Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Mel Brooks, Part One: The Producers

Mel Brooks is something of an icon of comedy. He's responsible for some of the funniest movies in the past forty-two years. So I thought I'd take some time to look back at the man's films, starting from the very beginning. I'm not tackling such things as the Get Smart TV show, simply because I haven't seen much of it. I'm simply sticking to the films that he was majorly involved in.
The year is 1968, and Mel Brooks creates a movie that almost is never released. It is saved, in fact, by Peter Sellers, who ends up watching The Producers by mistake. If The Producers had failed, these reviews probably wouldn't be up here. It's the one that started them all, and I love it to death.

Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) is a Broadway producer who simply can't make a successful play anymore. This situation has forced him to desperate measures, such as romancing little old ladies, to get money for each production. In a chance encounter with an accountant, Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder), Max hatches a plot. Why? Because under the right circumstances, it's possible to make more money with a flop than with a hit-- assuming you're a dishonest man.

After some deliberation, Bialystock and Bloom discover their winner, a play that is sure to make all their dreams come true, a sure-fire, close-before-the-first-act-is-done, horribly offensive musical diamond in the rough. What is it? you might ask.

"Springtime for Hitler," of course.

With this film, Mel Brooks struck comedy gold-- not fool's gold, but real gold. There is hardly a moment I can watch without laughing at something. It's just chock-full of gags that simply get me every time. The events leading up to the play, which include casting a hippie as Hitler and hiring a director who makes his first appearance in a dress, are wonderful, escalating fantastically. Gene Wilder's Bloom is many times the audience's viewpoint, asking how everything got so crazy and why that director is wearing a dress, anyway.

But the real payoff comes when the play opens. There is a nice twist, which I won't spoil for you if you somehow haven't seen this (remedy immediately). Before the twist, however, is the opening number. Epic in its tackiness, glorious in its offensiveness, and magnificent in its failure, there is nothing quite like it. Thinking about it, I'm almost tempted to change my Top 25 Movie Scenes to put it in there. Suffice it to say, a classic, and one I watch every year at least once.

Brooks-o-meter: 10/10

Coming Soon: The Twelve Chairs.

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