Accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) tells down-on-his-luck producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel), who has to charm wealthy widows to raise money for his plays, that he could make far more money from an outright flop. None of his ‘angels’ would expect anything back from a flop.
Their formula for failure is a musical called Springtime For Hitler. It boasts a dance line of jack-booted chorus girls and such catchy lyrics as “Don’t be stupid, be a smarty, come and join the Nazi Party!”.
The reactions on the audience’s faces during the first act register complete horror. However, by the end of the evening the house is in raptures and the critics have rushed off to write eulogies for the morning papers. Bialystock is ruined – his flop is a hit.
Mel Brooks’s first feature film has become the stuff of legend, spawning not only a successful Broadway musical – which itself became a film – but also an entire season of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Brooks is unquestionably the monarch of the worst possible taste, but the nerve of a man who could manifest such an idea, in any shape or form, is awesome.
Furthermore, The Producers was released in 1968 when, all over Europe and America, people were marching against oppression and aggression.
However, the movie is achingly funny: the dialogue and sight gags are painful, there is not an ounce of subtlety anywhere, everywhere is ear-splitting frenzy. On-stage is marginally calmer than off.
Mostel’s Bialystock, with a fringe of hair swept over from neck to neck, is forcefully desperate while Wilder’s Bloom is timidly hysterical.
Brooks said of his movie that it “rose below vulgarity”. It set him off on a path which soon became a series of trademarks – broad comic caricatures, ethnic Jewish humour, gags piling up in struggling heaps and, most of all, a level of tastelessness which almost becomes its own art form.
“Hold me, touch me” old lady
Roger De Bris
Lorenzo St Du Bois