Reviews

The Foibles of Show Business, Revisited: 'The Producers'

The Producers is a laugh-out-loud classic with plenty of over-the-top performances that poke fun at the foibles of show business.


The Producers

Director: Mel Brooks
Cast: Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Kenneth Mars
Distributor: Shout! Factory
Rated: Not Rated
Release date: 2013-07-02

I hadn't seen The Producers in many years before plopping this new Blu-ray in the player to revisit it. While it's dated in many ways, from the style of the jokes and the fashions to the presence of many actors who are unknown to a younger generation of moviegoers, it's still a laugh-out-loud classic with plenty of over-the-top performances that poke fun at the foibles of show business.

In the accompanying making-of documentary, director and writer Mel Brooks says that scheming but down-on-his-luck Broadway producer Max Bialystock is actually based on someone he worked for while a teenager. That includes the seduction of little old ladies who gave him checks made out to cash so they could experience the thrill of helping finance a theatrical production.

Fortunately for those little old ladies, Brooks' employer never met an accountant who gave him an idea for defrauding investors on a grand scale by raising way more capital than he needed and then producing a play destined to fail after its first performance. (Or by page four, as Bialystock says early in the film.)

The entertainment industry is full of such sleazy characters, and I'm sure Brooks has met his fair share of them during the decades since he broke into the Hollywood mainstream by directing The Producers, which was his first movie. (Lest you think he came out of nowhere, however, he had already made his mark, and a sizable amount of money, in TV, where he worked on Sid Caesar's popular Your Show of Shows and co-created Get Smart with Buck Henry.)

The Making of The Producers documentary, which runs an hour, is full of many more tidbits about the film's long journey from basic idea to final production. For example, you'll learn how Brooks originally called the movie Springtime for Hitler, leading one squeamish studio to suggest a name change to Springtime for Mussolini. He also had to get creative with the relatively low budget that was given to him, leading to a few examples of how various illusions, such as the seeming presence of an orchestra pit, were created.

Co-star Gene Wilder, who also saw his career fortunes rise considerably with this film, offers his thoughts too, along with various producers and others. One great story that Brooks tells concerns the film's initial screening for the studio, which took place in a huge theater with hundreds of empty seats.

That documentary was ported over from a previous DVD Special Edition along with the rest of the bonus features, which are all presented in standard definition. The 20-minute Mel and His Movies: The Producers is a bit redundant, offering a lot of information that's repeated from the documentary, and too much of its running time is devoted to extended clips from the film. There's no commentary track.

The rest of the bonus features include a deleted scene (it's easy to see why it was eliminated, and Brooks speaks a bit about that in the documentary), the theatrical trailer, a sketch gallery, and a brief clip of Paul Mazursky reading a glowing ad that Peter Sellers placed in Variety after seeing The Producers. In the documentary, Mazursky tells the entire story about Sellers seeing the film for the first time and loving it so much that he insisted on running an ad professing his admiration.

Speaking of a film being dated: such a gesture seems to be relegated to the old days of Hollywood, when those involved in the business were more willing to give each other public accolades (I'm also reminded of the congratulatory ads Lucas and Spielberg took out in the '70s and '80s). I can't think of an example of such a thing happening in more recent years.

This Blu-ray is accompanied by a standard-def DVD that contains the movie and all the bonus features, which is a nice touch.

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