Empire (UK) - - ON SCREEN -

The Pro­duc­ers (1968) Se­lected by Olly Richards, con­trib­u­tor

When Matthew Brod­er­ick played Leo Bloom in the Broad­way ver­sion of The Pro­duc­ers, he re­ceived a visit from the man who orig­i­nated the role. Gene Wilder, the proto-bloom, had one tip: choco­late. It takes a lot of en­ergy to re­main as emo­tion­ally ca­cophonous as Bloom, and he had been con­stantly plied with sweets by his direc­tor, Mel Brooks, so as not to keel over.

One can see why. Through­out the movie Bloom is a ner­vous wreck, a meek ac­coun­tant ter­ri­fied at the pos­si­ble fall-out of de­lib­er­ately mak­ing a ter­ri­ble Hitler-cen­tric mu­si­cal. His rarely sup­pressed ter­ror ex­plodes ev­ery which way in per­haps Wilder’s best-ever scene. When the ex­tent of their lies is re­vealed by his busi­ness part­ner, Max Bi­a­ly­stock (Zero Mos­tel), Bloom be­comes, in his words, “hys­ter­i­cal”. As Bi­a­ly­stock tries to calm him down, this is com­pounded by be­ing drenched in water and smacked around the face. “I’m hys­ter­i­cal and I’m wet! I’m in pain! And I’m wet! And I’m still hys­ter­i­cal!” he wails. It’s a melt­down of ma­jes­tic pro­por­tions.

Yet when you watch it more closely, you can see how care­fully Wilder or­ches­trates his hissy fit. It’s not all ex­plo­sion. The fire dies and swells. Bloom screams then gath­ers him­self, suf­fer­ing a se­ries of af­ter­shocks. Wilder knew that loud­ness was not funny in it­self. When he asks Bi­a­ly­stock not to hit him, it’s dis­tract­edly mut­tered, like he’s wind­ing him­self back up, ready to whizz off again. Wilder was the king of los­ing his rag — a mo­ment you’d wait for in ev­ery film — and in The Pro­duc­ers he achieved an unim­prov­able tantrum. He was the per­fect storm.

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