The Producers (1968)
The Producers (1968)

Genre: Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 28 min.

Release Date: November 10th, 1968 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Mel Brooks Actors: Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Dick Shawn, Kenneth Mars, Christopher Hewett, Lee Meredith, Andreas Voutsinas, Estelle Winwood

 


 

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heatrical Producer Max “King of Broadway” Bialystock (Zero Mostel) goes through a rotation of elderly women, seducing them, with playful mischievousness, into giving him money so that he can continue to produce plays – or to merely pay the rent. It’s not easy work, especially when some of his targets are unexpectedly rambunctious – even at advanced ages – resulting in the destruction of his office and the exhaustion of his libido. His glory days are clearly long gone. “I’ll be the innocent little milkmaid and you’ll be the naughty stable boy.”

On this particular day, however, Max’s colorful schemes (and off-color sexual roleplaying) are interrupted by accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder), who timidly sets about doing the books. The tech immediately notices a discrepancy in Bialystock’s numbers, but the bombastic conman convinces him to cover it up. In the process, Bloom realizes that, under the right circumstances, a producer could make more money with a flop than with a hit. And so, the proficiently dishonest businessman fashions a plot to craft the worst play imaginable – an unparalleled disaster, guaranteed to be shut down on its opening night. And the winner is (now famously) a beautiful catastrophe called “Springtime for Hitler.”

“You’re making me extremely nervous!” Wilder is instantly exceptional – and exceptionally weird – managing to play a ludicrously bizarre persona with modest authenticity, while also appearing as if he’s going to break character at any second. His fits of hysteria are both hysterical and uncomfortably outlandish, merging slapstick with downright absurdity. “It’s a minor compulsion.”

Mostel is also perfectly cast, mirroring Wilder’s eccentricity with a fourth-wall-breaking, goofily-manipulative, larger-than-life swindler, whose facial expressions are priceless (his bulging eyes speak volumes – something of a precursor to Rodney Dangerfield). The camera works in conjunction with the exaggerated performances, making the most of sudden, extreme close-ups and carefully orchestrated reveals of an increasingly kooky assortment of oddballs. And “The Producers” has no shortage of outrageously peculiar people – from the German-helmeted playwright Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars) to sultry Swedish secretary Ulla (Lee Meredith) to cross-dressing director Roger De Bris (Christopher Hewett). And this is all before the casting call for a singing-and-dancing Adolf Hitler (which introduces Dick Shawn as Lorenzo St. DuBois – or L.S.D.).

Unlike many of writer/director Mel Brooks’ later spoofs on established properties and genres, “The Producers” isn’t a complete free-for-all, intermittently dispensing with story and characters for non-sequiturs, flashbacks, one-off gags, and unrelated physical comedy. Instead, the premise is chronological and original, resulting in an absolutely perfect combination of cartoonish nuttiness, deliriously nonsensical turns, and naturally-flowing comical interactions. By the time viewers are treated to the lavish “Springtime for Hitler” musical number – with lyrics and music by Brooks himself – it’s evident that everything will work out disastrously (or fail spectacularly) for the fraudulent moneymen. But that outcome couldn’t be funnier, proving that no matter how much in bad taste anything is, there’s an audience for it – and that Mel Brooks (in his directorial debut) is a comic genius. “Where did I go right?”

– Mike Massie

  • 10/10