When you think about it, everything about The Producers is a signpost for destiny. What started as a very contained idea for a book spiraled into a deathless concept that ultimately became a massive hit on the same Broadway stages the film satirizes (and eventually becomes another movie, albeit a lesser one in every respect). It goes like this: Mel Brooks was in a comfortable place having sold Get Smart, the show developed with writer Buck Henry, to NBC. He starts working on a book about an unscrupulous theatrical producer who realizes he could make more money with a flop than with a hit. People tell Brooks that a story about a stage musical should be on the stage. Brooks develops it into just that, but then is told his vision has exceeded a play’s ability to deliver…maybe he should turn it into a movie.
In its day, The Producers (the property once actually proposed as Springtime For Hitler) was beloved and reviled. It made decent money but stayed on the side of “cult film.” The notoriety gave Brooks the ability to do the adaptation of The Twelve Chairs which wound up perplexing audiences.
That combination of missing the mark, of wanting to show everyone that they were wrong, and honestly of needing a paying job really badly, resulted in what is viewed as one of America’s great comedies, Blazing Saddles. Had The Producers been a massive hit, Brooks would likely have been swept away into the big studios, never experiencing the vulnerabilities that informed his later productions. On the other hand, had it thoroughly tanked, few would have trusted Brooks’ broadside instincts again and those other movies would have been likewise done-for. The dominoes of events would have been disrupted.
But here we are, watching the new Blu-ray of the film that kicked off Brooks’ movie career, and it’s a fine release indeed. As the titular producers/scammers bombastic Bialystock Zero Mostel and hyperventilating Bloom Gene Wilder approach “the top” and don’t merely go over it, but stomp it to dust with stilettos doing a tarantella, but the lunacy absolutely works. You’re no longer in the real world where people simmer in silences and scowling. Brooks’ world is as explosive as any in a Jerry Bruckheimer film, and leaves you feeling far less guilty afterward.
The performances are, all around, unhinged from Dick Shawn as L.S.D., Roger DeBris as played by future Mr. Belvedere Christopher Hewett, future Brooks go-to Kenneth Mars as Franz Liebkind, and Lee Meredith as (va-va-voom!) Ulla. And even though everything is coming apart for Max & Leo, the film retains its inherent 1960s-ness by never going too dark. It’s a black comedy; how could it not be when the central plot pivot is about a play celebrating Nazis in song? Yet the film doesn’t take you into the abyss, which is what often happens with modern screwball efforts (for better and worse, the Hangover films). The Producers wants to be loved, even at its most unlovable, which proves to be it’s most endearing asset.
Shout Factory’s release of the film is in great shape. I’m not sure how much restoration was done (performed for an earlier theatrical re-release along with a Dolby 5.1 remix of the audio) but it is probably a safe assumption that this viewing is better than most of the movie’s original theatrical showings. The disc also offers a documentary “The Making Of The Producers,” a featurette “Mel And His Movies,” the theatrical trailer, and other nice odds and ends.
If you are a fan of Mel Brooks, you should have this. If you are a fan of comedies, you should have this. If you don’t have a Blu-ray player…you probably shouldn’t have this. Regardless, Shout Factory’s release of Mel Brooks’ The Producers is a natural and, let’s face it. At the rate it is going in terms of destiny, it’s going to outlive us all. Accept and embrace it, schatzie.