The Producers

  • Title:  The Producers
  • Director:  Mel Brooks
  • Date:  1968
  • Studio:  Embassy Pictures / MGM
  • Genre:  Comedy, Musical
  • Cast:  Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Dick Shawn, Kenneth Mars, Lee Meredith, Christopher Hewlett, Andreas Voulsinas
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
“It’s amazing, it’s absolutely amazing, but under the right circumstances a producer could make more money with a flop than with a hit!”– Leo
 
“But if we get caught, we’ll go to prison.” – Leo
“You think you’re not in a prison now? Living in a grey little room, going to a grey little job, leading a grey little life?”  — Max
 
“Leo, how much percentage of a play can there be altogether?”  — Max
“Max, you can only sell 100 percent of anything.”  — Leo
“And how much of ‘Springtime for Hitler’ have we sold?” – Max
“Twenty-five thousand percent.” – Leo
 
Mel Brooks’ first comedy film, The Producers, is a tour-de-force. It’s laugh-out-loud funny from beginning to end. The film is so over-the-top and so funny that what could have easily been a very offensive movie is instead a true comedy classic. The film first introduces Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) – a failing Broadway producer who has gone from running six hit shows simultaneously, to having nothing but a run of failures. The only way he can find investors now, is by seducing little old ladies for checks made out to “cash”. Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder, in only his second film role) is a mild-mannered accountant. One day, he’s sent to go over Max’s books and walks in on him playing sex games with an 80-year-old. To say that Leo is shocked is an under-statement. But soon Max gets the old lady to leave, and Leo enters the producer’s office.  This opening scene between Max and Leo is hilarious – and sets a slightly surreal, out there, quality for the entire film.
 
In doing the books, Leo discovers a simple accounting error – Max raised $2000 dollars extra for his last play and never invested it in the play or returned the profit to his investors. This, Leo points out is fraud. Max convinces Leo to not turn him in. Then, Leo has a lightbulb moment, and innocently says that a producer could make more money with a flop than a hit. The rest of the film is about the two trying to do just that – produce a flop, and keep all the extra money they’ve raised from their investors.
 
Leo, being an honest accountant, though a bit neurotic (his reaction when Max takes his “blue blanket” is screen perfection – as is his breakdown in hysterics slightly later when Max threatens him), so Max must convince Leo to do it. Max seduces Leo with a day in the park, like an extended date, and it really is Max’s kindness that convinces Leo what the heck – he wants everything.
 
Once he has Leo on board, they must find a play. And they do – “Springtime for Hitler – a gay romp with Adolph and Eva”. They locate the author, the slightly insane German, Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars), and buy the play. Then Max goes to raise money from his little old lady brigade – in a wonderful montage sequence. Next, it’s casting. The cattle call for Hitler, is both similar to A Chorus Line or the opening of All that Jazz (tho’ it pre-dates both films, but posssibly not the play of “A Chorus Line”) and is quite funny. But it’s the audition of Lorenzo St. Dubois (Or “LSD”) that is brilliant. Not only is Dick Shawn’s performance brilliant, but the song, “Love Power” and the choreography of the audition, with LDS’s band, is priceless. (Another ’60s moment is Max’s new Swedish secretary (Lee Meredith) – who speaks no English, and when told to “Go to Work” turns on the record player and starts Go-Go Dancing.)
 
Soon it is opening night. Remember – Max and Leo want the play to tank. The play, “Springtime for Hitler” opens with the big Broadway production number, that includes everything:  a parade of beautiful chorus girls in elaborate German-style outfits (including beer steins or preztels on the girls boobs – simply hilarious), a rockets-style section in black leather, and a Bugsy Berkley style overhead shot. Oh – and the columns turn into cannons that fire at the audience. The number has to be seen to be believed and is SO over the top, (and SO bad) that no description can do it justice. Audience members are, of course, shocked, and some even walk out.  Max and Leo go over to a nearby restaurant, to drink and celebrate.
 
Then LSD takes to the stage as Hitler – and before long the audience is laughing hilariously!  That Franz is in the audience and takes this as an affront adds to the choas – especially when he runs on-stage and is hit over the head, something the audience assumes is part of the play.
 
Much to the shock of Max and Leo – the play is a hit! They then decide to blow up the theatre, and end up in court. Leo actually gives a pretty moving speech defending Max and their friendship. Soon Max and Leo are behind bars, selling percentages of a new play, Prisoners of Love, to the inmates, and rehearsing.
 
What makes Brooks’ The Producers so funny is in the execution. Merely writing, or reading, a plot summary just doesn’t do the film justice – especially the production number, and any scene with LSD. Shawn is simply inspired. But all the actors give the performances of their lives in this – which is why it remains one of Brooks best films.
 
It goes without saying, but I suppose I must, that Mel Brooks is Jewish. And he himself has said on numerous occasions, that the way to deal with despots isn’t in giving speeches, or using rhetoric or psychology – it’s in ridicule and poking fun at them. The film caught some flak when it was made, but it did quickly win over it’s sophisticated audience once people realised the joke.  And, also, the film is very witty and has a lot of faster-paced dialogue and less reliant on sight-gags than many of Brooks’ more recent films (tho’ the production number has both sight gags and witty dialogue). Again, one of Brooks’ best films, highly recommended.
 
Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Purple Rose of Cairo
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