This week our intrepid hosts, Mel and Dan, reviewed a coarse but funny black comedy called Not Okay. It’s a darn good movie—maybe the best movie about influencers, cancel culture, and apology-chic to date. Now, I’ll admit, this isn’t normally my bag. Not the dark comedy of it—I’ve loved that ever since I saw Gremlins. Really, it’s the internet celeb thing I’m just not into.
But as I write, it occurs to me that, truthfully, influencers aren’t much different from the Golden Age’s TV comedians. Both sets use controversy and popularity to their advantage. And, to some degree, both use their hard lives and shattered emotions to bring about entertainment from the masses—though, we must admit, with influencers there’s less of an attempt to hide it. Finally, though it pains me to say such a thing about influencers, both sets are usually expert entertainers in one facet or another, and what’s more, they know how to use the culture surrounding them to their advantage.
And so, for this week’s pairing, I picked a movie written and directed by possibly the greatest of all TV comedians, who then parlayed his talents into becoming one of the greatest comedy auteurs since the days of Chaplin and Keaton. I’m talking about the one and only Mel Brooks, and his all-time classic The Producers.
You don’t know show biz if you don’t know Mel Brooks. This is a guy who came from an unostentatious background and became one of the top writers for Your Show of Shows and Get Smart, as well as performing as the 2000-Year-Old Man.
After realizing his success as a TV performer wouldn’t last in the memory of audiences, Brooks embarked on a career as a writer-director-performer. As a director and writer, he created such classics as Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and Spaceballs. During this time, he continued to write and act, both in his own films and in other projects. Mel also began a production company, Brooksfilms, where most notably he produced David Lynch’s The Elephant Man.
However, all of this success would’ve been impossible without his anarchic, offensive, wickedly comedic breakout debut as a director.
One of the most impressive debut films – and even more remarkable in the comedy genre – The Producers takes several wild and disparate elements and blends them together into an irresistible cocktail. A broke producer, played by the insane Zero Mostel. Gene Wilder as a high-strung bookkeeper. A certifiable musical bomb in the—prepare yourself—PRO-NAZI romp Springtime For Hitler. A gay director; hippie lead actor; more amorous little old ladies than anyone should be comfortable with. Nobody could make this work but Brooks!
And yet this is one of the most consistently funny movies of its decade. This movie arises out of the last years of the golden age studio system in Hollywood, and it shows. As a satire on the corporate greed of showbiz moneymen as well as movies about showbiz, it doesn’t slow down a bit. There really aren’t any boring moments here.
Every performance and character are pitch perfect. Mostel’s Max Biyakistock is a horrible monster of a character who no one ought to admire; but he’s played so likable that we have to fall under his spell. By the end of his scene deciding to produce a flop for profit, we’re convinced it could be a good idea! While, of course, we feel so sorry for Wilder’s sad-sack Leo Bloom that we hope neither protagonist ends up in jail because of their admittedly despicable crime. These two are a comedy team worthy of mention alongside greats like Abbott & Costello and Laurel & Hardy.
As we witness more and more human depravity (that’s the real message of all black comedies, right? People are depraved) throughout, we’re introduced to more and more unsavory but lovable characters. Kenneth Mars’s Nazi script writer is a standout, as well as the crossdressing director, his beatnik assistant, and the free-loving Hitler actor. And when we reach the crest of the film’s story, where the producers actually show their disaster piece onstage, the laughs and gasps and slack-jawed expressions don’t stop. Mel Brooks even gets in an audio cameo as the actor delivering the film’s greatest line (among, of course, many other wonderful dialogue bits): “Don’t be stupid, be a smarty!”—and I’ll let you find out the second half of that rhyme.
While there are dated elements here and a few bits of content (pretzel bra? Swedish receptionist? “Little Old Lady Land”?) that bring down the score of this funny classic, for most audiences this is going to work. Maybe keep the kids away from this, as well as most of Brooks’s work, but don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. Unless, of course, you’re different from Max Biyalistock and your conscience is actually active and asks you not to. I give it three out of four stars on a general scale, but if you have problems with oversexed depictions of women (as I do), I’d bump it down to 2.5. Either way, I recommend you have a good hot dog with this one. It’s very New York, like this joint.
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Stephen McFerron likes movies. It’s that simple. From the lowest depths of the drive-in to the highest peaks of arthouse; the grand golden age to superhero spectacles, he’s all in! Since watching Gremlins and Jaws at a young age, Stephen has had an appetite for the strange and fantastic, as well as the old! If you’re here to explore movie history, or learn more about the best of today, Stephen’s your guide! He may even say something mildly profound along the way… if he’s lucky!
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