Judge Brett Cullum is in pain, and he's wet, and he's still hysterical.
Max Bialystock: That's exactly why we want to produce this play. To show the
world the true Hitler, the Hitler you loved, the Hitler you knew, the Hitler
with a song in his heart.
Let's start this show off with [cue the fanfare and goose-stepping chorus girls] a double dip alert! If you bought the previous single edition of The Producers with the white cover, the only thing new here is a brief trailer for the musical version. Don't let the "two disc" label fool you—they just took what was once a single-disc edition with the movie on one side and extras on the other and spread it out to two discs. So if you own the old version, you've got everything here.
But if you have never bought The Producers, what are you waiting for? Mel Brooks is a genius of comedy. His first big screen feature proved that in spades. Who else could make a touching comedy about two saps putting on a Broadway spectacle called Springtime for Hitler? So don't be stupid, be a smarty. Come and join the Nazis for a musical party!
Facts of the Case
Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel, famous for his lead role in Broadway's Fiddler on the Roof) is a washed up Broadway producer who has fallen on hard times. Enter his nervous accountant, Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder (Young Frankenstein), who makes him realize they could make more money with a flop than a hit. So the two set out to produce the biggest bomb in Broadway history, Springtime for Hitler. They've picked the worst play, hired the most inept drag queen director (Christopher Hewett), and cast the worst leading man they could find (Dick Shawn, playing the awesomely named LSD). But will their dreams of getting rich quick be dashed once the play becomes a huge hit? It's a Broadway blitzkrieg of epic proportions.
The Producers was an unlikely hit that went through many years of development. It took a long time for someone to produce a comedy where a Jewish writer took on the story of two losers out to produce the most offensive musical ever conceived. Mel Brooks was a trusted, Oscar-recognized comedy writer, but he had never directed a movie. He wanted to call the movie Springtime for Hitler, after the fictitious offensive production, but had to settle on the more ironic The Producers to insure theatre owners would put the movie's title on their marquee. He cast an old pro in Zero Mostel, and a relative newcomer named Gene Wilder (who at this point had only done Bonnie and Clyde). Though the comedy seems tame today by modern standards, it was a risky movie to make back in 1968.
The Producers has all the Brooks trademarks: manic energy, sight gags, and comedy riffs. It remains one of Brooks' most hysterical productions. Even with its late '60s references, it's surprisingly smart and easy to watch. If you own and love Young Frankenstein or Blazing Saddles, The Producers belongs right next to them. Mostel and Wilder are comedy gold—Wilder was nominated for an Oscar, Mostel for a Golden Globe. Brooks took home the gold guy for his script that year. The movie came in at number eleven on AFI's comedy list, beaten only by Blazing Saddles out of the Brooks' canon. What's great about The Producers versus other films from the writer is how this one has well-fleshed-out characters, and a story. Often Mel has made films that are purely gag oriented, such as Spaceballs, but here we have characters who go on a plot-driven journey. It's a fantastically fun romp with people you care about.
This new Deluxe Edition features the film in both fullscreen and anamorphic widescreen. The print is quite clear, and everything looks great. The colors are key to this film, because yellow is funny. They are bright and crisp, and there's a real love apparent in the technical presentation of the film. There is a full surround track which pumps up the power of LSD's wildly inappropriate hippie rock audition, and all of the musical numbers are full force (be wary of "Springtime for Hitler"—I've been singing it for days). Also included is the original mono track for purists. There is the deleted "Playhouse" sequence, which some people will remember from television airings, sketches, photos, and trailers. There is no commentary, but there is an extensive three-part documentary that runs almost as long as the feature. All the surviving major players are included, and you get the inside scoop on everything. What a great package for a deserving comedy classic.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The only thing on this disc that has never been previously released is a teaser trailer for the big screen adaptation of the musical version of this film, based on the successful 2001 Broadway production starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. It's a trailer—no discussion of this new production. It's something you could easily download on hundreds of sites. Why bother? Oh, right. Synergy, synergy, synergy. I don't mind double dips to support a remake, but give me something more.
The Producers is a comedy classic, and I am glad to see it re-released, since the old disc is out of print. It's pure comedy gold, and a must-see before you head off to see the musical version. Because as wonderful as the play is, the movie is completely sublime. I love Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, but Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder are always going to be the producers. Roger Ebert called it "one of the funniest movies ever made." It was then, and it still is.
Guilty of being one of the best comedies ever made, The Producers is free to go on being the first laugh Mel Brooks ever got as a director.
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Scales of Justice
• Documentary: "The Making of The Producers"
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