Sunday, 22 June 2014

1967 in Film Blogathon: The Producers


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.


Naturally this inevitably leads to a whole bunch of encounters with weird characters, including the incompetent cross-dressing director of the play; the writer who makes no effort to conceal his Nazi affiliation in public (to the point where he wears a German helmet in front of countless witnesses and openly talks about how kind a man he thought Hitler was); Max's decision to reward his hard work with "a toy" in the form of a super attractive gibberish-speaking receptionist who understands "go to work" as stripping off her clothes and dancing to rock and roll music; the terrible actor nicknamed "LSD" who accidentally gets cast in the role of Hitler after walking into the wrong audition; and many others. Hilarity ensues as the two leads enlist all these people as part of their scheme all the while trying to keep up the illusion that they think the play is a grand masterpiece.


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 SaddlesHigh AnxietySpaceballs, 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.


6 comments:

  1. I can't believe I haven't seen this movie! Such a great premise, and with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder too! So glad you were able to review this film for the blogathon. It would not have been complete without a Mel Brooks selection.

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    1. To be honest, this was all very last minute. I didn't remember much of it and I only found out about the blogathon last night, and mainly chose this because it was the only thing I could discuss in time. Of course when I did watch it I was reminded of just how funny the movie could get.

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  2. I love The Producers!! I'm so happy you wrote about this as I'd totally overlooked it as a '67 classic. Brooks and Wilder are just perfection and oh so funny. I'm not sure why Susan Stroman felt the need to 'remake' it, but my feeling is that's a totally different film - so perhaps it's ok!

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    1. Well, it was the one film I could find from that year that I had immediate access to and that I knew wasn't taken, but yet, it is a hilarious movie.

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  3. I like this one a lot, so many memorable scenes and lines. by the way I can't let any more time go by without saying thanks for mentioning me on your blog the other day, much appreciated!

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    1. No problem. I wanted to emphasize several of the good female bloggers I know.

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