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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Review: The Producers (1968)

Springtime for Hitler

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: November 10, 1968 – U.S.
Rating: PG
Genre: Comedy
Running Time: 88 minutes
Director: Mel Brooks
Writer: Mel Brooks
Cast: Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, 
Dick Shawn, Kenneth Mars, 
Lee Meredith, Christopher Hewett

Max Bialystock is a funny name. Say it out loud a few times. Bialystock. Bialyyyyystock. Bialystoooock. Mel Brooks's wildly inventive and hilarious 1968 film, "The Producers," works so well because it knows that those smaller, subtler laughs are just as important as the big, showy jokes – of which there are plenty.  

Bialystock (Zero Mostel) is a washed-up, down-on-his luck Broadway producer whose best days seem long behind him. His accountant, Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder), notices a discrepancy in the books. At first I assumed Wilder's Bloom would be the straight man to Mostel's madcap Bialystock, but it isn't long before Bloom shows off his own zany side. He comes up with a scheme that he is sure will make them both millions.

Bloom's idea is to raise far more money than they actually need to fund a play that is guaranteed to be a massive flop. No one will bother to audit the books on it, he argues, because only the successes are scrutinized.  

As soon as Bloom suggests the idea, he wants to back out; he's afraid something will go wrong and they'll both end up in prison. But Bialystock's eyes flash with dollar signs and he convinces his apprehensive associate to go along with it.

After all, what do they have to lose? Bialystock has been reduced to bedding little old ladies to secure funding (a joke Adam Sandler later borrowed for "You Don't Mess with the Zohan") and Bloom is so timid that he still needs his baby blankie.

Bialystock and Bloom go through every half-baked hack play in their possession, but none of them are quite bad enough. Then they hit the jackpot: "Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden" – a play written by an ex-Nazi, Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars), that adoringly romanticizes the Fuhrer and his wife.

They hire the most incompetent director they can find, Roger De Bris (Christopher Hewett, "Mr. Belvedere") and badly miscast the part of Hitler, choosing a hippie who calls himself L.S.D. (Dick Shawn) for the role.

What could possibly go wrong?

"The Producers" is downright ridiculous and silly, and it works because it maintains that beat for the entire movie (unlike "Identity Thief," for example, which flip-flops between silliness and sincerity). At a thrifty 88 minutes, viewers won't have a chance to get bored or tired as Bialystock and Bloom plot, plan, and propel themselves from one crazy situation to another.

The highlight of the film is naturally the production of "Springtime for Hitler." Those scenes are filled with side-splitting musical numbers, very creative and comical visual gags, entertaining reactions from both the producers and audience, and the worst – and funniest – Hitler ever.    

Thanks to Silver Screen Surprises readers Martha and Lauri for the recommendation. Feel free to suggest movies you want to see reviewed here.    

1 comment:

  1. One of the greatest comedy films ever made, if not THE greatest. I have been telling this blogger to watch for years, and I am thankful he finally did and overjoyed he loved it as much as I knew he would.

    Martha (yes, THAT Martha)


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