The Producers, 1968.
Directed by Mel Brooks.
Starring Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Dick Shawn, Kenneth Mars, Estelle Winwood, Lee Meredith, Christopher Hewett, Andréas Voutsinas, and Renée Taylor.
Mel Brooks’ debut madcap satire The Producers has been restored in 4K by Kino Lorber for this new Special Edition Blu-ray. They’ve also ported over most of the bonus features from previous releases and have tossed in a new commentary track with filmmaker and historian Michael Schlesinger.
Mel Brooks launched his directorial career in 1968 with The Producers, a film that’s now beloved, especially among us Gen Xers whose senses of humor were influenced by Brooks, but which was actually controversial in its day. The major reason, of course, was the fact that aging producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) puts on a show called Springtime for Hitler specifically so he can lose money while overselling shares of the production to wealthy older women who love Broadway.
Naïve accountant Leopold Bloom (Gene Wilder), newly arrived on the job, comes up with the idea while auditing Bialystock’s books. The producer seizes on it, sending into motion a series of hilarious events, including their arrangement with the writer of Springtime for Hitler, a gay ex-Nazi named Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars). Hitler is played in the show by a hippie who goes by L.S.D. (Dick Shawn) – he actually happened to wander into the theater by mistake.
Bialystock sells 25,000% of the available production shares of the show, with a plan for him and Bloom to flee the country as soon as the curtain goes down on what he assumes will be a disastrous opening night, but, well, of course it’s not that simple. What will he do if the audience actually likes the show? He hasn’t considered that.
Shout! Factory previously issued The Producers on Blu-ray, but Kino Lorber has restored it in 4K for this new edition. (Presumably a 4K disc will be on its way at some point.) The film looks great – honestly, it’s not the kind of film that really screams for an immaculate print so you can see all the details on Bialystock’s sweaty face, so this version is good enough for me.
KL ported over most of the special features from previous releases and added a new commentary track with filmmaker and historian Michael Schlesinger. If you enjoy commentaries that sound like film school lectures, you’ll appreciate this one. I do, so I found it pleasurable to hear him discuss the movie within its historical context. Honestly, I’d prefer to hear filmmaking anecdotes and related memories within a documentary than in a commentary track, but your mileage may vary, as they say.
In addition to a radio spot and a theatrical trailer, here’s everything else served up on this platter, which originally appeared on a Special Edition DVD:
- The Making of The Producers: This documentary runs about an hour and details how the film came about, with Brooks explaining the various studio and budget hurdles he had to leap over to get it into theaters. Gene Wilder appears here too, along with various other members of the cast and crew.
- Playhouse Outtake: This is a deleted scene showing more of Mars’ lunacy. I’m not sure why it’s called “Playhouse Outtake” here when it was simply called a deleted scene in previous editions. This is the full version of a scene Brooks references in the making-of.
- Peter Sellers’ Statement Read by Paul Mazursky: Writer/director/actor Mazursky tells a story in the documentary about comedic great Peter Sellers taking out an ad in Variety professing his love for the film, and here Mazursky reads the text of the ad.
- Sketch gallery: This is a two-minute slideshow of artists’ renderings of various locations and incidents in the film.
The previous Shout! edition had an extra interview with Brooks, although it retread much of the same territory as in the documentary. It’s not found here, but it’s not a major loss.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★ / Movie: ★★★★