make a splash. The entertainment business loves to eat its young and often what determines how good you are is a matter of nuance, or personal taste. No matter how talented you are, almost nobody becomes successful without also being lucky. And then of course there’s the Almighty Benjamin. He doesn’t care whether or not you’re good at what you do, just as long as you’re putting butts in seats. So when you’re getting ready to write and direct your first film, do you go for something strictly aesthetic? Do you sell out and try to pander to whatever’s popular? Or maybe you do what a lot of guys do, you film the craziest idea you’ve got, because chances are they’re never going to let you make another one of these things anyway.
So Mel Brooks, he of Blazing Saddles and he of Young Frankenstein, gave unto the world The Producers. If it sounds familiar it may be that you’ve seen the 2005 film starring Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane. Maybe you were lucky enough to see the Broadway adaptation that opened in 2001. Maybe you had no idea the original film came out in 1968. It’s okay if you didn’t, because it means I get to introduce you to it. In fact I consider it a public service. The musical was entertaining, and the movie version of the musical was musically moving. But they’re still musicals and I’m sorry, just I hate musicals. The original film is without question an audacious and brilliantly written piece of work and even the weak have enough energy to succeed anyway.
Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel, who has somehow GOT to be related to Nathan Lane) is a down on his luck Broadway producer with a string of recent flops under his ample beltline. Reduced to making ends meet by swindling little old ladies out of their life savings, Max is on his last financial legs. Bad enough, until his accountant arrives to do the books, and discovers that Max has been taking liberties with his investors. Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) is a neurotic, hysterical egghead who’s never broken any rules had fun or been happy a day in his life. He’s horrified by Max’s shenanigans, but intrigued by the man’s energy. Leo mentions offhand that were an unscrupulous man to use Max’s system on a larger scale, he could make millions but would never be able to repay his investors. Max realizes that if he were able to raise millions of dollars for a lavish production and have it flop, he could walk away with a fortune.