Written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.
In 2005, Susan Stroman released The Producers, adapted from the 2001 Broadway musical which was based off the 1968 film of the same name directed by Mel Brooks. Starring Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Uma Thurman, Will Ferrell, Gary Beach, Roger Bart, Jon Lovitz, Michael McKean, David Huddleston, Eileen Essell, Debra Monk, Andrea Martin, John Barrowman, Marilyn Sokol, and Brooks, the film grossed $38 million at the box office. It was nominated for the Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Best Performance in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Best Supporting Performance in a Motion Picture – Drama, Musical or Comedy, and Best Original Song.
Failed Broadway producer Max Bialystock and accountant turned partner Leo Bloom find out that the biggest way to get rich quick is to oversell shares in a Broadway production and then deliberately produce a horrific flop that closes in one night. After looking through a number of scripts, they choose Springtime for Hitler, written by Franz Liebkind. However, the show turns out to be a huge hit.
Though it’s not a spectacularly great film, this adaptation of The Producers is still pretty decent and quite fun. It hits pretty much all the same notes the original film touched on, but presented a few interesting changes. One example being the character of LSD was omitted from the final product. However, what the film ended up presenting its audience by leaving him out is pretty interesting and makes for good comedy. At first, Liebkind is going to perform as Hitler, which makes some sort of sense in the minds of Bialystock and Bloom as having an unapologetic Nazi play the main character of his “love letter to Hitler” would make for a terrible show. Yet, he breaks his leg and it’s then up to the flamboyantly gay director, Roger De Bris, to play the dictator. The effect is the same with the audience believing the choice to be the reason of satire and therefore loving it, but it’s actually pretty funny to see a character like De Bris playing Hitler.
Now, while the adaptation itself is decent and fun, what hurts it is how the film is presented. Honestly, it feels like it was lifted straight from its Broadway stage and wasn’t exactly scaled for film. As such, it really feels like the actors are a little bit too close and the action is a little bit too exaggerated. Further, some of the lines had to be changed to make more sense for a film, such as Ulla stating that she did the painting during her lunch, rather than during intermission. However, there is one joke that cleverly survived the transition from stage to screen and that’s when Ulla asks why Leo went “so far stage right” which is changed to her asking him why he went “so far camera right?” The presentation isn’t necessarily bad, but it could have and should have been properly scaled down.
Even though the scale isn’t quite right, the acting is pretty decent since Lane and Broderick were both able to shift their performances pretty well. Lane does well in presenting his usual high energy, flamboyant and very loud style and Broderick is able to present panicked and nervous pretty decently throughout the film, especially when it’s realized that they’ve produced a hit. As for Ferrell, he gives off such a good and energetic performance that it’s quite possible not to recognize him at first and Thurman is able to deliver Ulla’s lines fantastically, giving an odd sort of reality to a character that remains (for the most part) oblivious to how much of a ditz she is.
A notable aspect to this film is it also retained the musical style that it had on Broadway, which also helped to differentiate it from the original film. The songs are done pretty well here too, with one of the most interesting being “I Wanna Be a Producer” which gives good contrast to how Bloom is feeling at his current accountant job with the elation that he feels at the possibility of being a producer. The other accountants acting like drones singing how they’re “unhappy, unhappy … very, unhappy” also helps. “Keep it Gay” is also pretty funny, especially when it comes to the film seeing just how weird it can go during the song and have De Bris and his assistants treat it as an everyday, normal occurrence.
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