Widely embraced as one of the funniest American comedies ever made, The Producers is an all-out laugh riot. (Forgive me for using such a trite phrase as "laugh riot" but that term has never been more accurate than in this case.) Auspicious debut of comedy god Mel Brooks (six years before he'd unleash both Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles in the same year), this flick is a textbook example of how 'questionable material' can be mined for laughs acutely and effectively – all you need is four or five hilariously gifted filmmakers.
For those unwilling to rent a movie produced before the year of 1989, I'll offer a quick recap of the plot: Max Bialystock is a blustering blowhard of a Broadway producer, and a former golden-boy fallen on hard times. Leo Bloom is a meek and mousy accountant, and the man who, off-handedly, explains that one could make more money off of a theatrical failure than he could with a smash hit ... and off we go into the world of intentional awfulness. And every damn step along the way is peppered with laughter. From the playwright to the director to the insane leading man, Bialy & Bloom do everything they can to ensure that their production of "Springtime for Hitler" will go over like a lead balloon. And when it doesn't? Well, if you haven't seen The Producers by now, you're simply robbing yourself of giant giggles. And who'd want to do that?
Though the plot itself is a humorous concept indeed, it's the staggeringly funny chemistry between the leads that elevates this movie into its well-deserved classic status. Zero Mostel is all blustery and devious frustration as licentious producer Max Bialystock, while a young and genial Gene Wilder proves his perfect foil as his idealistic and meek accountant. Dick Shawn offers a manic turn as "LSD," quite possibly the world's most unlikely leading man, while Kenneth Mars earns a lion's share of the laughs as an insane playwright with a Hitler fixation.
The movie culminates with "Springtime for Hitler," the (hopefully) ill-fated production conceived by Bialystock and Bloom. Though it seems impossible to plumb humor from something involving Adolf Hitler, Brooks deftly tiptoes his way around 'offendability,' delivering a brave and ballsy comedy that's not nearly as controversial as one may think. (Sure, back in 1968 The Producers may have seemed a bit incendiary, but the world's a lot tougher to offend these days.)
If all you know of Mel Brooks is her latter-day trifles like History of the World Part 1, Dracula: Dead and Loving It, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights, do yourself a favor and give this old classic a shot. The Producers easily earns a place beside both Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein ... and fans of classic American comedy realize that that's high praise indeed.
Video: The film is presented in your choice of freakish full-frame or long & lovely anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1). Picture quality is just dandy ... as it was the first time MGM released this identical DVD.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, which sounds bombastically brilliant, or the original Mono track, for the purists, the historians, and the aurally curious. Optional subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish.
Extras: I'll make this real simple. If you already own the "white cover" special edition of The Producers from a few years back, you simply DO NOT need to double-dip on this release. The only new addition is a trailer for the musical (movie) version starring Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane (which is pretty damn entertaining but NOT better than the original!) But some of you still might want the upgrade, if only because the original DVD was a one-discer with the movie on side A and the extras on side B, whereas the new version offers the film and the extras on separate discs. Aside from the omission of a "soundtrack spot" from the first DVD, everything's pretty much the same.
Having noted that all the extras are recycled material, the simple truth is that most of 'em are pretty damn solid. The crown jewel of the set (aside from the main feature, of course) is an hour-long making-of featurette entitled The Making of The Producers, which features interviews and anecdotes from the likes of Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, Kenneth Mars, Lee "Ulla" Meredith, assistant director Michael Hertzberg, composer John Morris, choreographer Alan Johnson, production designer Charles Rosen, casting director Alfa-Betty Olsen, among others. Fans of the film (which means "those who've seen the film") should have a good time with all the old war stories and background information. The participants seem suitably proud of their involvement with this classic comedy, but none of them take it too seriously, which is great.
Also included are a sketch gallery, a 3-minute deleted scene, a photo gallery, and a Peter Sellers Statement Read by Paul Mazursky, which consists of a full-page Variety ad in which Mr. Sellers expresses his enthusiastic admiration for The Producers. Rounding out the extras is a collection of trailers for West Side Story, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Rent, Spaceballs, and The Producers (2005).
If Mel Brooks is remembered for only three films, then he can rest easy knowing that they're three of the funniest ones ever made. And The Producers was the first.
(Portions of this review were reprinted from my piece on the original DVD, courtesy of JoBlo's DVD Clinic.)