The Shelf: “The Producers” & “The Kentucky Fried Movie”
by Kyle Anderson on July 2, 2013
This week, we have two of the most groundbreaking and influential comedy films of all time. No beating around the bush, no mincing words; these movies helped shape modern comedic tastes all the way up to now. Also, there are some other movies coming out.
Mel Brooks was already a well established comedy writer for television in the 1950s and ’60s, having worked on Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, penning several made-for-television movies, and creating the hilarious spy spoof Get Smart. But in 1967, armed with a monstrously funny script and an unmatched will to succeed, he turned his sights toward the big screen, with himself as director. Sure, he’d never directed before, but what did that matter?! Mel got an incredibly small budget to make The Producers, but he had help from some of New York’s finest theater people to design the set and do the choreography for what would be his first musical number, “Springtime for Hitler.”
Has-been Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) has taken to seducing rich old ladies to facilitate his new plays. When his new accountant, the exceedingly nervous and high-strung Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder), tells him about a theoretical plan wherein a producer could make more money from a flop than from a hit, the two team up to find the worst play in history, a surefire disaster. Populated with wonderful, memorable, and totally off-the-wall characters like Kenneth Mars’ Franz Liebkind, Dick Shawn’s L.S.D., Christopher Hewett’s Roger De Bris, and Andreas Voutsinas’ Carmen Ghia, the film has humor to spare and strange scenarios aplenty.
The importance of The Producers cannot be overstated, as it ushered in the sort of smart stupidity that hadn’t been happening in the United States, and certainly not in movies. It also gave us a true comedic auteur in Brooks, who knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it. It also stands as the one and sadly only time Brooks won an Oscar, for best original screenplay. He and Wilder were nominated for that award for Young Frankenstein, but didn’t win. Along with Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, The Producers remains among Brooks’ funniest films and a true testament to ingenuity and clarity of comedic vision.
The Blu-ray/DVD set includes a feature-length making-of and a portion about the film from the documentary, Mel and His Movies. Maybe a commentary track or something would have been fun, but there’s plenty of Mel both in the film and in the other main supplements to not need it. Excellent buy for comedy fans.
If The Producers represents a mad genius working within the studio system, 1977′s The Kentucky Fried Movie represents something wholly different. The second film by the great director John Landis, the precursor to Animal House, it is also the first script written by the kings of goofiness, David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker, prior to their massive hit film, Airplane!. It’s also a sketch movie, the likes of which have sadly fallen by the wayside.
The Kentucky Fried Movie has a pace like a bored teenager flipping channels. The sketches, all centering around spoofs of television programs, movies, and commercials, are about as silly, as bawdy, as gross, and as hysterical as any such comedy today. The humor we’d see in later Zucker/Abrahams productions like Airplane!, Top Secret and The Naked Gun are on display here, but without the pesky through-line getting in the way. The longest section in the film is for an Enter the Dragon spoof called A Fistful of Yen which is the best part of the whole thing and feels the most like one of those later pictures. Not all of the sketches work, but the ones that do are spot-on. It’s obvious this was the work of people freshly out of college and eager to put their own boob-filled stamp on the movie world.
The Blu-ray has a great commentary track by its writers and director and also has an hour-long conversation with the Zucker brothers.
Both of these releases are musts for comedy nerds and, while completely different, both helped to shape the face of film comedy in the latter 20th Century.
Tower Block – A very taut thriller about the residents of an apartment building who have to fight for their lives when a sniper starts picking them off a year after none of them came forward after witnessing a murder. Features Being Human‘s Russell Tovey.
Jaws – Yet another release of Spielberg’s classic, but this time it’s for the 100th Anniversary of Universal.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial – The same, but with this movie.