The Producers?

I thought I’d have a new “Friday Fundamentals in Film” post ready for today but time and circumstances worked against me. The next one in the series is imminent, however.

I did, however, recently see a movie that will never make it to the FIF list, but I’ll describe it here as a warning and public service. The movie is The Producers: The Musical, a remake by Mel Brooks of his 1968 comedy classic, with the latest version essentially being a filming of the hit Broadway-musical version of the show.

I ordered the remake from Netflix with both anticipation and trepidation. I loved the original movie and was interested to see how it would look with a real budget, but I was concerned with how it some of my favorite scenes might translate into the modern version. The original was so off-the-wall and unlike anything else I’d ever seen (I don’t think I stumbled across it until the mid-70s) that I’ve always cherished it even though it looked as if it had been written in one weekend and filmed in two. The success of the Broadway version in recent years encouraged me. The fact that I hadn’t noticed the new movie when it was first released to the theaters, however, might have been telling.

The latest version is fast-paced and very slick looking. I will say that I like Nathan Lane as Max Bialystock better than Zero Mostel, but Matthew Broderick as Leo Bloom is no Gene Wilder; in fact, he couldn’t carry Wilder’s blanket. Broderick plays the same whiny nebbish he’s played in The Road to Wellville and The Stepford Wives (a long way from his role as Col. Robert Gould Shaw in Glory). Of course, the role calls for a whiny nebbish, but while Wilder made it funny, Broderick never rises above the annoying.

The best thing the movie did this go-round was to expand the role of Franz Liebkind, the erstwhile Nazi turned playwright. The best and funniest scenes involve Franz, played by Will Ferrell — and I should let you know that I normally cannot abide Will Ferrell. While I missed Dick Shawn as Hitler, the flower-power-hippie role as presented in the original movie obviously was too dated for this version, and updating to a gay parody was inspired. The problem was (as is often the failure with Brooks films) in beating the joke to death. Brooks at his best (Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, imho) sets up the joke, gets the laugh and moves on to the next absurdity. At his worst (e.g., History of the World, Part 1 and Spaceballs – which even so has many funny scenes) you see the joke coming a long way off, it is carried on for way too long, and then repeated again and again. TPTM falls into this bog.

There are some good bits in the new version, and the movie is not bad as a Netflix rental, especially if you keep your expectations low (a service which I hope I have performed).

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