Film Society Selection
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FILM RECEIVED 3 WINS AND 4 NOMINATIONS
Brooks, US, 1967, 85 minutes
Cast:Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Kenneth Mars
Producers Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom attempt to create a sure-fire flop as part of a get-rich-quick
scheme. Brooks's inspired bad taste is as gaspingly funny today as when made - if not funnier.
Bracknell Film Society was one of the first (of few) UK organisations to show The Producers
on the film's release. This screening marks the re-release of the re-digitised film.
The Producers still holds its grip Mostel and Wilder are sublime GUARDIAN
Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder have a scene in "The Producers" where they roll on the floor so ferociously we expect them to chew on one another. Mostel is so manic and barbarian, Wilder so panicked and hysterical, you wonder why spit didn't get on the camera lens. The whole movie is pitched at that level of frenzied desperation, and one of the many joys of watching it is to see how the actors are able to control timing and nuance even while screaming.
This is one of the funniest movies ever made. To see it now is to understand that. To see it for the first time in 1968, when I did, was to witness audacity so liberating that not even "There's Something About Mary" rivals it. The movie was like a bomb going off inside the audience's sense of propriety. There is such rapacity in its heroes, such gleeful fraud, such greed, such lust, such a willingness to compromise every principle, that we cave in and go along.
The movie stars Mostel and Wilder as Max Bialystock, a failing Broadway producer, and Leo Bloom, a nebbishy accountant. Bialystock raises money for his productions by seducing cheques out of little old ladies, who come to his office to fool around ("We'll play the innocent little milkmaid and the naughty stable boy!"). Bloom is sent to do his books, and finds that Bialystock raised $2,000 more than he lost on his last failure. You could make a lot of money by overfinancing turkeys, he muses, a glint in his eye: "The IRS isn't interested in flops."
This leads to their great inspiration: Max will venture into "little old lady-land" and raise thousands of dollars more than they need for a production that will be guaranteed to fail. The critic David Ehrenstein traces the first use of the phrase "creative accounting" to "The Producers," and Bialystock and Bloom make it into a fine art. "Hello, boys!" says Max, plopping down next to his safe and patting the piles of money.
Their formula for failure is a musical named "Springtime for Hitler," with a dance line of jackbooted SS girls and lyrics like, "Don't be stupid, be a smarty! Come and join the Nazi Party!" Their neo-Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars) roars up to opening night on a motorcycle, wears a Nazi helmet into the lobby, and tells them, "It's magic time!" Reaction shots during the first act show the audience paralyzed in slack-jawed horror.How did Mel Brooks, the writer and director, get away with this? By establishing the amoral desperation of both key characters at the outset, and by casting them with actors you couldn't help liking, even so. Like Falstaff, Zero Mostel's Max Bialystock is a man whose hungers are so vast they excuse his appetites. There is a scene where he scrubs his filthy office window with coffee, peers through the murk, sees a white Rolls-Royce and screams, "That's it, baby! When you've got it, flaunt it! Flaunt it!" You can taste his envy and greed. "See this?" he says to Bloom, holding up an empty setting. "This used to hold a pearl as big as your eye. Look at me now! I'm wearing a cardboard belt!" It is typical of this movie that after he says the line, he takes off the belt and rips it to shreds.
To produce a musical named "Springtime for Hitler" was of course in the worst possible taste, as an escaping theater patron observes in the movie--to the delight of Bialystock and Bloom, who were counting on just that reaction. To make a movie about such a musical was also in bad taste, of course. It is obvious that Bialystock and Bloom are Jewish, but they never refer to that. As Franz Liebkind rants, they nod, because the more offensive he is, the more likely his play will fail. Brooks adds just one small moment to suggest their private thoughts. As the two men walk away from the playwright's apartment, Bloom covers the red-and-black Nazi armband Franz has given him. "All right, take off the armband," says Bialystock, taking off his own. They throw both armbands into a trash can. Leo spits into it, and then Max does.
Extracted from a review by Roger Ebert