Fresh out of the years of McChartyism, Zero Mostel is casted for the part of Max Bialystock next to Gene Wilder, who plays Leo Bloom. With incredible screen chemistry, the two work out a plan. They become aware that by realizing a flop, they could become rich by gaining from the excess profit. They find the worst screenplay, the worst director and the worst cast to put up the worst play possible.
What looks exceeding, is meant to be exceeding, theatrical and hysterical. Even Hula, as the best bimbo-girl/Stepford wife secretary fits the role perfectly as the most un-helpful secretary ever seen. All in the name of non-functionality, the result ends up being an outstanding play. Not of “so bad it’s good” kind, it’s just great. So great that later on, the movie was adapted in Broadway in the format of a play into a play, directed by Susan Stroman.
In today’s climate, it is hard to make this not political. Satire has two faces, one that deprives the object of its power, one that on the long run puts our guards down and leads do an underestimation of the object, in this case hiding the risk held by terms such as “Nazism” and “nationalism” when history repeats itself.
The power of propaganda stands straight to those who don’t see the ridicule of its ceremonials. During the musical number of Spring Time for Hitler and Germany the performers are dressed Nazis or adorned with elements of the German culture, mocking the doings of nationalism. The audience, jaws dropped on the floor, is outraged. How could you mock such a thing. But it bursts into laughs relieved by the realization that it is comedy, and you can laugh at comedy. It might feel like the same effect of seeing The Jerk for the first time.
We have to spend so much time thinking about who has the right to joke on what. If we’re entitled, if it’s too soon. The core of how far you can go in synapsed by Gene Wilder in the courtroom: “The law was created to protect people from being wronged. Your Honor, whom has Max Bialystock wronged? I mean, whom has he really hurt?”.
With The Producers, Mel Books gave us something we can’t easily access today. The freedom to laugh at anything, as long as it’s funny. As a reminder: be free to be amused and fooled by the play, but keep your eyes open for the fraud.