The Producers (1967)

Synopsis: Producers Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom make money by producing a sure-fire flop.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it:  I’ve been wanting to see this movie for far too long and I suspected this movie calendar was the only way I could convince Leah to see it 🙂 

Brent’s Review:

Character introductions are crucial to film perhaps more than any other medium of entertainment because of the short, often self-contained nature of the piece. Literature can take its time where film must hurry along; television can dedicate episodes or even seasons to exploring the nuances of a character, but a film often must paint in broad strokes and quickly.

Oh, and it has to be entertaining, too.

I mention character introductions here because I believe “The Producers” nails its introduction of Zero Mostel’s “Max Bialystock” perfectly. A fat, balding, has-been producer who raises money to fund his quibbling productions by prostituting himself to elderly women. There are so many that he doesn’t even remember their names, just the shtick he uses when he’s with them. Despite his truly baseless behavior, we get a sense that he is a failure in every regard: he can’t even seduce a woman who is paying him for a good time without nearly breaking his neck.

Enter Leo Bloom, a highly eccentric accountant who stumbles upon an accounting error: Bialystock’s latest play raised $2,000 more than it cost to put on, but since it flopped the producer could pocket the cash. What if this happened on a larger scale? The plot starts in motion: Bloom & Bialystock set out to produce a surefire flop, raise more money than needed, and pocket the extra money.

As intriguing as this plot is, “The Producers” is perhaps most remembered by its infamous “Springtime For Hitler” stage production. The musical’s opening number begins as a wonderfully choreographed and well-performed song-and-dance routine… with lyrics expressing admiration and love for Adolf Hitler. One singer exclaims “Don’t be stupid, be a smarty. Come and join the Nazi party!” The number then ends with a kick-line in the shape of a swastika. It’s jaw-droppingly awful – and it’s one of the funniest scenes ever put to film (I laughed, hard, for five straight minutes).

“The Producers” was remade nearly 40 years later, based this time off the hit Broadway rendition. It was overshadowed by its predecessor, but it should’ve been successful. Brooks was involved, Broderick and Lane are perfectly cast, and the basic plot was retained. Yet, I think the timing of “The Producers” is key in its success: the world probably wasn’t ready to laugh at Nazi Germany, but this joke doesn’t work if you wait too long.

“Springtime for Hitler, a gay romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden… Wow!” remarks Bloom after happening upon the script. How anyone can pull this joke off in the late 1960s is an ode to the wizardry of Mel Brooks’ script. Roger Ebert has recounted an exchange he witnessed after the film’s release between Brooks and a woman who attested his movie was vulgar. Brooks responded, “Lady, it rose below vulgarity.”

“The Producers” is an exercise in poor taste with a wink and a nod while doing it. I dare you not to laugh, if for no other reason than this movie must be seen.

Leah’s Review:

I had watched “The Producers” before. Not the original- the 2005 remake. And as much as I love Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, I just couldn’t get into it. The jokes seemed cheap, over-the-top, and overly raunchy. But context is everything. Had I better known the source material, perhaps I could have appreciated it more.

Like many Mel Brooks films “The Producers” is incredibly hilarious as it is incredibly offensive. It’s almost hard to believe Brooks got away with such a movie- especially in the 1960’s. You’ve got a skeezy playwright seducing rich old ladies for their money, heros that are con-artists, and a musical that celebrates Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. And maybe it’s the timing of the movie that makes the offensive content so hysterically funny. Brooks said that one of his “lifelong jobs” was “to make the world laugh at Adolf Hitler….The only real way I could get even with Hitler and company was to bring them down with laughter.” And laugh we do. The opening number of the sure-to-be-a-failure “Springtime for Hitler” (which pokes fun at Nazism and features a kickline in the shape of a swastika), will have your jaw dropping and your sides splitting with laughter.

I was looking forward to watching “The Producers” because of my new-found appreciation of Mel Brooks (see my review for “Young Frankenstein”) and because it features one of my favorite actors, Gene Wilder. For those who know Wilder to play wild and eccentric characters, he may seem almost unrecognizable in his role of Leo Bloom. Instead of the loud boisterous performance we’re used to seeing him give, Wilder plays a timid accountant who gets easily nervous and needs a childhood blankey to calm himself down. But this just goes to show you that Wilder can be just as humorous in a different type of role. The “hysterical” scene at the beginning of the movie in particular had me in tears, I was laughing so hard. “The Producers” was one of Wilder’s first film appearances, and he plays his character like a seasoned comedic actor. This performance was justifiably awarded with an oscar nomination.

There are a number of scenes in “The Producers” which are brilliantly done and will make you laugh just as much (if not more) than any modern-day comedy. From the opening introduction of con-man/playwright Max Bialystock (played by Zero Mostel), to the montage where Max shows Leo the life he could have if they team up, to the auditions held for the role of Hitler, to the show’s opening number- this film is a nonstop riot fest. It stands the test of time and no remake could outdo it in cleverness or hilarity. I will definitely want to watch this one again.

Up next: It’ll be an acting showcase as we watch “Doubt”, starring Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis.

Peace out, kids.


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