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Moviegoers who think that Mel Brooks' zenith as a filmmaker was marked by flatulence
around a campfire, or that the Farrelly Brothers invented the "do anything for a
laugh, no matter how offensive" philosophy need to investigate The Producers. Brooks' 1968 comedy basically served as the There's Something About Mary of its era. More than thirty years after its initial release,
it's still outrageous as ever and one of the funniest films ever made, an out-of-control
mine car of almost manic frenzy and "did you see/hear that?" kinds of comic
suspects that Brooks wrote the film with a stopwatch in hand; it's never more than a few seconds away from an inspired sight
gag or riotous line of dialog. Adding to the
mix are high-energy
Mostel and Gene Wilder. Mostel plays Max Bialystock, a bottom-feeder of a Broadway
producer. "I'm condemned by a society
that demands success when all I can offer is failure!" he laments. Wilder is Max's milquetoast accountant Leo Bloom,
and throughout the film the two bounce off each other like components of a human pinball
Max has been reduced to serving as a gigolo to a harem of old
women in order to finance his failed plays. After
the latest flop, Leo audits the books and finds that the play actually made money -
$2,000. He wryly muses, "You could make a lot of money by over-financing
turkeys, the IRS isn't interested in flops." Max's
eyes pop (at which Mostel is absolutely world-class) at the news and a plan is hatched,
he'll over-sell ownership in a play that's so bad it's guaranteed to fail. They'll make a fortune.
The play they select is "Springtime for Hitler, a gay romp
with Adolf and Eva at Berchesgarten" (even better, it's a musical), written by
neo-Nazi Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars), who still blindly supports the Third Reich -
"Not many people know it, but the Fuhrer was a terrific dancer." It's a horrible script and in the worst possible
taste, exactly what Max and Leo want. Max chooses a hack director and casts overgrown
flower child Lorenzo Saint DuBois ("L.S.D." - Dick Shawn) as Hitler. Max then launches himself into "little old
sells 25,000 percent of the play to a gaggle of backers, and they're ready for opening
Just as he demonstrated later in Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, Brooks goes just about anywhere to
get a laugh. He takes this over-the-top setup
and leavens it with Nazi jokes, gay jokes, and takeoffs on cliched movie musicals, among
others. And every so often there's a zinger
of a reference to keep the audience on its toes - in one scene Max is reading from a
prospective script: " 'Gregor Samsa awoke one morning to discover that he had been
transformed into a giant cockroach.' Nah,
it's too good."
almost Shakespearean fashion, Brooks never forgets to pander to the
"groundlings" in his films. The Producers is no
exception. Lee Meredith is cast as Max's
secretary Ulla, she's a very buxom young blonde with one small drawback: she cant
speak English. Leo asks Max, "Have you
gone mad? A receptionist who can't speak English? What will people say?" Max's reply is classic Brooks: "They'll say,
"A wuma wa wa wa wa!"
Mostel plays Max Bialystock as
a totally amoral man, which makes the depths of taste to which he plunges seem totally
natural. His shady business practices are exceeded only by his vanity and horrific
comb-over; through most of the film his hair looks like a drowned anorexic squirrel.
Gene Wilder's performance makes Woody Allen at his most neurotic look like Mr.
Rogers. In a classic scene, Max is berating Leo into accepting his plan.
Wilder runs into the corner, clutches a scrap of his childhood blanket (!) and screams
"I'm hysterical! I'm hysterical!" Mostel throws a glass of water in his
face, Wilder screams "I'm wet! I'm hysterical, and I'm wet!" Mostel then
slaps him, only to hear "I'm in pain, and I'm wet, and I'm still hysterical!"
Even by 2001 standards the
film is in borderline bad taste;
in 1968 it was particularly bold. The
audacity was rewarded: Brooks won an Oscar for his
script and went on to further successes. The
Producers endures as a comic marvel.