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THE PRODUCERS

Starring: Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick and Uma Thurman
Director: Susan Stroman
Rated: M

IN 1968 Mel Brooks surprising won an Oscar for his screenplay, The Producers, a potentially controversial comedy which ran the risk of bad taste (and won) and of upsetting Jewish and other sensibilities about Hitler and World War II.

But Brooks, taking a cue from Chaplin’s mockery of his look-alike, Hitler, in The Great Dictator, has always thought that an effective way of attacking is by satire and mockery – making a fool of Hitler.

So, not only did The Producers pay off, it moved Brooks from a TV writer and performer to a screen director and actor for almost three decades.

When The Producers was turned into a Broadway show, a musical comedy, it lacked the surprise element of the earlier film.

On the other hand, it now had a bigger, brighter and more lavish opportunity to flaunt its satire and mockery – and was an award-winning success.

There was a version of the jaw-dropping Springtime for Hitler song and dance routine in 1968.

But, now, along with some other spoofing songs, it is a showstopper.

But, not quite.

That, of course, is the intention of impresario Max Bialystock and his mousy accountant Leo Bloom.

By raising huge money for a huge show and it closing after opening night, their literal understanding of showstopper, the loss means that they don’t have to pay back investors.

When people start to walk out of Springtime, disgusted, someone suggests it is a send up. The audience returns to their seats and they applaud it.

Success – and disaster for the producers.

Mel Brooks has made some very funny films (Blazing Saddles – even with its Warner Brothers lot musical extravaganza finale – Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety, History of the World Part 1).

But, he loves to makes jokes in bad taste. The usual word is “outrageous”.

And there is no let up here in the vulgar, the innuendo and the just plain corny.

He is no Noel Coward but he has “a talent to amuse”.

The film version of the Broadway show is quite theatrical in style (from the theatre’s director, Susan Stroman).

In many ways (too many ways?), it is a widescreen close-up of the musical.

Much of the acting and enunciation could seem over-acting. Rather, it is hyper-acting.

Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick are re-creating their stage performances.

Uma Thurman, surprising with her singing and dancing, is just right as Ulla.

The camp aspects are played to the hilt (or wherever), mocking the gay theatrical culture flamboyantly.

Gary Beach is in-your-face memorable as the director/actor.

Will Ferrell does a funny turn as a dumb Nazi loyalist.

Which brings us back to the Hitler theme.

Those who have suffered under tyrants need to draw desperately on a sense of humour when their tormentor is the stuff of comedy (like Iraqis who experienced Saddam Hussein while watching the South Park send-ups).

But the Jewish Brooks proves that the sincerest form of attack is mockery.

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