Thursday, November 15, 2018

CMBA Outlaws Blogathon: The Producers (1967): It's Criminally Joyous

This is my entry in the Classic Movie Blog Association's Outlaws Blogathon. Click here for more outrageous cinematic lawbreakers.

Zero + Gene = Love
They're adorable, they're hysterical, they're lovable. They're desperate con men and deliberate thieves. They're Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom and they are "The Producers."
Words don't do this justice
Let me say right out of the gate: I love this film, almost above all others. It is by far my favorite comedy. Where to start? 

Max gives his all for his art
In a nutshell, Mel Brooks' "The Producers" tells the story of once-successful-but-now-down-on-his-luck Broadway Producer Max Bialystock and his accountant, Leo Bloom. Max, who has produced a long string of flops of late, keeps his enterprise afloat by romancing elderly (and frisky) women to finance his next play. He's dishonorable, greedy and desperate. Leo Bloom, a timid accountant, finds an error while auditing the books for Max's last play, which presumably made a few dollars. While Max attempts to persuade Leo to ignore the error, Leo has a revelation: the books for a Broadway failure would never be audited. If more than 100% of shares were sold, who would know? And so, a dastardly scheme was hatched and a beautiful friendship was born.

Neurotic, hysterical and a budding criminal
First, the fraud. Arm-locked in the scheme to mount the worst play in the history of Broadway, one sure to lose a bundle, the pair strikes gold with something called "Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp With Adolph and Eva at Berchtesgaden." A love letter to Hitler, it is written by the proud and totally nuts Nazi Franz Liebkind. Words can not do justice to the comical discomfort felt by 2 Jews who entertain the ravings of this lunatic (including wearing a swastika before they peel it off with revulsion as soon as they are out of Liebkind's sight) in order to get the rights to his play.
Courting the author: a producer does what a producer has to do
Now that the play has been found, it is important to find just the right (wrong) cast and crew. Over the top gay director Roger De Bris is chosen and hippy-dippy, improv actor Lorenzo St. Dubois (otherwise known as LSD) appears as their perfect Hitler. There's no way this can succeed, right? The boys  gleefully dream of their financially secure future with this over-sold turkey and lease some posh office space with a sexy secretary. All the while, Max continues to do his part by romancing his little old ladies and overselling shares of "Springtime for Hitler." Note here that Max is doing all the heavy lifting.

Hold Me! Touch Me! Max's couch gets a workout
Estelle Winwood is especially frisky and funny as a lady known only as Hold Me! Touch Me! (the words she coos to Max when they meet for their tryst).

Getting up close and personal with the Reich
Ah, the best laid plans. After a stunning musical number of the title song, the audience is appalled and success at failure seems assured. But wait, LSD, vamping as a totally cool and kooky Hitler, send the audience into hysterics and they view it as a comedy. Making fun of Hitler! What a concept! And just like that, the play is deemed a hit. Max and Leo are doomed and author Liebkind becomes unhinged as his Fuhrer is mocked. As Max says, "I picked the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast...where did I go right?" Max and Leo turn on one another (Leo, as Leo would, wants to turn himself in), but are united again when author Liebkind tries to kill the pair and them himself, but runs out of bullets. The 3 band together to try and blow up the theater - anything to stop this success and the assault on Liebkind's hero - but are foiled and arrested. They are all sent to prison after being found not just guilty, but incredibly guilty.

Dick Shawn is a groovy Fuhrer
Have no fear. The lure of larceny and the boards can't be quelled behind bars. Our last view of Max and Leo find them mounting a prison show called "Prisoners of Love," and happily over-selling shares of the production to the prison guards. You can't keep a good con man down.

A little "Springtime for Hitler" for your viewing pleasure (it never gets old):

So, that's the story. But the real joy of the film is the loving relationship of Max and Leo. Leo, timid and nervous, finds a father figure in Max, a father figure who builds him up and gives him courage. And Max, that heartless cynic who never let a good scam get by him, finds a surrogate son in Leo. He should simply dismiss the boy, but he can't because he knows Leo needs him and he needs Leo.

Partners in crime. What fun!
The jokes are just too numerous to detail. Let's just say Mel Brooks hits a home run with story, character and jokes. The story is so strong that, years later  in 2001 it became a hit Broadway musical starring a brilliant Nathan Lane as Max (forget the film version of this play; stick with the original).

So, yes, Max and Leo were outlaws, but look what they and this film gave us: an unforgettable film debut for Gene Wilder, Dick Shawn at his wildest best, the Busby Berkeley-style overhead dance of in-synch swastikas of "Springtime for Hitler," the crystallization of the mad genius cinematic voice of Mel Brooks and, above all, a performance for the ages by Zero Mostel. 

Like all great films, words can't convey the wonder of "The Producers." You have to see it. Hold Me!Touch Me! had it right. Sometimes you just have to say "thank you," even when you know your pockets are being picked.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Clearing Out My DVR Part 2: Madam Satan (1930); A Dress, A Dirigible and a Dame

I love my DVR. Next to the Keurig coffee maker and the GPS, it is an invention that changed my life for the better. However, unlike the coffee maker, which gratifies me instantly with hot coffee and the GPS, that provides quick and (usually) correct directions, the DVR requires that I actually watch the movies I record. This year I have vowed to clean out the recordings in my DVR by actually watching them.

Next up: Madam Satan (1930)

I can honestly say that I have never liked anything directed by Cecil B. De Mille. This includes the fabled pre-code "Madam Satan." While not the biblical De Mille epic, it has all the hallmarks of CB's style: long stretches of boring nonsense punctuated by spectacle and sin.

On the minus side

The 2 leads, Kay Johnson and Reginald Denny, are very uninteresting. I loathed the both of them. Kay Johnson, as wife Angela, suffers as a good little wife should while her cheating husband, Bob, who runs around town with his drinking buddy Jimmy (Roland Young), flagrantly disrespects his marriage vows with booze, women and good times. His wife, he states, is a bore. While I don't admire Bob, I have to concur.

When the wife is a bore, the husband has the right to cat around, right?
The story is simply ridiculous. I'll spare you the details, but it is just one of those silly farces where the wife disguises herself and adopts a phony French accent. Bob, like all of the husbands in these situations, fails to recognize his wife under the disguise, has his ardor is rekindled by feminine wiles and, presto,  their marriage is saved. 
Bedroom farce, marital lies, mistaken identity... yawn
It is long. Maybe if it was just one of those quickie little pre-codes it might have been less objectionable, but it goes on for almost 2 hours.

On the plus side

Lillian Roth. The costumes aboard the blimp are fabled, but I thought the very best this about this film was Lillian Roth. As Trixie, the Other Woman, she is adorable, she is sassy, she has spark and I wish there was more of her. Check her out:

Roland Young, as the buddy with the blimp, is fun, too - in small doses.

The costume ball get-ups are quite legendary, a real flight of fantasy by designer Adrian. Feast your eyes:

and Trixie, of course:

The real show-stopper was Madam Satan's gown. If only the lady inside the gown was equally alluring.

And then there is that soiree of the blimp. First, we have dancing clocks and then a bizarre musical homage to electricity (which takes the whole thing down with a lightening strike).

Really, I just don't know what to say about this:

Then some debauchery with scantily clad women. Someone recognizes Trixie by her appendectomy scar. Bob pretty much makes an attempt to ravage Madam Satan in a very distasteful way, but, hey, it's De Mille.

Really, Bob... you can't tell that is your wife?
The whole thing ends in a stupid and mildly offensive way (hey lady, your marriage is in trouble because you aren't sexy enough). Really, it's just stupid. And way too long. 

Next up: The More the Merrier (1943)