“Come see what all the furore* is about.”
* The poster with a tagline was quite small and hard to read – it seemed to spell this ‘furor’, so I guess it was intended as a play on ‘fuhrer’.
Directed by Susan Stroman
Starring Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Uma Thurman,
Will Ferrell, Gary Beach, Roger Bart
A failing producer and an accountant team up to produce a deliberate flop, realising that they can make more money by overselling the show and failing than by having a hit which needs to repay its investors in the first and arguably the greatest film of Mel Brooks’ directorial career. When their deliriously tasteless bomb arrives, however, it crosses the line twice and becomes a runaway success, bringing about their downfall.
Before the new film version, the musical adaptation played on Broadway with much of the same cast.
Max Bialystock (Lane) is the falling star of Broadway, producer of flop after flop reduced to romancing little old ladies for funding. When public accountant Leo Bloom (Broderick) looks over his books, he realises that it should be possible to make more money with an oversold flop than a tightly funded hit.
Thus is born an insane plan, in which Bialystock and Bloom seek out the worst possible play, director and cast to put on a surefire box office disaster. What they find is Springtime for Hitler, a love letter to the Fuhrer by ex-Nazi Franz Liebkind (Ferrell), and flamboyantly gay director Roger de Bris (Beach) and his ‘common-law assistant’ Carmen Ghia (Bart). They also cast Swedish bombshell Ulla (Thurman), employing her as secretary and receptionist.
When de Bris replaces an injured Liebkind as Hitler on opening night, however, the show descends into farce and becomes wildly successful. As well as bringing their financial shenanigans into the light, this sets Liebkind on a rampage of ineffectual revenge and threatens to break up the partnership.
What’s wrong with it?
Aside from the musical numbers and a couple of changes – primarily the expansion of Ulla’s role from just the dancing secretary and the casting of Liebkind as Hitler in place of the hippy Lorenzo St Dubois – the film is almost slavishly committed to the recreation of the original movie. Nathan Lane is a good enough actor to carry it off, but Broderick is no Gene Wilder.
The Producers was made in 1968. It’s got some issues with its depictions of women and homosexuals which are very much a symptom of its time. The musical remake keeps a lot of these issues, and while it successfully makes the original’s touch of homophobia into a commentary on the attitudes of the time, Ulla’s reinvention as an actual character is less successful, in large part because it renders our leads more horribly lecherous than the originals.
By inserting it into the existing story the Ulla/Bloom romance has no build, no lead and no credibility, and plays more as Bloom’s ‘nice guy’ reward than as a real romance.
As tends to be the case, the musical numbers are hit and miss. The film also makes it clear why someone else did Simba’s singing voice.
What’s right with it?
The highlight of the film remains the big number, ‘Springtime for Hitler’, which is just as gloriously offensive as in the original, and is sung in the most part by a terrifyingly Aryan John Barrowman.
While Broderick is only so-so, and Thurman’s cooing fake-Swedish can be grating, the rest of the cast are excellent.
While not all of the songs are great, some of them are. In addition to ‘Springtime for Hitler’, ‘I Wanna Be a Producer’ is Broderick’s big number and ‘Along Came Bialy’ is a flamboyant chorus number with little old ladies in place of leggy showgirls.
How bad is it really?
The Producers is pretty good, but despite the musical numbers it is just a little too devoted to the memory of its original. I don’t know what it would be like to come at it cold, but its impossible not to compare the two if you know the 1968 version, and in many regards this leaves it wanting, while in others it preserves unfortunate attitudes of the past.
Best bit (if such there is)?
While I criticise the film’s devotion to the original, if you made a version of The Producers where ‘Springtime for Hitler’ wasn’t the highlight, you’d have really fucked up.
What’s up with…?
- Matthew Broderick’s attempt to recreate Gene Wilder’s ‘blue blanket’ take? That was never going to flatter him.
Production values – Slick and pretty, with just a touch of the stage about its look, the production of The Producers is a nice nod to both of its originators. 4
Dialogue and performances – For the most part, excellent, but Broderick is the weak link and Ulla’s entire characterisation is a grating reminder of an era in which even the Muppets acknowledged the Swedish Chef spoke ‘fake Swedish’. 9
Plot and execution – For the most part transferring the story of the original, the film’s greatest flaws come from too-closely mirroring the original. There is also a pointless cul de sac in which Bloom flees to Brazil (a country with an extradition treaty with the US) for the sake of a single, not all that good, number. 8
Randomness – Ulla and Bloom’s relationship seems literally to be there just to be there, with unfortunate implications. 7
Waste of potential – It feels like this could have been better as its own thing, rather than so slavishly aping the originals. On the other hand, maybe I’d be saying the opposite if it had tried. 10