• Producers, The



    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: July 2, 2013.
    Director: Mel Brooks
    Cast: Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Dick Shawn, Kenneth Mars
    Year: 1968
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    The Movie:

    Mel Brooks’ directorial debut, which he also wrote, stands as one of his crowning achievements and having revisited The Producers recently for the first time in a few years for the purposes of this review, it’s easy to see why. The movie is still very funny and Brooks manages to get some great performances out of his two leads.

    For those who haven’t seen it, the picture begins in the offices of a washed up Broadway producer named Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) as he’s charming an old lady out of some money by feigning sexual interest in her. He’s interrupted by an accountant named Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) who, after he finishes up with his guest, tells him he’s been sent to audit his book. Bloom finds a two thousand dollar ‘mistake’ in the records of Max’s last play and mentions how simple it would be for a producer to make more money with a flop than with a hit. Max’s gears start turning and before you know it he’s fast talked Leo into helping him put together the biggest flop of all time so that they can scam investors out of a million dollars and escape together to Rio de Janeiro.

    But first, they need a script. Eventually they settle on a play called Springtime for Hitler, written by a German immigrant named Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars) whose loyalties obviously lay back with his dear, departed Furher. They talk him into selling them the play and then recruit the worst director they know of, Roger De Bris (Christopher Hewett long before he’d become famous as Mr. Belvedere!) before casting their lead, a burnt out hippy type named Lorenzo St. DuBois (Dick Shawn) – or L.S.D. to his friends. There’s no way this can be anything but a complete disaster… right?

    This is the type of plot that leaves itself wide open for all sorts of laughs, and Brooks completely exploits it. As such, we get some great satire of Broadway culture here, from the flamboyancy of the gay crowd that it tends to attract (De Bris lives with his jealous ‘assistant’ named Carmen Ghia) to the Jewish crowd that tends to pack the theaters (Brooks has always been prone to self-effacing jabs at Jewish culture). Not to mention the scenes featuring the production itself, in which Nazis dance in unison and form a swastika on stage to segue into scenes where Hitler sketches out his battle plan in song at a piano, pushing away the advances of his lady.

    On top of that though, there is a load of clever dialogue and two amazing performances from Wilder and Mostel that really make the most out of the penchant for physical comedy that both men embody. Mostel, who popped up in Panic In The Streets and was well known for his own Broadway work (he played Tyvel in Fiddler On The Roof), nails the sleazy side of things. He’s pushy and conniving and more than a little bit of a hustler, his greasy hair often falling over to one side and his eyes tending to bulge as he gets more and more involved in things. Wilder is the opposite, at least at first, he’s meek and prone to hysterics (sometimes while wet) and carries around with him his blue blanket, the one he’s had since he was a baby. He worries about Max stomping on him the way Nero stomped on his wife. The two make a great oil and vinegar team, two elements that shouldn’t and don’t really go together very well at all, but once combined somehow make for a great combination.

    The rest of the cast all turn in fine work too, from Bill Hickey’s friendly drunk to lovely Lee Meredith as the Swedish sex bomb secretary, but particularly from Kenneth Mars as the unstable Nazi playwright who can’t imagine ‘der Furher’ ever calling another man ‘baby’ as he does in the play. Sure he completely overdoes it, but that doesn’t make it any less funny when he does. It all adds up to one of those movies rare films where it all comes together, a film that’s almost endlessly rewatchable and which never fails to entertain or bring a smile to your face.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    The Producers debuts on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1.85.1 widescreen in full 1080p high definition. The transfer is a grainy one but that’s not a bad thing. Realistically speaking, detail is pretty good and color reproduction is impressive – you’ll notice this during the stage show but also in the bar where our heroes drink with Bill Hickey’s character. Skin tones usually look pretty good, there are no issues with compression artifacts and black levels are solid. Texture is also nice, and contrast looks accurate.

    Audio options are offered in English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and PCM Mono with optional subtitles provided in English, French and Spanish. The 5.1 mix actually sounds stronger and a bit more full than the mono track does, with maybe a slightly cleaner sound to it too. It’s nice to have the option to use the original mix, however. Dialogue sound clean, concise and easy to follow and the music used throughout the movie sounds nice. There are no issues with any hiss or distortion of note. The surround mix doesn’t envelope you the way a more modern film right, but you’d be crazy to expect it to do that in the first place.

    New to this Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory is a featurette entitled Mel And His Movies: The Producers. Clocking in at a few seconds shy of nineteen minutes, this segment features input from Mel himself as he talks about the making of this movie, noting who helped out with various aspects of the production and telling some fun stories about the people that he worked with on the movie. Mel looks back on this pretty fondly and he remains a funny guy, endlessly easy to listen to. Some interesting archival photographs and clips are used throughout the featurette, including a ridiculous picture of Gene Shalet (which could be pretty much any picture of Gene Shalet, come to think of it).

    Carried over from the last DVD release of the movie is the hour long featurette, The Making Of The Producers, which includes interviews with Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, Kenneth Mars, Lee Meredith and a few other cast and crew members involved in the production. This is a pretty comprehensive look back at the making of the movie, what went into the production, what it was like on set and how those involved feel about having worked on the film. It’s an interesting history lesson but done with such a warm sense of humor that it’s never dull and quite a nice accompaniment to the feature.

    Also carried over from the last DVD release are a sketch gallery, a single three minute deleted scene, a still gallery, and an amusing bit in which Peter Sellers’ Statement on the film is read by Paul Mazursky (basically a full page ad that appeared in Variety). Menus and chapter selection is also offered and this is a combo pack release so a DVD version of the movie with identical extra features is also included. We also get some pretty cool reversible cover art, with the caricature style art on one side and a great image of Lee Meredith with a Hitler moustache on the other. Rad!

    The Final Word:

    The Producers holds up incredibly well. A great cast, a ridiculous premise and some excellent performances combined with some excellent pacing and comedic timing and just the right amount of style have all helped to make this one stand the test of time. Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray looks good and sounds good and not only carries over all of the extras from MGM’s previous DVD release but includes a new featurette as well.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!