The Producers (1968)

I’m not really a Mel Brooks fan, and while I loved Gene Wilder, I was never a fan of shouty-humor.

THINGS ARE NOT FUNNY JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE SHOUTING!

You see what I mean.

Impossible to not love?
The faces of angels. Calm, non-yelling angels.

As such, when it comes to Mr. Brooks’ films in retrospectives, I have been guarded as far as recommending them to the children. (Not long after this, for example, Blazing Saddles was playing and I suggested we should see it because it was increasingly difficult to show the film for political reasons. But it was playing opposite a Marilyn Monroe double-feature, and we all agreed that we would almost certainly enjoy that more, so we shall have to wait for the next opportunity.) Also, much like with Sunset Blvd., I had to remind the kids that this is not a musical. Which is confusing, because it contains a musical. But it’s not that musical (from the ’90s/00s) in any event.

But we’d all liked Rhinoceros, and so I was cautiously optimistic (or is it cautiously pessimistic?) about this film, because if nothing else you’d have good chemistry between Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder.

Yowza.
Not to mention the “top flight honeys”, as The Flower and call them.

Zero Mostel plays a disreputable play producer in the last throes of his dying career when he stumbles across the feckless Wilder, an accountant who muses that if you could guarantee failure, you could make a lot of money by over-committing shares of the production. You could raise tens of millions of dollars and throw a play up for a few grand and walk away with the money. (This is just a less sophisticated version of Hollywood accounting but let’s not get distracted.) Since Zero has produced an unbroken string of flops, he’s sure he can produce another one by making something so reprehensible nobody would ever want to go see it.

Enter Springtime for Hitler, a musical romp featuring the wacky antics of the Third Reich, as played by a bunch of flower children and, I would swear, at least one black guy. And, of course, it’s not a couple of wash-outs doing it, it’s Mel Brooks entering the height of his creative power, and it’s by far the highlight of the movie. (I think Eichmann was a black actor, which was a nice touch.)

Bad taste?
These days, you’d have no basis for assuming it would flop.

We all liked it. The Boy and I actually preferred Rhinoceros, but for The Flower, the actual musical “Springtime For Hitler” put it over the top.

It was Mel Brooks directorial debut, and that really shows. There are some awkward shots, and some of the jokes don’t “read”, but even fresh out of the gate, Brooks never rests anything too hard on any particular gag or setup. If the jokes aren’t working for you, there’s always the top flight honeys shameless objectification of women. It’s not just a matter of having a girl like Lee Meredith in your film, after all, but having her in for the sole purpose of being a sexy distraction.

Much like Detective Chinatown 2, it hearkens back to times and places where you could do things because you liked them, and they were cool, funny or pretty, without having to weigh them on the impossibly fine scales of social justice. For that, it was refreshing in a way I wouldn’t necessarily have expected.

But they're more nuts than menace, even by 1968.
Gene still has some scruples about working with an actual Nazi.

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