Mel Brooks Renata Adler - Essay

Renata Adler

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["The Producers"] is a violently mixed bag. Some of it is shoddy and gross and cruel; the rest is funny in an entirely unexpected way. It has the episodic, revue quality of so much contemporary comedy—not building, laughter, but stringing it together skit after skit, some vile, some boffo….

Strangely enough, the first act of "Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva in Berchtesgaden" is the funniest part of this fantastically uneven movie. The Gestapo chorines, the opening number, "Look Out, Here Comes the Master Race"—well, it loses absolutely everything in transcription. But there is just enough talent and energy to keep this blackest of collegiate humors comic. Barely.

Then, the movie makes a terrible and irreversible mistake. It allows the audience onscreen to find the play funny. This turned the real audience in the theater off as though a fuse had blown. Hardly anyone laughed again. Partly, it must be admitted, because "Springtime for Hitler" itself gets less funny at this point…. But mainly, because there is nothing like having your make-believe audience catch on to a joke—and a joke that absolutely capsizes the plans of your leading characters—to make your real audience really hostile to you.

The ending, when all the comic props are supposed to be in motion … goes better than one might think. On the whole, though, "The Producers," leaves one alternately picking up one's coat to leave and sitting back to laugh. (p. 38)

Renata Adler, in The New York Times (© 1968 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 19, 1968.