Mel Brooks is a great comedic genius, but like most directors his first major hit was quite a bit different from what he would become known for in later years. Nowadays Brooks is probably known for his parodies, usually involving a deliberately over-the-top narrative filled to the brim with fourth wall breaks and pop culture references. However, looking back at his first film, The Producers, gives us something quite a bit different, although it did include future collaborator Gene Wilder. There seems to be some dispute over whether this film came out in 1967 or 1968, but since IMDB lists the former year I'm going to assume that this is a valid choice for The Rosebud Cinema's 1967 in Film Blogathon.
Zero Mostell plays the role of Max, a wealthy but struggling theater producer who hasn't had a good break for some time. Enter Gene Wilder as Leo Bloom, an accountant sent to manage Max's books. Within moments of looking through said books, Leo notices a serious case of fraud that could incriminate Max, and then figures out a convoluted plan by which more money could be made from a flop than a box office success. Max is overjoyed by the idea and, after convincing Bloom that his honesty isn't getting him anywhere, enlists his help in putting together the worst play of all time, finding it in the form of a script written by a psycho former Nazi called Springtime For Hitler.
It is hard to compare this to Brooks' later films in just how different it is. You can see early traces of Brooks' sense of humor and the chances he is willing to take. After all, right here he was hardly above making jokes about the Nazis, and would later on revisit that territory in even greater depth (going as far as to even make fun of the Holocaust itself) with his later film To Be Or Not To Be (which even had a music video that clearly drew from Springtime For Hitler, even drawing at least one line directly from The Producers). There are a few small instances of Zero Mostell addressing the camera as well; Brooks would absolutely demolish the fourth wall in Blazing Saddles, High Anxiety, Spaceballs, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights, among other films, so this early foreshadowing is an interesting touch.
But what of the film itself. Well, it is a lot of fun. Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel play off of each other nicely. Mostell is obviously a scoundrel who does a lot of ethically questionable things but at the same time he is given some depth and in fact is full of redeeming qualities that you might not realize up until the very end. Gene Wilder is the nervous wreck who becomes Mostel's partner in crime, going from a boring office job to what he hopes to be something more exciting. On some level he also serves as the voice of reason to Mostel's craziness. The rest of the cast is of course creative and distinct enough that even if they don't have much screen time they make their scenes memorable enough.
If you prefer the more zany nature of Brooks' later films, you probably won't be as big on this one, and it does take some time to get to the really funny parts, but if you want a creative and well-thought out comedy or you just want to see how a great comedian got his start, this is quite a bit of fun and definitely worth it's hour and half running time.