The new musical film version of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” is both a very entertaining update of a classic film and a valuable snapshot of the recent stage smash. While the film was largely overlooked during its recent release to movie theaters, it is very much worth seeking out.The film is a very faithful adaptation of the stage musical, all the way down to the sets and even specific elements of the staging. I saw the stage show during its 2003 Los Angeles run and found the film to be a very familiar parallel to that experience. This is not a negative, as the material generally translates well to film, retaining a very large percentage of the humor and charm of the stage version.
Part of this success comes from the fact that the material actually originated on film with Brooks’ 1968 non-musical version. This path of film to stage to film results in an unusual case where the new film is both a faithful stage adaptation and, at times, almost a shot-by-shot remake of the earlier film. While “Little Shop of Horrors” followed a similar path nearly two decades ago, the variation was much greater as the stage production did not as closely follow the content of the original film, which was also not nearly as good as the original film version of “The Producers”. This film is nearly unprecedented in the way that it is able to directly mine elements from both previous incarnations. The result is an interesting and entertaining mix of the two, although I wouldn’t consider it a replacement for either the original classic movie or the more complete stage version of the musical.
Among the most important accomplishments of this film is that it is able to capture several key performances from the original Broadway cast of the show. As Max Bialystock, Nathan Lane gives his all in what is easily his most impressive film role to date. Lane was really a perfect choice for this role in that he has a similar on-screen personality to Zero Mostel, who originated the role in the earlier film, but he also has the talent to make the role his own rather than an imitation. His performance is similar enough to be a convincing variation on the character as established through Mostel’s performance, but he brings a manic energy and theatricality to the role that gives it some new dimension. Some reviewers have argued that the performance is over-the-top for a movie and that Lane should have dialed back his performance, but I really think this would have been a mistake. The performance absolutely is more broad and dynamic than we typically see in modern movies, but that is exactly how his character should be.