Viewer Guide: The Producers and The Other Boleyn Girl

May 15, 2020 | Richard Peña


The Producers (1967)

This week’s classic is The Producers, the original 1967 satirical comedy marking the directorial debut of Mel Brooks, which later became the inspiration for Brooks’ blockbuster hit musical in 2001.

Released well within memory of World War II, The Producers shocked and divided movie audiences of the day with its audacious comedic style, and by daring to turn Adolf Hitler into the butt of the ultimate show business joke: a bad Broadway musical. The incomparable Zero Mostel stars as Max Bialystock, a once-successful Broadway producer now down on his luck and reduced to raising the money to produce his shows by romancing an array of “little old ladies” who relish the opportunity for the hanky-panky that Max entices them with. Entering Max’s desperate world is Gene Wilder as Leo Bloom, an earnest but highly neurotic young accountant attempting to audit Max’s last show. Not surprisingly, Leo quickly uncovers a $2,000 discrepancy in Max’s books, a minor bit of unintentional fraud that remains of no real consequence given the fact that the show was yet another flop losing its entire investment. But the discovery also inspires Max and Leo to hit upon a “get rich quick” scheme that will liberate them from their dead-end lives. Yet, like most everything else in show business, even the best-laid plans can have a funny way of boomeranging in unexpected directions.

Also featured in supporting roles are Christopher Hewett as a flamboyant director and Andreas Voutsinas as his zealous assistant, Lee Meredith as the Swedish bombshell who becomes Max’s secretary, Kenneth Mars as a deranged Nazi turned playwright, and Dick Shawn as a beatnik Broadway star.


The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)

This week’s indie is The Other Boleyn Girl, a 2008 historical drama directed by Justin Chadwick.

Based on the best-selling novel by Philippa Gregory, The Other Boleyn Girl offers a different perspective on the early reign of Henry VIII, portrayed this time around by Eric Bana. Yet instead of rehashing the frequently dramatized story of Henry’s second wife Anne Boleyn, played by Natalie Portman, the narrative focuses on Anne’s sister, Mary, played by Scarlett Johansson, who in fact preceded her sibling in having an affair with the Tudor king. The time is somewhere around 1520, and Henry’s eleven-year marriage to his first wife Catherine of Aragon is in serious trouble due to the lack of a male heir. The king’s increasing desperation to establish a desirable royal succession sets the stage for some intense palace intrigue. Enter Thomas Boleyn and Thomas Howard, the father and uncle of Mary and Anne played by Mark Rylance and David Morrissey. Seeing an opportunity to improve the family’s impoverished circumstances, the duo devise a plan to entice Henry into a romantic affair with Anne, with the goal of maneuvering a royal title and corresponding fortune for the family. Regarded as the more sophisticated of the two sisters, Anne’s initial introduction to Henry doesn’t exactly go off as planned, with the king’s interest unexpectedly veering toward Mary. With Anne sent away on an unofficial “banishment” to the French court, Mary’s relationship with Henry escalates rapidly, much to the consternation of her father and uncle. And watching it all from the sidelines is Mary and Anne’s mother, played Kristin Scott Thomas, all too aware of the dangerous game into which her daughters have been thrust.

Also featured in supporting roles are Jim Sturgess as George Boleyn, Mary and Anne’s brother, Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne in early career appearances, playing the other men in Mary’s life.

From Anne of a Thousand Days to Wolf Hall, the story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn has been frequent historical fare for theater, film and television. And to its credit, The Other Boleyn Girl offers some intriguing new suppositions, even while taking some dubious dramatic license with a number of historical facts concerning the Tudors. Contrary to the sibling birth order presented in the film, it’s believed that Mary was the elder sister, and rather than being a demure innocent, she had already preceded her sister with a notorious residency at the French court, acquiring a promiscuous reputation that included a likely affair with King François I. The sisters were not known to have been especially close, with Mary’s post-Henry “love match” marriage to the lowly William Stafford triggering Anne’s disapproval and resulting in Mary’s eviction from court. Furthermore, after Mary’s departure from London there’s no evidence that the sisters ever saw each other again before Anne’s execution in 1536. Screenwriter Peter Morgan’s penchant for dramatizing tales of palace intrigue reached full flower with the modern day royal saga of Queen Elizabeth II, first with Helen Mirren’s Oscar-winning turn in The Queen and its stage follow-up The Audience, and most recently with Netflix’s blockbuster series, The Crown.

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