The annoying thing about remakes or adaptations is that you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Removing elements or adding new ones in can either be seen as sacrilege or as the best idea ever (and of course, a lot of it comes down to which you see first). With that in mind, I shall take you through a comparison of a remake and the original. The films are The Producers and The Producers (the film that invented the phrase “creative accounting”), one made in the late 60’s and praised by Roger Ebert as one of the funniest films ever made and the other made in 2005 and praised by me as gloriously underrated.
To give some context, I shall give a chronology of the Producers works. First there was the famous 1968 Mel Brooks movie, starring Gene Wilder and some guy called Zero Mostel. This was then adapted into a musical on Broadway starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick (Ferris himself!). This musical was then filmed as a movie (so they could actually use locations, etc) and released in theaters and on DVD. This was the version I saw first and fell in love with. Some time later I managed to see the original film and was quite disappointed, if I’m honest.
The original is not a musical in any way whatsoever, which may come as a surprise to those who’ve only seen the 2005 one and frankly is a bonus (I don’t really like musicals). It does feature the famous musical number “Springtime For Hitler”*. This it has in its favour. What it doesn’t have is the charm and the actors of the 2005 film. It also features a rather feral performance from one Gene Wilder in his opening scene as Leopold Bloom which came across as halfway funny in the new one but just disturbing here.
The film of a musical of a film is to my mind much better because it features better actors (including Will Ferrell, John Barrowman and Uma Thurman all in stand-out roles), better jokes and a charm missing from the original. What’s bizarre about this one though is that I kinda wish they’d just done a straight remake (that’s a rare sentence considering remakes normally go wrong), which would’ve been even better but would’ve no doubt invoked the wrath of the fans of the original. Special mention must go to Uma Thurman, who excels as the sexy swedish secretary Ulla and convinces girls in the audience to flaunt what they’ve got. John Barrowman also stars as a Nazi-dressing singer in the Springtime For Hitler number with a rather marvellous singing voice. I’d argue his performance was worth buying the DVD for alone (especially as it came six months after appearing on Doctor Who as a time travelling conman fighting for the allies).
Both productions have their own flaws that stop them from being truly great, unfortunately. The 2005 one takes way too long to get going (the movie is two hours and ten minutes long and the beginning 45 minutes of that is spent setting up the plot; it gets much funnier after that), combined with a couple of unentertaining musical numbers near the beginning. The 1968 version suffers from having much the same dialogue as the later effort (I realise that’s not its fault but if you plan to watch both it’s kind of off-putting) and being not as funny due to touches in the script in the meantime (and the natural talents of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick). The effect that I ended up getting as a viewer and reviewer of both is that it would’ve been great if they’d been able to find some middle ground between the two, and made a version that combined the best elements of them.
I suppose it’s a matter of not the original being bad, but that the 2005 one did pretty much everything better. It partially also depends on what type of film you want to see. If you don’t mind musicals or are open to them, then see the 2005 version. If you’d really rather not, then go for the 1968 one, although you know what I would recommend.
*Incidentally, after The Producers was first released, all of the Swedish releases for Mel Brooks’ subsequent movies had “Springtime For…” in the title. For example, Spaceballs would be “Springtime For Space”.