Friday, January 06, 2006

"Don't be shtupid, be a shmarty, come und join ze Nazi Party!"

The most important thing that needs to be said about the new movie version of The Producers is this, Uma Thurman is tall.

Astonishingly tall.

Breath-takingly tall.

She is tall on a heroic scale.

She is tall like Wonder Woman is tall!

She's an Amazon!

And most of her is legs!


Ok, I think I'm done.


Nope. Sorry. Had one left. Tell you what. I'll just put the topic of Uma and her legs and her goddessy lengthiness aside for a minute.


There was something else...

Uma and...

Uma and...

Oh yeah.

Mel Brooks.

Who is not tall.

The second most important thing about The Producers is that it was always a musical even when it only included two songs. Watch the original again and you'll see the lulls and the scenes without payoffs where the songs should have gone then and where they are now. I think I remember reading interviews with Brooks in which he said this, but even if I didn't, I'd bet Brooks always thought of it as a musical and that there was a reason he didn't like why he couldn't make it one---after all, Max Bialystock is a Broadway producer at a time when Broadway was defined by musicals and it's a movie about putting on a musical, and movies about putting on musicals have always been musicals.

The blonde and I saw The Producers over the holidays, our one and only grown up movie-going experience of 2005, and we had a grand time. It's not a great piece of filmmaking. But it's fun, and funny, and it was the first movie I've seen in a long time that I wanted to sit through again as soon as it was over.

Nathan Lane is one role away from turning into a miniature Zero Mostel. First there was A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, now there's this; if he stars in a revival of Ionesco's Rhinoceros, the transformation will be complete. That's not a criticism. It's a physical description. His Max Bialystock is his Max Bialystock, not Mostel's.

And this is the last time I want to see Matthew Broderick do his sad sack routine. He was great in Election, brilliantly creepy in You Can Count on Me, but with Leo Bloom he's probably taken it as far as he can. He needs to do something to get back some of his Ferris Bueller edge and cool. Playing Felix Unger in a revival of The Odd Couple was a bad move. I think it's great that he and Lane wanted to work together again, and although as Jaime Weinman wrote, The Odd Couple's not really a good play and Felix and Oscar's place in the comedy Pantheon was secured by Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, not by Neil Simon, I understand why Broderick and Lane thought it would be a good vehicle for them. I don't understand why they didn't realize that Broderick should have been Oscar and Lane Felix and why they chose to typecast themselves instead.

Unless they were afraid that having the openly gay Lane playing Felix would have made it too hard to ignore the homosexual subtext. Felix and Oscar aren't gay but their living arrangement turns them into a married couple and while Tony Randall could make Felix as fussy and hysterical as he wanted without there ever being a hint of sexual ambiguity (which was partly due to Jack Klugman's Oscar being too ugly a slob to be anyone's idea of an erotic partner), maybe Lane was worried his Felix would be seen as too much of a screaming queen in need of the bigger, stronger, good looking Broderick's physical protection and comforting.

If that was the case then I think he and Broderick underestimated their own talent.

Maybe it was simply a commercial decision. They'd scored big before by having Lane play the loudmouth bully and Broderick the simpering nebbish, why mess with success?

Back to The Producers.

Which means back to Uma.

Wow, is she tall!

She's also funny, which I already knew. Woody Allen told me. Hollywood producers and directors who keep casting her in things like Be Cool think she's a femme fatale. What she really is is a beautiful Carol Burnett. There's a moment in Allen's Sweet and Lowdown when Thurman, playing a femme fatale, but a funny femme fatale, enters and crosses a room in a slouching, stalking, swimming walk that makes her look like a flamingo that's been directed to imitate a cat imitating a chicken imitating a lioness. It's sexy and ridiculous at the same time and as physically deft as any move Burnett pulled off her in prime. When I saw it I said to myself, This woman's a comedian! So far, though, Mel Brooks is the first one who could make use of the fact to recognize it. Watch her in Sweet and Lowdown and The Producers and I'm sure you'll agree with me that Quentin Tarantino needs to be kept far away from this woman and never allowed to cast her again.

But Thurman's not the only revelation in The Producers.

There's Jon Lovitz in a cameo doing something I've only seen him do once before in the movies, in A Leauge of Their Own---act funny.

Acting funny is not the same as clowning. Acting funny requires you to act.

Not much acting funny in movies and television these days. Mostly what we're given is a lot of wisecracking and clowning. Movies don't know from physical comedy at all. They think it's just slapstick. The movies beat up and humiliate their characters but they don't let them get a laugh out of simply being themselves. Simply: once you had Charlie Chaplin dining on his shoe in The Gold Rush, and now you have Ben Stiller getting caught in his zipper in There's Something About Mary.

And on TV the characters hardly move at all. They stand around, or sit around, and crack wise or say something stupid, they yell and make faces and roll their eyes, and they make references to other TV shows and movies, and they get what laughs they can by hamming it up or milking a line, but they rarely ever shut up and earn a laugh the long, hard way, as Dick Van Dyke did all the time, as David Hyde Pierce did on an episode of Fraiser in which he had no lines, all he did was try to get himself ready for a date.

Pierce, and Lovitz and Thurman, along with the other supporting characters in The Producers, including the ubiquitous Will Farrell, who has seems to have been in every movie I've seen in the last two years---I think he played a battle droid in Revenge of the Sith---prove that the lack of acting funny in the movies isn't due to a lack of acting talent. It's the writers and directors who don't know how to put that talent to work.

That's pretty much all I have to say about The Producers. But I have a question.

In the original, during the Springtime for Hitler number, isn't that Mel Brooks himself who shouts out, "Don't be shtupid, be a shmarty, come und join ze Nazi Party"? I know it's his voice but it's been a long time since I've seen it and the Internet Movie Data Base credits him with just doing the voice.

On Broadway, they are using Mel's voice, although a dancer lip synchs the lines, but in the original I thought it was Mel lip synching Mel.

In the new movie, it's Mel's voice, but a dancer lip synchs for him, and that bugged me. There's no reason Brooks couldn't have done the cameo himself.

So, see. I was paying attention to something other than Uma's legs.

Which are very long.

Did I mention that?


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