Comedy #3: “The Producers” (1968)
Comedians are like athletes (and, arguably musicians) in that they do their biggest, boldest and best work when they’re young. Physical comedy needs strength and endurance, natch, but there is also a certain kill-your-gods snarkiness when you’re younger that lends itself perfectly to satire. With a background in Vaudeville and Broadway, Mel Brooks became the boss of genre spoofs in 1965 when he created the ultimate spy send-up “Get Smart”* — which, like it’s absurdist cousin Green Acres —has aged particularly well thanks to the reliability of all bureaucracies to remain perpetually bat-shit inane.
Brooks would go on to make over a dozen big screen comedies, all but a few big hits, but none funnier than his first, “The Producers.” As he did with the Western in “Blazing Saddles!,” Mel Brooks lovingly destroys the Broadway musical, while mocking Nazis, ’60s counterculture and Hollywood with perfect pitch. It is (still) politically incorrect, broadly outrageous and really damn funny. Plus, like any great Broadway musical, you always leave the theater whistling the theme.
The Nazis in Busby Berkley-style chorus line (the overhead swastika is a particularly inspired touch) is just one of its many bold transgressions. Now considered “a gold standard for all in-your-face comedies that pile on more ‘tasteless’ scenes than you could shake a shtick at,” Roger Ebert once said that being there when it first came out in 1968 was to “witness audacity so liberating that not even There’s Something About Mary rivals it.” Still does.
*Other than Star Trek, “Get Smart” was our favorite show when we were kids, and to this day my Dad still calls my brother and I “chief” a la Don Adams