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The Scroll

No. 14: The Producers

The origin of the Holocaust joke

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1968, dir. Mel Brooks. We are lucky enough if a film gives us one fully fleshed out portrait of a classic Jewish stereotype. Within its first 15 minutes, The Producers gives us two: the con man and the nebbish, the Ponzi schemer and the neurotic accountant, the boisterous macher and the repressed schlemiel. (Does anything besides the original Odd Couple boast anything quite like this pairing?) Only this deadly combination could have come up with something so cheap as the gambit they play on their investors. But it’s by the end of the film that its real accomplishments become clear: This movie’s release was the moment it became OK to laugh at Hitler. And it had to be Jews who did it first, to make it OK for everyone else. Which kind of means that we owe every Holocaust joke, for better and for worse, to Mel Brooks.

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Scott-Martin Kosofsky says:

One chooses to argue with another person’s “best” list at one’s peril, so I won’t so much as try. Be that as it may, I’d like to add something to Marc Tracy’s remarks about “The Producers.” Mel Brooks’s masterpiece is, without a doubt, the greatest Purimshpil of the post-Holocaust era, a time that really needed a good one. It may well be the greatest ever.

Falling as it does, between Shabbat Zakhor and Pesach, Purim functions as a cleanser for the soul, a time we celebrate our survival by looking our enemies in the eye, chewing them up and spitting them out–at least among ourselves. If I were the Pope of the Jews, I’d mandate the showing of “The Producers” (the original, thank you) to follow the reading of the Megillah. “The Producers” may lack an Esther (sorry, Ulla), but it sure has one hell of a Mordecai, not to mention the lamest Haman ever.

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Jim Pastreich says:

One of my all time favorites but its 3 Jewish stereotypes in the first 15 minutes not 2. You forgot the Landlord.

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No. 14: The Producers

The origin of the Holocaust joke

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