Down-on-his-luck theatrical producer Max Bialystock is forced to romance rich old ladies to finance his efforts. When timid accountant Leo Bloom reviews Max's accounting books, the two hit upon a way to make a fortune by producing a sure-fire flop. The play which is to be their gold mine? "Springtime for Hitler."
My childhood was filled with Mel Brooks movies – mostly 'Spaceballs' and 'Robin Hood: Men in Tights.' I remember seeing 'The Producers' in scenes here and there, but don't believe that I saw the full movie until until 2005. The remake that followed the record-setting theatrical Broadway production made me realize that it was time to watch it in its entirety. As much as I enjoyed the remake, with a 134-minute runtime, it felt excessively long and made me realize how great the 1968 89-minute original version of 'The Producers' is.
'The Producers' marks Mel Brooks' first attempt at writing for the big screen and directing. Unexpectedly, it also marked Brooks' first Oscar nomination and win for the award that we now call Best Original Screenplay. 'The Producers' is a unique comedy that has never been matched – except perhaps by the fourth season of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' that completely revolved around a stage revival with Larry David playing Max. (If you haven't seen it, it's a brilliant season that I highly recommend – especially for fans of 'The Producers.')
The two leading characters were inspired by real events in Brooks' life. At one point early in his career, Brooks was the assistant to a scamming stage producer who would sleep with older wealthy women in exchange for them supplying funds for his productions. In 'The Producers,' this adaptation of Brooks' former boss is sexual businessman played by Zero Mostel. He's a grand, energetic and wildly zany character. I cannot think of another actor, past or present, who could pull off the physicality and non-stop intensity of Zero. Like many comedic stage actors, his actions and reactions are over-exaggerated – but adding balance to the potentially exhausting high energy of his character, Max Bialystock, is the calm fish-out-of-water bookkeeper that gets seduced into Max's dishonest lifestyle, Leo Bloom. Of course, this is the role that landed Gene Wilder in comedic motion pictures. The only silver screen production that he had appeared in prior to 'The Producers' was 'Bonnie and Clyde.' With Leo being a mostly restrained and reserved character, there are moments that Max pushes Leo's anxiety and break him out of his quiet shell. These instances offer the comedic brilliance that allows for Wilder to leave behind the straight man persona and conjure hearty "belly-laughs" from the audience.
As well-written as Max and Leo are and as perfect as Zero and Wilder are, these pairings wouldn't be worth a dime if it wasn't for a great screenplay for them to exist within. Their character types are a great combination, but it's the scenario that they place themselves in that truly makes 'The Producers' a "perfect storm" of comedy.
When Leo is brought into Max's office to help with bookkeeping, he notices a $2,000 error in the books. Max's last production was a flop. It came nowhere near profiting, so there wasn't the hassle of having to repay all of the investors; however, there were $2,000 left over from the production's budget. Being a conscious-less blood-sucking businessman, Max persuades Leo into "cooking the books" and placing the $2,000 straight into Max's pocket. Not having worked in show business until this moment, Leo notices a quick way that any dishonest producer could scam millions: if a producer pulled in millions of dollars from investors, didn't spend it all on the production and produced a sure-fire flop, then he could become an instant millionaire by cooking the books. It takes plenty of coaxing, but Leo proves to be a corruptible accountant and signs on to be Max's producing partner for their soon-to-be musical flop, "Springtime for Hitler."
Watching Max and Leo intentionally sabotage their show is hilarious. From a pro-Hitler playwright and a horrible director to downright awful actors and Nazi propaganda musical numbers, their self-destruction is absolutely entertaining, making 'The Producers' one of the funniest comedies of all time.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory has given 'The Producers' a two-disc release that includes a Region A BD-50 and a DVD copy of the film. The discs are housed in a standard blue Elite keepcase that reveals a fun little secret – the cover art is reversible so that you can remove the sheet and flip it over for a completely different cover. The art on the back of the case remains the same, but the cover art is different. Aside from an FBI warning and a short Shout! Factory vanity reel, when you pop the disc in, you're quickly taken to the music-filled main menu.
'The Producers' has been given a good 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that presents the film in it's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. While it's not perfect, it still looks better than most 45-year-old films.
For the most part, 'The Producers' has been scrubbed of imperfections and touched up to remove aging lines and scratches. If you're doing your best to spot them, you'll see miniscule specs throughout, but passively watching will keep them concealed. There are very few scratches – less than a handful – and even less debris. There really aren't many eye-catching distractions.
The sharpness of the picture waivers, but is typically on the defined side. Some shots appear blurry, but the majority are detailed – some revealing deep definition and very fine textures. Being a comedy, heightened colors abound. Reds and blues are vibrant, dabbling near the boundary of over-saturation, but never crossing into that territory.
A few flaws make their way into the picture, but most aren't until the film's final moments. Mild traces of DNR can be seen from time to time. Around 43:44, mildly flickering noise can be seen in the black areas of the screen. The 49th minute carries some flashing, as if a projection bulb was starting to burn out mid-movie. The colors and brightness waiver during this scene. The camera shot at 1:19:40 is the sore thumb of the whole Blu-ray, revealing a very nasty and blurry transfer. And the scene at 1:21:45 features the most prominent vertical lines of the entire film. These flaws are very tame in comparison to some 45-year-old movies, but are noticeable due to 'The Producers' being strong during the other 99 percent of the film.
Two audio options are presented here: a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track and an uncompressed PCM Mono track – at least, that's what the technical specs on the back of the Blu-ray case and in the set up portion of the disc's menu tell you. In reality, the PCM Mono track isn't mono at all, but really two-channel stereo.
I bounced around between the tracks from time to time and learned that there's really only one difference between the two options: the "mono" is always "mono," whereas the 5.1 track features the effects and vocals in mono, with the scene-transitioning music being the only element mixed throughout all channels. As if the 5.1 isn't enough of a let-down, during those scenes where the music kicks in, the volume of the music is so loud in comparison to the vocals that your knee-jerk reaction will be to reach for the controller and adjust the volume.
I prefer the "mono" track over the lossless one, but no matter which you prefer, in terms of quality, you cannot go wrong. The audio doesn't feature a single crackle and there's not a trace of hissing. The only occasional problem is distortion from blown-out levels during filming – loud screams or screeches, high-pitch chorus singing, etc. Aside from those moments, this is a relatively strong transfer for a film of its age.
Considering the fact that 'The Producers' was made in the late '60s, it's crazy to see the risque jokes and gags (including pastie-covered nude breasts and geriatric foreplay) Mel Brooks gets away with in it. Brooks hit the ground running with this comedy about an unlikely duo planning a million-dollar scam disguised as a Broadway flop. The boundary-pushing sexuality is matched by comically playing with taboo topics regarding Hitler and the Holocaust. The comedic timing of its leading duo is perfect, never missing a beat. The final punchline of the movie is unforgettable, so much so that it's been used and referenced in many black comedies since then. The transfer of this 45-year-old film is not flawless, but strong nonetheless. More special features exist than I expected, including an hour-plus documentary about 'The Producers.' If you're a Mel Brooks fan that was disappointed in 'The Producers' not being included in 'The Mel Brooks Collection,' then be excited for this Blu-ray because it's just as good – if not better – than the the discs in that set.