Another Film That Didn’t Make My Top Ten List
It should have made the top ten. ‘The Producers’ is a touchstone film for me. I saw it when it came out at the cinema in a double bill with ‘Where’s Poppa?’ (or possibly ‘Kentucky Fried Movie’). The plot; terminally nervous accountant Gene Wilder attempts to do the books of sleazy theatrical agent Zero Mostel, who terrifies him into the creation of a scam, the entire scene conducted in the agent’s gruesomely claustrophobic office.
Mostel bullies Wilder into going along with the scheme – ‘Under the right circumstances a producer could make more with a flop than a hit!’. They find the worst script in the world but ‘Springtime For Hitler’ becomes a huge hit, sending them to jail.
Why does it work better than any other Mel Brooks movie? For a start it’s a virtual two-hander with actors who have an astonishing rapport – remember when they had comic acting in Hollywood films? – and there are more funny lines and catchphrases than in almost any film I can think of.
But I then saw it again when I was setting up a company with my business partner and we felt like Bialystock & Bloom, working from a dingy office in Wardour Street on rubbish movies no-one wanted to see. I’d been cast in the Gene Wilder role, and I remember standing at the back of a theatre watching something we’d staged just like Max and Leo did. Roger De Bris crops up briefly in Mel Brooks’ next film, the underrated ‘The Twelve Chairs’, and Mostel and Wilder made Ionesco’s ‘Rhinoceros’ together after this, not so successfully. But it’s Brooks’ career highlight, before he descended into film parodies (although ‘Blazing Saddles’ is still hilarious, partly for the quality of its casting.
If you haven’t seen it for a while watch it again. It retains its charm although it’s now a time capsule, especially when the lovely Ulla goes into her dance. The musical version played in London with Lee Evans and Nathan Lane, possible the best pairing outside of Mostel and Wilder. The film version of the musical is, if nothing else, a good recorded souvenir of the play, with one hilarious sequence – the little old ladies in Central Park.