Films based on books are commonplace. Films based on plays are likewise ten a penny. Films about putting on plays also have a long tradition in Hollywood, especially when, as here, the “putting on a show” idea provides an excuse for a number of song and dance numbers. On top of this, these days remakes of existing movies seem to be cropping up every month. But it is still rare – in fact well-nigh unprecedented – to get a film adaptation of a play that was itself an adaptation of a film that was about putting on a play.
The original film version of The Producers is by now a modern classic, even though, if we’re honest, the ideas behind it were always rather better than the execution. For those who have somehow managed to avoid knowing anything about it, it revolves around a couple of (Jewish) New York theatre producers who work out a scam by which they can make a fortune by putting on a play which is guaranteed to be a flop. Opting for subject matter they assume cannot do anything but fail – a sympathetic musical portrayal of Hitler’s Germany – disaster strikes when the sheer awfulness of the combination of their lead actor and the script leads audiences to assume that it is intended as a satirical comedy, and love it.
Yet although the original film has entered public consciousness – largely thanks to the superbly bad taste song and dance number “Springtime for Hitler”, and the fact that everyone felt it was OK to laugh at something making light of so serious a subject because writer/director Mel Brooks was Jewish – it was only really once it transferred to the stage a few years ago that the superb ideas on which it was based received the execution they deserved.
For although Mel Brooks has always been some kind of comedy genius, when allowed a free reign he always tends either to let too few bad ideas get through to the extent that they ruin the good, as with his Star Wars spoof Spaceballs, or lacks the technical skills to execute them effectively. The latter was certainly the case with the original film version of The Producers, yet it was brought to the stage by more capable, less self-indulgent hands, and became a roaring success. After a much-lauded Broadway run, it is still running to packed houses in London.
It is the original – if that’s the right word – Broadway version of the play based on the film that this film is based on, rather than being a straight remake of the film on which the play is based on, and the original Broadway leads, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, here resume their roles, as originally created in the 1968 film by Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder.
The end result is really rather good. Although many will still prefer the original lead actors of the original film – perhaps the near-legendary Gene Wilder in particular – this is a rather tighter, more professional-looking production. Which, considering the plot, is somewhat ironic. Either way, whichever version you opt for, The Producers is an entertainingly cringe-making romp, and always good for a night out.