Mel Brooks Andrew Sarris - Essay

Andrew Sarris

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Mel Brooks' "The Producers"] did not make me laugh as much as I had anticipated, and perhaps anticipation is part of the problem. Let us suppose that an acquaintance stops us in the street with the announcement that he is going to tell us the funniest joke ever told. But first, he tells us, he is going to synopsize the joke, describe its high and low points, analyze the style of its telling, compare it with other jokes in the same genre from other eras, and psychoanalyze those listeners who will laugh at it and those who will not. Then and only then does he tell us the joke. Do we laugh? Not likely. The element of surprise is gone because we listen with too many preconceptions. In short, we listen more to the how of style than to the what of content….

The idea that two Jewish producers would engage in a project called "Springtime for Hitler" even as part of a swindle is more a cabaret idea than a movie idea. Even on the Borscht Circuit, a Jewish comedian can assume a Nazi role as a temporarily shocking point of departure to arouse black laughter in his audience…. Cabaret characterizations are entirely hypothetical. If you accept such and such a premise, such and such will occur. Screen characterizations are historical. The characters played by Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder are obviously if not blatantly Jewish, and they carry their pasts around with them while they humor a psychotic Nazi author to the point of singing "Deutschland...

(The entire section is 585 words.)