November 14, 1968 [The Producers]

I’m amazed The Producers isn’t two or three or more movies, that it can contain that much impish glee--OK: joy--in an hour and a half. Zero Mostel--so beloved by Mel Brooks (and the rest of us, he assumes with a confident smile) that in the credits he’s simply “Zero”--and one Gene Wilder (his face doggedly familiar in its round-eyed foolishness--until I remembered him as the hapless undertaker-boyfriend hijacked by Bonnie and Clyde last year)--the two of them so confident in their perfection that they make generous room for a delirious Dick Shawn (still under the impression that it’s a mad mad mad mad world), and that Teutonic visitor from another movie, Kenneth Mars, whose toe-tapping Nazi I could listen to all night, crooning and cooing like one of his “filthy, disgusting boids.”

Why is this movie perfect? It’s loud and obvious, its fists clenched as it insists it’s hilarious--but I caved in to this bully, with my mouth wide open to laugh. Wilder orchestrates this, riding the Mostel Express, murmuring and whining and shrieking, his hysteria our cue to find it all hysterical.

Brooks has made an almost-movie that is all comedy. Nothing’s allowed in that isn’t funny--or trying to be. Only one spark of sentiment is allowed--and it’s the one that raises all the noise and outrage to a joy I cannot deny: the friendship between Leo and Max, two sides of New York--frightened and the frightener--combusting like a Jewish blitzkrieg. As Leo finds happiness, so do we--the Hitler-gag so appalling it works. I liebe it baby, I liebe it.


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