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 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.
As far as I can tell, this is the same 4K transfer offered on the 2018 Studio Canal release. Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the results are spectacular. Colors pop, particularly the reds and blues. Improved detail shows in the various closeups. The most minute facial features are clearly visible. Wide shots during the “Springtime for Hitler” number shine. Skin tones are natural throughout.
The Blu-ray offers a choice of LPCM Mono Audio or 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The later offers more depth and an overall more immersive experience. Dialogue is clean. Crisp and concise. There’s no distortion throughout and musical numbers have a nice level of bass.
English SDH subtitles are available.
The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary with Filmmaker/Historian Michael Schlesinger
- The Making of The Producers (HD, 63:21) Produced in 2002.
- Deleted Scene: Playhouse Outtake (HD, 3:41)
- Sketch Gallery (HD, 2:14)
- Peter Sellers’ Statement Read by Paul Mazursky (00:52)
- Radio Spot (1:52)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:05)
The Producers (1968)
Movie title: The Producers
Duration: 88 min
Director(s): Mel Brooks
Actor(s): Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Dick Shawn, Kenneth Mars, Andréas Voutsinas, Estelle Winwood