The Producers, the 1968 version, is perhaps my favorite movie, at least comedy, of all time. It's a close call between Mel Brooks' loving salute to his favorite Nazi and Dr. Strangelove for the top of my comedy leader board. I never saw the Broadway production of The Producers, written by Brooks, except for the few scenes shown in a classic Curb Your Enthusiasm episode last year, so when I walked into the theater to see the movie version of the Broadway musical, I was going in with a clean slate, as far as the singing and dancing was concerned. As far as the story goes, I basically have the entire movie memorized. From the throw-away lines first uttered by Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, to the ultimate result of Springtime For Hitler, I knew what was coming, and I knew it would be funny. So I concentrated a lot on how well the song and dance numbers supported the story I loved so much. For the most part, the singing and dancing was just fine. The most impressive of the 8 or so song numbers that made it to the movie shows an office filled with unhappy public accountants, and Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick) telling us the viewer why he wants to become a Broadway producer. He is wooed into the business by Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane), who was once king of Broadway, but now has fallen on tough times, where he shows are so bad, the theater has installed a sign that goes from "Opening Night" to "Closing Night" before the end of the first act. While going over Bialystock's financial records, he discovers a play that flops could make more money than a play that does well, sending the two on a quest to produce a sure-fire flop. This leads them to Franz Liebkind (Will Ferrell), a former Nazi who wrote a loving salute to Hitler. The producers also consult the man regarded as the worst director on Broadway, Roger De Bris (Gary Beach) and his common-law assistant, Carmen Ghia (Roger Bart), who may have been together for too long. Their appearance, though, brings on perhaps the funniest song of the movie, "Keep It Gay," where you have to hear it to believe it. Bialystock and Bloom also hire Ulla (Uma Thurman) as their secretary, even though she speaks very little English, but her Swedish assets woo her bosses into giving her a job. The songs are good, though do add to the overall length of the movie. If you are a musical fan, you'll love the fact they kept most of the songs from the play in the movie, but others may feel it slows the movie down a bit. The ending could have been shorten a bit too, it just felt like everyone has having such a great time that they kept adding to the final scenes, just to make sure it never ends. The movie plot is almost scene-for-scene the same as the original movie, though one main character (Dick Shawn's off-the-way funny LSD) does not make it into this new version, possibly because no one would ever be able to match Shawn's performance for the original. Fans of the original movie will appreciate this version overall, but may quibble with the performances of Land and Broderick. I didn't like the whiny, feeble version of Bloom in this movie, and Lane's Bialystock is fine, but not Mostel, as we knew it could never be. One problem? Nathan Lane has too much hair. His comb-over looks reasonable. The musical numbers look like they are right out of Broadway, they look wonderful and sound wonderful too. And here's the most important part: Mel Brooks did not mess up his original genius. Now, if only he could get Mostel and Wilder to sing again, we may have something.
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