Thursday, July 4, 2013

#1,053. The Producers (1967)

Directed By: Mel Brooks

Starring: Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Dick Shawn

Tag line: "Hollywood Never Faced a Zanier Zero Hour!"

Trivia: Mel Brooks based the character of Max Bialystock on a real Broadway producer he knew who used to seduce little old ladies in exchange for checks that were supposedly to produce his latest play

Once the most respected producer on Broadway, Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) - the lead character in Mel Brooks' 1967 film The Producers -  hasn’t had a hit in years, and now makes his money by "servicing" little old ladies. 

When accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) reviews the books for Bialystock’s most recent play, he realizes it’s possible for a producer to make more money with a flop than he can with a hit. 

So the two form a partnership and set out to produce the worst play in Broadway history: Springtime for Hitler, a love letter to Germany’s former dictator. They hire the wrong director, the worst stars, and take every possible measure to ensure that Springtime for Hitler will close on opening night. 

Alas, on Broadway, there are simply no guarantees.

The role of Max Bialystock was tailor-made for Zero Mostel, who is perfect in the part. Reduced to pleasuring old ladies in order to survive, he’s a scoundrel in search of a get-rich-quick scheme. Enter Leo Bloom, the nebbish accountant who is prone to anxiety attacks and still carries his baby blanket around with him. The opening scene, which begins wth Bloom walking in to find Bialystock in a compromising position with “Hold Me, Touch Me” (Estelle Winwood), and ends with the two men leaving to have lunch in the park, is one of the funniest sequences ever committed to film, with each actor taking their turn at manic behavior (from Mostel’s self-pity and posturing to Wilder’s fear of being jumped on).

It’s during this opening that the two hatch their scheme, which puts them in touch with a few more loons, including playwright Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars), author of Springtime for Hitler (subtitled “A Gay Romp with Adolph and Eva at Berchtesgaten”). When he’s not busy with his pigeons (which he keeps on the roof of his apartment building), Liebkind is lamenting the loss of his “beloved Fuhrer”, and expressing anger that Winston Churchill is now more respected than Hitler. 

To direct the play, Bialystock chooses Roger De Bris (Christopher Hewitt), a flamboyant personality who is completely out of touch with the world around him. When discussing Springtime for Hitler with Bialystock and Bloom, De Bris praises the play's historical aspects (“I never knew the Third Reich meant Germany”, he says. “It’s drenched with historical goodies like that”). 

Perhaps craziest of all is the star of the play, Lorenzo St. DuBois (Dick Shawn), a hippie whose friends call him “LSD” for short. His audition for the part of Hitler is beyond weird, and yet another high point in a film that’s nothing but high points.

Flowing from one bit of lunacy to the next with the greatest of ease, and with excellent performances from every member of its cast, not a single scene in Mel Brooks’ The Producers falls flat. 

Evoking everything from snickers to hearty belly laughs, The Producers is a comedy classic.


Anthony Lee Collins said...

What a great movie. As I was reading your review, scene after scene popped into my head ("I'm wearing a cardboard belt!").

I think what really makes it great, as opposed to just really funny, is that Mostel and Wilder play really broad, but never go completely over the top. For example, when Bloom decides to go along with the scheme (and the fountain goes off), it is exhilarating that he's making this choice.

Not that I have any problem at all with movies that are "just" really funny, but if you can do that, and have characters with some humanity, and not get sentimental at the end (and this one has a gloriously unsentimental ending), then you've got a great movie.

Starshiptrooper said...

It was funny as hell when I first saw it as kid when it came out and still is. Zero and Gene were and excellent match. Got me si going Spring Time for Hitler Now