Widely regarded as one of the funniest movies ever made, The Producers (1968) has had its detractors from the start, seen as offensive by many moviegoers and critics alike when it was first released. “Dismally unfunny satire,” wrote Leslie Halliwell. Even today, many people just don’t appreciate the film. The Producers is full of biting humor, you either appreciate it or you don’t. Personally, The Producers has been one of my favorite comedies since I saw it for the first time when I was around fourteen.
Mel Brooks had been a successful television writer for TV’s Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows, later co-creating Get Smart with Buck Henry, and co-starring with Carl Reiner in the popular 2000 Year Old Man skits and recordings. The Producers was his first full-length film, which Brooks both wrote and directed.
The plot of The Producers is sparse and character driven. But the amazingly simple setup works perfectly. Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) is a washed up Broadway producer. Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) a mousy CPA with a host of personal issues has been brought in to go over Max’s books. Bloom discovers that Bialystock made an unreported profit of $2,000 on a recent flop, and muses that under the right circumstances a man could make more money with a flop than he could with a Broadway hit—“The IRS isn’t interested in flops.”
Immediately inspired, Bialystock works to convince Bloom to leave accounting and join him in finding the worse play ever to create a sure-fire Broadway flop, guaranteed to close on opening night. Bialystock knows hundreds of rich, little old ladies willing to write out big checks to “Cash.” The two men can get rich by selling 25,000% ownership in the flop and pocket all the ‘investment’ checks without fear of an audit.
After finding Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden, an apparent love letter to Hitler, Bialystock and Bloom seek out director Roger De Bris (Christopher Hewett), who resembles Ed Wood, and whose plays “close on the first day of rehearsal.” The part of Hitler goes to charismatic, but strung out flower power hippie Lorenzo St. DuBois, a.k.a. L.S.D. (Dick Shawn). The centerpiece of the show is a big music number, complete with a bevy of chorus girls high stepping to “Springtime for Hitler” and its politically incorrect lyrics. Bialystock and Bloom believe they’ve created a sure-fire failure…
Some of these scenes in The Producers are side splittingly funny. I’ve given myself the hiccups watching this film; it’s that funny! No offense to Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick who starred in the 2005 remake, but film wise, Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder were perfect for their roles. Mostel seems to become Bialystock, filling the screen with his scheming, money obsessed personality. He’s completely upfront with his deception (Thank you, I knew I could con you), which is just hilarious.
The Producers provided Gene Wilder with his breakthrough film, and he seems as though he really conned with Bloom’s neurotic tendencies. Small and hysterical, he plays off Mostel’s large and cocky Bialystock perfectly. In the beginning, when Mostel gets particularly excited, Wilder suddenly retreats into frenetic wimpishness. It’s funny, and it tells you a lot about the two characters in a relatively short time.
Mel Brooks was awarded his only Oscar for The Producers screenplay. In the late 1960’s, writing a screenplay like this was seen as controversial, but the fact that Brooks was Jewish allowed him to explore one of the biggest atrocities in history in a decidedly politically incorrect way.
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Shout! Factory’s 1080p transfer is fairly solid. Colors are strong and fairly well saturated throughout. Black levels are deep, and show no signs of crush. While the image isn’t consistently what can be considered razor sharp, The Producers exhibits nice clarity considering its age. I did notice one or two specks, but otherwise, this is a clean transfer.
The DTS-HD 5.1 remix does a nice job with the “Springtime for Hitler” musical number, swelling into all channels without feeling overbearing. While fidelity is a bit lacking throughout, there’s a natural bass that helps to overcome that. Dialogue is generally clean, and clear, though I did notice some slight scratchiness on a couple of occasions.
The original mono soundtrack is also available, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
All of the special features were taken from previous DVD releases. It should be noted that the Blu-ray comes with reversible cover art:
- The Making of The Producers Documentary (63:00) In this lengthy and detailed documentary, we learn, among other things, that Max Bialystock is based on someone Mel Brooks worked for, and Peter Sellers was Brooks’s first choice for Bloom, until Brooks’ never heard from the actor again, and then saw Gene Wilder on stage in Mother Courage. Oddly enough, Brooks also wanted Dustin Hoffman for the part of Franz Liebkind, author of Springtime for Hitler, but he wsa cast in a little movie called The Graduate, and had to decline.
- Mel and His Movies: The Producers (19:00) Taken from last year’s excellent The Incredible Mel Brooks: An Irresistible Collection of Unhinged Comedy, Brooks discusses various aspects of The Producers.
- Theatrical Trailer
- Sketch Gallery (2:11) Black and white production design sketches by Charles Rosen, animated, with musical accompaniment.
- Photo Gallery: Contains about 40 stills
- Deleted Scene (3:50) Actually more of an alternate take on the moment where the gang tries to blow up the theater, with Bill Hickey as a drunk who sets off the dynamite.
- A Statement from Peter Sellers (1:00) Read by filmmaker Paul Mazursky, is a brief but entertaining piece.
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- DVD Copy of the film