The Producers Review
The Producers is a film which has taken a rare cinematic trip. Starting life as a much loved feature in 1968, then transposed to Broadway as a fully-fledged musical many years later, it now returns once more to the big screen, this time as the film of the musical. As such we have a piece which is required to live up to not one, but two sources: on the one hand it has to contend with 1968 version which marked Mel Brooks directorial debut and starred Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder; on the other it has to honour the hugely popular stage musical directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman, written by Brooks (both songs and script) and starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. Of course, with the latter four each replicating their earlier roles, it is the newer Producers which is more integral to this version, yet ideally it would strike a balance between the two, one which moves away from the inherent theatricality of the Broadway version, but maintains the comic dimensions which allowed both to become such hits.
In this respect the return of Lane and Broderick, and especially Stroman, could be read as both a good and a bad thing. Of course, it brings this particular Producers closer to the stage version than it does the 1968 incarnation, but is it a little too close? Certainly, that grandiosity and largess which characterises stage musicals, especially populist ones, is very much in effect and hasn’t been toned down in the slightest. The outtakes featured amongst the extras reveal that Stroman used multiple camera set ups for the most part and we continually get the impression that she is simply filming her stage efforts as opposed to adapting them. Consequently, everything else about this version has to remain similarly big in order to fit in.
It helps then that Lane and supporting player Will Ferrell (to use the most well-known faces) are such regularly over-the-top performers. A downplayed appearance from either is a rare thing and as such both blend in easefully with Stroman’s larger impulses whilst also maintaining continuity with their big screen personas. Broderick, however, arrives with a character turn at odds with previous cinematic appearances in an effort to keep up with the grandstanding of Lane and Ferrell. We find an odd hybrid of Wilder, Jerry Lewis and Stan Laurel which, in this context, doesn’t quite come off; in the back of our minds we’ve always got the actor’s more familiar and less immediately overt performances to compare with.
Furthermore, the fidelity to the stage version is such that this particular Producers feels somewhat excessive on the big screen. For those who are unaware the plot involves a has-been theatre producer and a nebbish accountant who arrive at the scheme of putting on an over-financed sure-fire flop - in this case a pro-Nazi musical on the life of Hitler - and then pocketing excess funds in the knowledge that the lack of a profit means that they’ll never have to repay their investors. In 1968 this played really quite well at a duration of little over an hour, yet this current incarnation we’re only a little short of two and a half hours and the results are, quite frankly, bloated. For all the additional musical numbers, The Producers is still just a moderate little comedy and therefore needs to be treated as such - it certainly isn’t the epic which we’re extremely close to finding here.
That said, The Producers works well for the most part and, despite the gap of 37 years between this film and the first, fits in almost seamlessly with current cinematic trends. Maintaining the late fifties setting of the original, this is a film which offers up flamboyant homosexuals and Swedish women who are, of course, blonde and spend their time jiggling their breasts - in other words, it’s all in such gleefully bad taste. In fact, it almost makes you miss Brooks somewhat and has you wonder as to why he hasn’t capitalised more on this current era of Ferrell, frat comedies, Jackass and the like. Of course, the Broadway reinvigoration (and there’s also talk of transpositions of both Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein) are no doubt lucrative, yet given this re-acquaintance with success perhaps he should try his hand at something new and rehabilitate for the likes of Dracula Dead and Loving It and Life Stinks.
Coming to R2 courtesy of Sony, The Producers arrives on DVD pretty much as you’d expect from a new release. The film has been taken from a spotless print, is presented in its original aspect ratio (2.35:1, anamorphically enhanced) and demonstrates only negligible technical problems. Indeed, there are the occasional instances of edge enhancement, but these are minor by no means distracting. Otherwise, this a very much a pleasing presentation and much the same is true of the soundtrack. Offering up a DD5.1 mix, the disc copes ably with both the song and dance numbers and the comic dialogue. Both remain crisp and clear throughout, not once demonstrating any problems. Admittedly, a DTS track would have been welcome given the musical dimension, but then the DD5.1 does well nonetheless.
As for extras, the disc sadly presents something of a mixed bag. Stroman’s commentary is exceptionally poor, coming across as a piece which is being performed as opposed to offering up any genuine discussion and as a result is difficult to connect with. The director simply tells us how great everyone is and by the end we’re none the wiser. More interesting is the ‘Anatomy of a Scene’ featurette which takes us through Broderick’s ‘I Want To Be a Producer’ number. Admittedly the piece never quite rises above the usual EPK standards, but then it does at least allow some input from Brooks and the leading actors. Elsewhere the disc also provides a number of deleted scenes, the majority of which merely provide minor additions to material already present, and a hefty 15 minutes of outtakes which, understandably, are dominated by Lane. Rounding off the package we also have a trio of cross-promotional trailers for other Sony releases.