Classic Movie Review: The Producers (1967)

Posted: November 12, 2016 in Comedy, Music
Tags: , ,

the-producers-1967

Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) is an entertainment producer raising money the only way he knows how, fleecing old women.  Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) a shy accountant walks in on one of these encounters, and wants to see Max’s books.  Max relents, and Leo muses that Max could make more money with a bad play than a good one, because he doesn’t have to return the investors’ money if the play loses money.  Max then hatches a plan to find the worst play in history.  He gets Leo in on the plan just by spending the day with him.

Max and Leo find the worst play in history, Springtime For Hitler, and its author Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars) a former Nazi, with an affinity for carrier pigeons. They also find the world’s worst director, Roger De Bris (Christopher Hewitt) and after a long and fruitless audition find the perfect Hitler, an actor named Lorenzo St. Dubois, (Dick Shawn) who auditions by singing a very trippy 60’s song with an all-girl band.  The stage is set for a really bad play, what does the audience think?

This is a very broad satire of Nazis, and a very sly satire of Broadway musicals.  Who else could make fun of Nazis so savagely as Mel Brooks and make it funny? This is The Sound of Music with a bizarre twist.  It is also a satire of Broadway, Brooks hints that Broadway audiences will like anything, and Springtime for Hitler is proof.  He also pokes fun at the longstanding gay connection to Broadway, both De Bris and his assistant are obviously gay.  The assistant’s name is Carmen Ghia, an odd looking model of Volkswagen from the 60’s and 70’s.The character’s initials playing Hitler is L.S.D., an obvious reference to the drug of choice of the pharmaceutically challenged youth of the 60‘s. Ulla, Max’s Swedish secretary embodies the Free Love mantra popular in the 1960’s.  Mel Brooks turned this movie into a Broadway play, and then a movie of the Broadway play, but this is the version of The Producers you should see.

The acting in this movie is superb.  I wanted to see this movie when I heard Gene Wilder passed away.  His frantic and frenetic performance is what makes this movie worth watching.  Brooks gave Leo a compulsion that he borrowed from Charles Shultz of The Peanuts, a blue blanket that he must touch at all times.  Wilder takes these idiosyncrasies and runs wild with them, Leo is teetering on the edge of sanity, who will do anything for some reassurance.  And Zero Mostel provides that reassurance, but he is a shyster, and plays that role masterfully.   And when sweet talk doesn’t work, Mostel uses intimidation, and even though they are the same height, Mostel towers as Wilder cowers.  The character actors like Dick Shawn play their characters perfectly.  L.S.D. is on a continuous acid trip, and it is hilarious.

The directing is so fast paced that the viewer as to pay close attention or he or she will miss a joke or a cultural reference.  Brooks even stages the showtunes to perfection.  I can see why he envisioned this movie as a musical later on. He gets great performances from everyone, especially Wilder and Mostel.  The length is perfect for a comedy. 90 minutes.  The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein are the three best Mel Brooks movies, and asking me to choose between them is like choosing a favorite child, but my favorite is Blazing Saddles.

The Producers:  A Wilder side  of Gene, and a Zero who’s a hero.

 

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