Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Producers (1968): Mel Brooks' Awesome Directorial Debut Film

The Producers
This is a review of the 1968 original Mel Brooks' movie The Producers and it does not consider the 2005 film with the same title.

To start with the obvious, The Producers is a classic. Although it has been met with mixed reviews upon its initial limited release, over the years the movie has become one of Mel Brooks' defining films and together with his Western comedy Blazing Saddles has been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress. The Producers has also brought Mel Brooks an Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay, and a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Gene Wilder.

A few words about the plot: The Producers is about Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel), a formerly successful Broadway producer who is having hard times recently trying to make more successful plays and romancing old ladies in order to raise money for his living and efforts. Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder), a shy accountant, comes in Bialystock's office to check his books and finds a small, maybe unintentional, fraud. Bialystock begs him to conceal the issue and while doing it, Bloom accidentally mentions a get-rich-quick scheme which he has just thought of: if one raises a huge amount of money and invests just a small portion of the cash in a play which proves to be a big failure then the rest of the amount could be easily embezzled since nobody will audit a failed play. Bloom is afraid to participate in such a dangerous venture but the old fox Bialystock manages to convince him stating that the accountant's life is already worse than prison and promising him they will flee to Brazil. Both of them immediately start looking for the worst play ever written and the production of the perfect flop begins.

While even the idea of The Producers is hilarious, there are many other funny and witty moments in the movie as well as a few additional ridiculous characters. You'll meet a fanatic Nazi psycho playwright (Kenneth Mars), the most incompetent dress-wearing director (Christopher Hewett), a lead actor called LSD who often forgets his own name (Dick Shawn). If this is still not enough, what about a song and a play titled "Springtime for Hitler" (this has been intended to be the name of the film too but which real movie producer in the 60's would agree with such a title), a hippie parody and a "Prisoners of Love" musical starring real prisoners.

The Producers offers an overall good acting and especially both leads, Mostel and Wilder, are incredibly funny at times. There are dozens of memorable lines, coming not only from the two main characters but also from some of the supporting actors. The songs of the intended flop-musical are very catchy and you may find yourself singing one of them a few days after you've watched the movie. The ending is great too and it's more appropriate than Blazing Saddles' experimental conclusion which has not been appreciated by many viewers.

Of course, like pretty much every other film, The Producers is not all good and if somebody wants to criticize the movie, it's not so hard to find a reason. Mel Brooks could be accused of bad taste. Or one might say that the style of the film is similar to Brooks' other movies and so on. But in fact, it is the first in a row of Mel Brooks directed films so it could be looked upon as a basis of his movie-making manner. Also, compared to his other films which are often parodies of a particular subject (Spaceballs, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, even Blazing Saddles and History of the World: Part I), The Producers is an original story. It has deservedly won the Oscar for Best Screenplay and subsequently it has been referenced in many contexts of the popular culture.

If you like some of Mel Brooks' other movies but you've missed to watch this one or if you just want to see a good 60's comedy that has aged quite well, try out The Producers. The film is even more impressing having in mind it's a debut effort.

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