Director: Mel Brooks
Release Date: 18th March 1968
The quest to make the biggest Broadway flop has become a classic many have lined up to see. In the cinemas and in the theatres, we all enjoy a bit of Springtime For Hitler. But which version delivers the best display of Hitler’s misunderstood past? It’s an original versus remake match up and the only way to decide a winner is to get down and dirty. Bring a weapon or and leave your swastika badge at home.
The story is about two men who get together to try to make the biggest Broadway flop in history so they can run away with the riches they won’t have to pay up. We have producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel in the original and Nathan Lane in the remake) and accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder in the original and Matthew Broderick in the remake), one loud and the other anxious. They make a great team as they look for the worst play, worst director and worst actors and the script they use is ‘Springtime For Hitler’.
A play which glorifies Hitler cannot possibly go down well with the masses, and both versions stay on the same track for the most part. The remake adds to the original with songs forced into each scene, none which deliver in quite the same way as the super catchy ‘Springtime For Hitler’ piece of both versions. Extra plotlines are also thrown in, notably extra depth for Leo Bloom who we see at work and in also in love with their secretary Ulla (Lee Meredith in the original and Uma Thurman in the remake). She’s used as just a joke in the original rather than a fully realised character. But I can’t help but feel the new scenes and story only get in the way of the fun of the core plotline.
The original has a great cast. Gene Wilder as Leo Bloom has about one hundred times more charisma than Matthew Broderick and most of the scenes used in both tend to come out weaker in the remake. Everyone involved feels like they are merely imitating when they aren’t in song and dance, Will Ferrell as ex-Nazi Franz Liebkind just comes across as a silly Will Ferell unlike Kenneth Mars who manages to create that crazed Nazi persona without any blemishes seeping through. I also find it unusual that the whole cast in the remake mimic the original in dress and appearance. I think a successful remake should try to move as far as possible to avoid direct fire. True Grit is an example of a remake completely recreating the costume styles to help differentiate from the rather old-fashioned dress sense of the original.
The remake reuses most the jokes of the original, and they tend to be the best parts of the new edition. There is the silly Mel Brooks slap stick and corny jokes abound, but they always manage to raise a smile. The only misfire of both versions is the rather sluggish cringe worthy start which uses a great deal of shouting to try and bring the laughter. It’s when the two films get going that they move onto the funny scenes. Wearing swastikas to get the ex-Nazi script writer on board and having everyone looked disgusted at the opening of the play are two highlights both versions share.
The remake trips up once again though as it loses some of the best jokes for some rather drab sing alongs. When Max goes off in the original to date the old ladies for money, we see segments of each date which are hilarious. In the remake we instead get a rather standard song which has Max grabbing cheques off old ladies. The same happens with Ulla’s entrance. In the original we enjoy her terrible English and silly yet mesmerising dance which comes into play with killer effect later down the line. The remake has her singing a song with some rather solid English. When the modern version steps away from the original to try to be different, it just gives us lots of forgettable numbers.
The biggest humour screw up though is the casting of Hitler. The original has the rather idiotic L.S.D (Dick Shawn) take on the role and the way he goes ‘baby’ after each sentence makes from some fantastic on stage comedy. Meanwhile the remake gives us the drag queen director Roger De Bris (Christopher Hewitt in the original and Gary Beach in the remake) who just plays a predictable camp Hitler. A remake should try to do new things, but this remake tends to fail each time it does.
The Producers has a great concept and it is easy to see why it has been adapted more than once. Who wouldn’t want to share their vision of ‘Springtime For Hitler’? But the original was a hard act to follow and the remake is at its best when it imitates the gags and plot with a weaker result. The songs in the new version are best left to the stage play which most likely brings them to life. Here they replace some of the best moments with lifeless song and dance. Don’t put up with them when you can be enjoying Ulla dance!