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Producers Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom make money by producing a sure-fire flop.
For more about The Producers and the The Producers Blu-ray release, see the The Producers Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on June 18, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Dick Shawn, Kenneth Mars, Andréas Voutsinas, Estelle Winwood
Director: Mel Brooks
» See full cast & crew
The Producers Blu-ray Review
Springtime for Blu-ray, Winter for DVD.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, June 18, 2013
Though it wasn't always so (more about that a bit later), The Producers is now regularly listed among the funniest films of the 20th century and is equally consistently placed atop lists of the best Mel Brooks films, so it should come as no great surprise that I'm about to repeat those accolades. And as much as any review is intrinsically a subjective opinion, in this case it may be more subjective than usual due to the fact that I have several tangential connections to The Producers that probably make me a less than objective analyst of the film. The most salient of these is that in my guise as a professional musician I conducted a smash hit mounting of the musical version of The Producers a couple of years ago, a production that received rave reviews and set box office records that shattered the half century history of attendance at the theater where it was mounted. Also in my guise as a musician, it has been both my pleasure and privilege to work with the insanely talented daughter of The Producers' resident crazy Nazi author, Kenneth Mars, the impeccably gifted Susannah Mars, and through her auspices I was able to chat with Mr. Mars about his work on this film (as well as other Brooks outings). Finally, though this is perhaps stretching things a bit, my late uncles owned quite a bit of real estate in and around Manhattan for decades in the mid-20th century, and rented to a laundry list of well known celebrities through the years. Two of these were Mel Brooks and Dustin Hoffman, and indeed when the special edition DVD of The Producers came out replete with a remembrance by Brooks of Hoffman throwing pebbles on Brooks' apartment window on West 11th in order to reveal he might have just been cast in The Graduate and therefore couldn't do The Producers, that was a building that my family owned. Brooks' anecdote just leapt right out at me when I first listened to it, as one of my Uncles used to regale me with stories of a young, and largely unemployed, Dustin Hoffman when I would visit him in New York City in that very building (where he also had an apartment). And so I'm probably the last person to ask for an "objective" view of this unabashedly ridiculous romp, for I've loved it since I first saw it on television as a child, and it has continued to delight me in the (many) intervening years. Anyone who has worked in the world of theater and dealt with the often smarmy machinations of producers will tell you that Brooks' film is obviously exaggerated but is not that far off the mark in terms of the lengths some will go to make a buck.
Broadway has become more and more the domain of the bean counter, something perhaps not so coincidentally simultaneous to Broadway becoming the haven for film studios looking for another outlet for revenue (as exemplified by the "Disneyfication" of the Great White Way). But even back in the "Dark Ages" of the fities and sixties, the producer often held all the chips in any given production, which is one reason you saw such vaunted writing teams as Rodgers and Hammerstein venturing into producers' chairs as well, in order to control their product. There was perhaps a naïvete and even innocence about producing back in this era, with more of a "let's put on a show" ethos than is currently the norm, but in Mel Brooks' particularly skewed world view, the producer is a hack, a man on the make out for one thing and one thing only—money. And so we are introduced to impresario Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel), a producer who had once long ago tasted the fruits of Broadway success, but who has drifted into a world of indigence, highlighted by his romancing of several elderly women whom he regularly plies for funds.
Into Bialytock's maelstrom of ego and machinations wanders neurotic accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder, Academy Award nominated for this film), who has come to look over Max's books and who soon discovers an anomaly that immediately ignites a furious lightbulb of inspiration in Max. Evidently Max had raised more money than was actually needed for his last flop, which of course instantly begs the question: what if one were to intentionally stage a flop, raising untold heaps of moolah from investors who would never need to be repaid? And so the nascent partnership of Bialystock and Bloom is born, as they set out to stage the worst play of all time. After wading through piles of hideous submissions, they find the perfect opportunity: a little piece called Springtime For Hitler, which has been written by an obviously addlepated former Nazi (well, maybe not so former) named Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars). Bialystock and Bloom, though perhaps a little shocked by Liebkind's manner (not to mention his carrier pigeon collection), option Springtime for Hitler and then move on to assembling the worst possible cast and crew, in order to guarantee their failure.
The two final pieces in Bialystock and Bloom's "flop puzzle" are director Roger DeBris (Christopher Hewett), a flamboyantly gay man who never met a potential hit he couldn't ruin, and star Lorenzo St. Dubois, AKA L.S.D. (Dick Shawn), a drug addled beatnik who more than lives up to his initials. Bialystock and Bloom feel like they have the perfect recipe for disaster, and in fact as the play opens and the audience reacts, mouths agape, to the big production number "Springtime for Hitler", it seems that the producers' plans have come to fruition. But, this is show business after all, the domain of the unexpected.
The Producers was actually pilloried by some pretty renowned critics when it was first released (one of them bears a similar surname to mine, but he is not a relative, at least as far as I know). People just weren't quite ready for Brooks' anarchic sense of humor, one that's decidedly politically incorrect and which is intentionally broad to the point of self-parody. Some audiences weren't especially comfortable with the whole "funny Nazi" element (and yet many of these same people tuned in in droves to Hogan's Heroes at basically this exact same time), and others perhaps weren't swayed by the film's tendency to be incessantly manic (especially with regard to Mostel's characterization), filled with in jokes aimed at showbiz cognoscenti and Jews, and an overall cloistered feeling that may have been too "insider" for immediate accessibility.
Time has mostly been very kind to The Producers, helped in no small measure by the reevaluation the film experienced when Brooks' outlandishly successful musical version took Broadway by storm. The musical version reinstated several ostensibly offensive punch lines that producer Joseph E. Levine had nixed from this original version, and it also considerably augmented the roles of luscious secretary Ulla and mincing assistant to Roger, Carmen Ghia. The film is probably still a bit too noisy for its own good, with a relentlessly hyperbolic performance by Mostel that some still find more annoying than hilarious. Brooks' take no prisoners approach to the wild and wooly ways of show business may in fact have something to offend nearly everyone, but it similarly has laughs galore and remains one of the most piquant parodies of all time.
The Producers Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Producers is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1. Shout!'s press materials accompanying this release state that this was sourced from a new HD master, and the results are often spectacular. The elements are in fantastic condition, and no aggressive digital tweaking seems to have been done to them (if these were scrubbed of damage, it's been done very well indeed, with no loss of detail that I could discern.) Colors have a whole new life to them (Estelle Winwood's dress is blue, baby!), and fine detail really pops, especially since Brooks loves to shoot both Mostel and Wilder, as well as several supporting players, in extreme close-ups a lot of the time. There are a few niggling anomalies, however, including some very minor density fluctuations that give the appearance of negligible flicker now and again. Also a couple of scenes which have always looked soft continue to, including the romp around Lincoln Center. I don't think I've ever noticed this before, and I'm still not entirely positive, but it seems like the film utilizes rear projections when Bialystock and Bloom get out of the car to arrive at DeBris' apartment.
The Producers Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Producers features its original mono track via an uncompressed LPCM Mono (2.0) mix, as well as a lossless rendering of the repurposed (Dolby Digital) 5.1 soundtrack done for the Special Edition DVD, now delivered via DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. Purists will no doubt want to stick with the original mono track, which is quite spry and delivers dialogue, music and effects quite effectively. I have a somewhat ambivalent reaction to the 5.1 mix. It's a bit more aggressive than I typically like in situations like this, with foley effects deliberately panned to achieve a faux surround ambience (you'll note this especially in some of the outdoor Manhattan sequences). On the other hand, the incredible music, courtesy of John Morris and Brooks himself, sounds fantastic in the surround mix. One way or the other, it's nice to have a choice, and kudos to Shout! for providing fans with one.
The Producers Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Only the misnamed "Soundtrack Spot" (which any Broadway musical lover will tell you should have been called an "Original Cast Recording Spot") has not been ported over from the Special Edition DVD:
The Producers Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I was in pre-production for The Producers for a rather incredible year before the show even opened for what was a pretty long (several month) run for a local theater. So I got to know the musical version of this property very well. What surprised me in revisiting the original film is how faithfully Brooks lifted almost all of the dialogue for his musical version, with only a few changes along the way. With my year plus experience on the musical, I therefore might have been able to recite most of the film along with the actors as I watched this time, but I was too busy laughing. The Producers can admittedly be a bit too manic for its own good at times, but it's so full of wonderful little bits that it's hard to complain too vociferously about anything. Mostel and Wilder make for one of the most lovably dysfunctional producing pairs since Feuer and Martin (now there's an inside joke). This Blu-ray offers great video and audio and comes replete with all the Special Edition DVD supplements (save for the OCR ad), as well as a brand spanking new featurette. Highly recommended.
The Producers Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray: July 2-9 - June 29, 2013
For the week of July 2nd, Shout Factory is streeting the long-awaited Blu-ray of Mel Brooks' The Producers, alongside John Landis' anthology romp The Kentucky Fried Movie. Other releases include a standalone Blu-ray edition of Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble with ...
• Mel Brooks' The Producers Heads to Blu-ray (Updated) - April 4, 2013
Shout Factory has revealed that it is planning to release a Collector's Edition of Mel Brooks' The Producers (1968), starring Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, and Dick Shawn. The preliminary release date set by the studio is July 2.
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