TCMFF: Opening Night The Producers

AFI says it’s the number 11 comedy of all time, I can find no reason to disagree.  Mel Brooks first film is a slap stick like Affair with lecherous men, providing sexual gratification to little old ladies in exchange for their investment in Broadway shows. Gene Wilder is a timid  book keeper who figures out a way to make money from a flop. So the search is on for the elements of a guaranteed failure.

Everyone remembers how great Zero Mostel and Wilder are in their parts. Special mention must go to Kenneth Mars as the deranged playwright.  His morose Nazi, seeking redemption for der Fueher is comically tragic.  No tragedy, just hilarity when Dick Shawn appears as the actor, supposedly destined for failure,  who steals the play with his loopy line readings. He almost steals the movie as well.

Springtime for Hitler was a show stopper in the film, and I’m sure the number had a huge impact on the decision to turn the film into a Broadway musical. The film made from the musical play does not quite deliver the same goods, but I remember enjoying it anyway.

As usual, The TCMFF planned a great program for opening night. Before the screening,  Leonardo DiCaprio came out and presented an award named after the late Robert Osbourne,  to Martin Scorsese,  for his efforts at preserving films. Both gave nice speeches,  and Scorsese was particularly passionate regarding seeing films on the big screen.  Marty

Then Mel Brooks came out, supposedly to be interviewed,  but he is a force of nature that cannot be contained. He basically riffed for twenty minutes on the background of the film and the actors.  Host Ben Mankiewicz cold barely ask a question much less get a direct answer,  but he knew that going in, he’s done this type of thing with Brooks before. At 91, Mel puts the rest of us to shame when it comes to energy. Mel

TCM FF Day 2 Part 4 Friday April 7

High Anxiety

I could have warned host Ben Mankiewicz that his notes would be worthless when interviewing Mel Brooks. I had the pleasure just a couple of months ago of watching Brooks participate in a presentation of Blazing Saddles. The man is a force of nature that cannot be controlled. The twenty or so minutes that Brooks was given was filled with laughter and applause. He repeated some of the same stories he told two months ago, but he added some new ones. I especially enjoyed hearing about his revenge on Harry Cohn and the pleading that was done on his behalf to keep his job.

High Anxiety is a pastiche of Hitchcock films that touches on several more than a dozen of the master’s works or characters. I’ve heard it said that it is one of his lesser accomplishments, but since the story and jokes have to borrow from so many well known sources to begin with, it is a real achievement that it feels like a regular film and not a parody like one of the Airplane! or Naked Gun films.

The cast of this movie was packed with the funniest of actors from the 1970s. Madeline Kahn should have a statute somewhere to commemorate the day she entered our motion picture world. Her rendition of Hitch’s icy blonde is spot on. Cloris Leachman has no vanity to serve when it comes to getting the laughs. He marble mouthed mustached nurse, is a nightmare version of the nightmare that was Mrs. Danvers seventy years ago. Harvey Korman was funny in almost everything he did and his fussy, emasculated psychiatrist is a character that can safely sit next to his role in Blazing Saddles.

Finally, Mel Brooks turns in a wonderful comedic performance as a psychiatrist with a major hang up that probably accounts for why he chose the profession in the first place. Brooks looks great in 1977, and could pull off a leading man role without having a matinee star like face. The two high points of the film for him are the shower scene where he effectively stands in for Janet leigh, and a musical turn at the piano bar. Brooks sells the title song as if it were part of the Great American Songbook, but also as a comic tune that sets the stage for events in the movie. The theme of this years Festival was Comedy, and this was one of the many films I saw that had the audience reeling. Of course they did get a big appitiezer to start the meal off with.

Blazing Saddles and a Conversation with Mel Brooks

Last night we spent the evening with one of the funniest men on the planet. Although there was a host who supposedly was conducting the interview, I’d b surprised if he asked a dozen questions in the nearly hour and a half presentation. Brooks at age ninety, roamed the stage, rarely sat and frequently belted out songs from his films or in one case an American Standard that was the crux of a great joke.

There were probably more than 4,000 people at the show last night. The Mircrosoft theater is the former Nokia Theater where we had gone two years ago for The Godfather Live. I think it changed sponsors just after we were last there. The room is spacious and the sound quality was excellent. Just after 8 pm, a title card came up on the screen which had been playing a series of trivia questions about Brooks and the film. The card announced that the Governor would be joining us in 93 minutes, harumph.

We got a Digital screening of one of the classic comedies of all time. Complete with every politically incorrect joke that was in the film when it originally played in 1974. Just a few months back we had gone to a screening of Blazing Saddles along with Willy Wonka, in tribute to the late Gene Wilder. I don’t think there is much more to add about the film, so I will simply refer you to that post if you want to knoe my view of the movie. ( Blazing Saddles).

When Mel came out after a joyously laughed at 93 minutes of lunacy, he received a deserving standing ovation which he quickly dismissed. He had fish to fry and he dove right in. The interviewer (I think it was Steve Halberman, but I could have that wrong) asked one question and fifteen hysterical minutes later we got to a follow-up question. Brooks makes the whole evening seem like an intimate experience with friends. Many of the stories he has told before, but they all sound fresh and unrehearsed and there are enough bits of improvised shtick to make you feel like this was all for the first time.

One interesting moment was when a question was read by the host from an audience member, who turned out to be Dom Deluise’s nephew. Mel could not say enough nice things about Dom and of course he had a great story. The whole evening was filled with anecdotes about Harvey Korman, Alfred Hitchcock, Richard Pryor, Carl Reiner, Sid Cesar, and a dozen more. Mel told jokes, exaggerated a little and sang his heart out a couple of times without any accompaniment. It was a bravura performance by a man who is rightfully a National Treasure, and as sharp as a tack in his tenth decade of life.

I’d be happy to go to a screening of “Young Frankenstein” and repeat the whole process over again tonight. This series of shows is billed as the Back in the Saddle Tour, if it comes to your town, be sure to splurge on some tickets and see the man live.