The Producers (Mel Brooks / U.S., 1967):

There are terrible librettos and then there's Mein Kampf, Mel Brooks at his most gleeful puts on the spectacle it deserves. ("Talk about bad taste," snaps the indignant dowager while Lubitsch's ghost smiles from the heavens.) The former King of Broadway (Zero Mostel) is now a shabby impresario with a cardboard belt and a flock of geriatric sugar mamas, his grand inspiration balloons out of "a little academic accounting theory" courtesy of a timorous clerk (Gene Wilder). The fountain of corruption ejaculates most lyrically, so off they clomp to find the overproduced flop that will multiply their profits, the Krazy Kraut specked with pigeon shit (Kenneth Mars) has it: "Springtime for Hitler—A Gay Romp With Eva and Adolf at Berchtesgaden." The making of the farrago encompasses a flaming avant-gardist (Christopher Hewett) for director and an acidhead ninny (Dick Shawn) as der Führer, ebullient Ziegfeld choreography gives a Busby Berkeley view of the swastika... and of course the public's shock turns to delight. "Will the dancing Hitlers please wait in the wings? We're only seeing singing Hitlers." The Great White Way is the kitsch bridge for the Third Reich and the Age of Aquarius; the joke is flaunted by the pinball-eyed embezzlers but best understood by Brooks himself, who in his feature debut already knows that vulgarity is both meticulous art and timeless industry. Strutting evil is sent up with a steamroller and representational pop gets its own shpritz in the eye, the performers take turns playing hammer to the camera's anvil—Mostel hurtles through like a circus bear with a Stradivarius, Wilder is dubbed "Prince Myshkin" and rises magnificently to the challenge, damp security blanket in hand. (Joyce, Tolstoy and Kafka are some of the other signposts floating through the pungent shtick.) "You are the audience! I am the author! I outrank you!" Even behind bars the show must go on, the lessons learned fall to Syberberg (Hitler: ein Film aus Deutschland) and Lee (Bamboozled). With Andreas Voutsinas, Lee Meredith, Estelle Winwood, Renée Taylor, and William Hickey.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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