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THE PRODUCERS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars: Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Uma Thurman, Will Farrell, Gary Beach, Roger Bart, Jon Lovitz
Director:  Susan Stroman
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Universal
Features: See Review
Length: 135 Minutes
Release Date: May 16, 2006

“Let’s assume for a moment you were a dishonest man…”

“Assume away!”

Film ***

As the story goes, Mel Brooks originally conceived of The Producers as a Broadway show, but was told by those in the know that it would never work on the stage.  12 Tony Awards and a record-setting box office run later, it looks like Mel was doing what he did best…enjoying the last laugh.

From film to stage and back to film, it’s been a long, fun-filled journey for The Producers.  For the new film, he managed to acquire not only his two leading men from the stage Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, but his director and stage choreographer Susan Stroman as well.  The resulting movie is ambitious, flamboyant, frequently over-the-top…and entertaining as hell.

I never got to see the show in a theatre, but like many, I knew the original film well.  It made a name for Brooks at the cinema.  Now that it’s made a name for him on Broadway as well, I’m very happy to see a bit of the magic preserved for all time on celluloid and DVD. 

The opening number is pure Mel magic, as all of New York…er, celebrates the latest flop from producer Max Bialystock (Lane).  Trying to live out the Broadway dream but doing it very badly, Bialystock spends his days in his office currying monetary favors from little old ladies who…shall we say?…have developed a taste for the producer.

In walks Leo Bloom (Broderick), accountant, who inadvertently stumbles on a lucrative scheme:  over-finance a show that flops, and you could walk away with millions.  The key is making sure your show isn’t a hit, or you go to jail.  Well, Max is the king of no-hitters…how could it possibly fail?

With Leo reluctantly on his arm, Max sets out to produce the flop to end all flops.  He finds the right material, an homage to the last century’s most notorious dictator called Springtime for Hitler, penned by a Nazi lunatic Franz (Ferrell).  He finds an outrageous director (Beach) to make it real.  Then he goes to work on the old ladies (their tap dance numbers with walkers is a scream).

Then, to make matters even more interesting, in walks the sultry Ulla (Thurman), ready to give the audition of her life to Max and Leo.  Yes, friends, Uma sings, Uma dances…Uma has a blast stealing the show from her heralded Broadway co-stars.

Well, the sure-fire flop opens…and it’s proclaimed a satirical masterpiece.  Max finally has his elusive hit…and he’s facing a nice long jail sentence as a result.  Do Max and Leo have just one more trick up their sleeves?  Hey, it’s the movies!…or the stage.  Take your pick.

The film is funny and gleefully energetic, with Lane, Broderick and cast giving it their absolute all.  It’s short on subtlety but big on laughs and great numbers (music and lyrics by Mr. Brooks himself).  Sometimes translating theatrical performances to film is a bit tricky…what works on stage is sometimes waaaay to big for the screen.  There are moments like that throughout.  But it’s still such good, infectious fun.  How can we resist?

I don’t know how many more plays and movies Mel Brooks has in him…hopefully many more.  But if he should retire, he can rest comfortably knowing that The Producers was a superb curtain call.  Too bad we’ll probably never get to see Max and Leo actually producing Death of a Salesman…On Ice, but we can always imagine the possibilities.

Video ***1/2

This anamorphic transfer from Universal is quite lovely, capturing all the color and style of 1950s Broadway in terrific digital fashion.  Details levels are strong throughout, and images are sharp and clear and well-rendered.

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix serves the songs mostly, but hey, it’s a musical, right?  The catchy numbers give the track some snap and dynamic range, and the spoken words sound solid against the many beds of music.

Features ***

The commentary track from Susan Stroman is a delight.  She sings words to Universal’s opening logo, words penned for the movie by Mel Brooks and never used.  Considering she helmed both the stage show and the movie, she has a lot of wonderful information and insights to share, which she delivers with charm and humor.

There is also an analysis of the “I Wanna Be a Producer” number, some outtakes, and  8 deleted scenes, including some unseen musical numbers!

Summary:

Neither the original movie or the new musical version made me want to be a producer, but I’ll always be happy to watch them in action.  We can all thank Mel Brooks for having the insight to preserve a piece of his record breaking Broadway success on film, with his original director and original stars.  Mr. Brooks, you’ll always be the one we play "hold-me-touch-me" with in our hearts.

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