The Producers (1968 film)

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The Producers
The Producers (1968).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Mel Brooks
Produced by Sidney Glazier
Written by Mel Brooks
Starring Zero Mostel
Gene Wilder
Kenneth Mars
Dick Shawn
Music by John Morris
Cinematography Joseph Coffey
Edited by Ralph Rosenblum
Distributed by Embassy Pictures
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • March 18, 1968 (1968-03-18)[1]
Running time 88 minutes[1][2]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $941,000[3][4]
Box office $1,681,986 (rentals)[5]

The Producers is a 1968 American satirical dark comedy cult classic musical film written and directed by Mel Brooks. The film is set in the late 1960s and it tells the story of a theatrical producer and an accountant who want to produce a sure-fire Broadway flop. They take more money from investors than they can repay (the shares they've sold total more than 100% of any profits) and plan to abscond to Brazil as soon as the play closes, only to see the plan improbably go awry when the show turns out to be a hit.

The film stars Zero Mostel as Max Bialystock, the producer, and Gene Wilder as Leo Bloom, the accountant, and features Dick Shawn as L.S.D., the actor who ends up playing the lead in the musical within the movie, and Kenneth Mars as the former Nazi soldier and playwright, Franz Liebkind.

The Producers was the first film directed by Mel Brooks. He won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Decades later, it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry and placed 11th on the AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs list. The film was later remade successfully by Brooks as an acclaimed Broadway stage musical which itself was adapted as a film.

Plot[edit]

Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) is a washed-up, aging Broadway producer who ekes out a living romancing lascivious wealthy elderly women in exchange for money for his next play. Nebbish accountant Leopold "Leo" Bloom (Gene Wilder) arrives at Max's office to do his books and discovers there is a $2,000 overcharge in the accounts of Max's last play, because he raised more money than he could repay by selling more than 100% of the shares in the potential profits. Max persuades Leo to hide the relatively minor fraud, and, while shuffling numbers, Leo has a revelation: a producer could make a lot more money with a flop than a hit. Max immediately puts this scheme into action. They will over-sell shares again, but on a much larger scale, and produce a play that will close on opening night. No one audits the books of a play presumed to have lost money, thus avoiding a pay-out and leaving the duo free to flee to Rio de Janeiro with the profits. Leo is afraid such a criminal venture will fail and they will go to prison, but Max eventually convinces him that his drab existence is no better than prison.

After reading many bad plays, the partners find the obvious choice for their scheme: Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden. It is "a love letter to Hitler" written in total sincerity by deranged ex-Nazi Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars), whose name is German for "Frank Lovechild". They persuade him to sign over the stage rights, telling him they want to show the world "the Hitler you loved, the Hitler you knew, the Hitler with a song in his heart." To guarantee that the show is a flop, they hire Roger De Bris (Christopher Hewett), a director whose plays "close on the first day of rehearsal". The part of Hitler goes to a charismatic but only semi-coherent, flower power hippie named Lorenzo St. DuBois, a.k.a. L.S.D. (Dick Shawn), who can barely remember his own name and had mistakenly wandered into their theater during the casting call. After Max sells 25,000% of the play to his regular investors (dozens of lustful little old ladies), they are sure they are on their way to Rio.

The result of all of this is a cheerfully upbeat and utterly tasteless musical play purporting to be about the happy home life of a brutal dictator. It opens with a lavish production of the title song, "Springtime For Hitler", which celebrates Nazi Germany crushing Europe ("Springtime for Hitler and Germany/Winter for Poland and France"). After seeing the audience's dumbfounded disbelief, Max and Leo, confident that the play will be a flop, go to a bar across the street to celebrate and get drunk. Unbeknownst to them, their attempt backfires as, after initial dumbfounded disbelief, the audience finds L.S.D.'s beatnik-like portrayal (and misunderstanding of the story) to be hilarious and misinterpret the production as a satire. During intermission, some members of the audience come to the bar at which Max and Leo are drinking and rave about the play, much to Max and Leo's horror. The two decide to return to the theater after intermission to hear what the rest of the audience has to say, which echoes what the others already have said. Meanwhile, L.S.D.'s portrayal of Hitler enrages and humiliates Franz, who, after going behind the stage, untying the cable holding up the curtain and rushing out on stage, confronts the audience and rants about the treatment of his beloved play. However, someone behind the curtain manages to knock him out and remove him from the stage, and the audience assumes that Franz's rant was part of the act. Springtime For Hitler is declared a smash-hit, which means, of course, the investors will be expecting a larger financial return than can be paid out.

As the stunned partners turn on each other, a gun-wielding Franz confronts them, who accuses them of breaking the "Siegfried Oath". After failing to shoot Max and Leo, Franz tries to shoot himself but has run out of bullets. Leo comforts Franz while Max tries to convince Franz to kill the actors, but Leo intervenes. After a reconciliation, the three band together and decide to blow up the theater to end the production but are injured, arrested, tried, and found "incredibly guilty" by the jury. Before sentencing, Leo makes an impassioned statement praising Max (while also referring to him as "the most selfish man I have ever met in my life"), and Max tells the judge that they have learned their lesson and will not do what they did again.

In prison, Max, Leo, and Franz go back to producing a new play in prison called Prisoners of Love. However, Leo continues the same old scam of overselling shares of the play to the other prisoners (20%-30%) and even to the warden (50%). The song "Prisoners of Love" plays while the credits roll.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Mel Brooks wanted to title the film Springtime For Hitler, but Embassy Pictures producer Joseph E. Levine would not let him. Then, following a screening that Peter Sellers attended, both he and Levine talked about a release for the film, which he liked a lot. When Brooks was brought in, he chose the film's popular title. Sellers was one of several actors considered for the film.

The original screenplay had Franz Liebkind make Max and Leo swear The Siegfried Oath.[7] Accompanied by The Ride of the Valkyries, they promised fealty to Siegfried, Wagner, Nietzsche, Hindenburg, the Graf Spee, the Blue Max, and "Adolf You-Know-Who". The Siegfried Oath was restored in the musical version.[8] In a making-of documentary that accompanied the 2002 DVD release of the film,[7] Brooks says that Dustin Hoffman was originally cast as Liebkind. According to Brooks, late on the night before shooting began, Hoffman begged Brooks to let him out of his commitment to do the role so that he could audition for the starring role in The Graduate. Brooks was aware of the film, which co-starred Brooks' wife, Anne Bancroft, and, skeptical that Hoffman would get the role, agreed to let him audition. When Hoffman did win playing Ben Braddock, Brooks called Kenneth Mars in as Liebkind. Another man he called in was Bill Macy, who played the jury foreman in a cameo role.

The film was shot at the Chelsea Studios in New York City, where the musical version (2005) was also shot.[9] Additional footage included such midtown Manhattan locales as Central Park, the Empire State Building and Lincoln Center.

Writer-director Mel Brooks is heard briefly in the film, his voice dubbed over a dancer singing, "Don't be stupid, be a smarty/Come and join the Nazi Party", in the song Springtime For Hitler. His version of the line is also dubbed into each performance of the musical, as well as the 2005 movie version.

Release[edit]

According to Brooks, after the film was completed, Embassy executives refused to release it as being in "bad taste"; however, Peter Sellers saw the film privately and placed an advertisement in Variety in support of the film's wider release.[7][10] Sellers was familiar with the film because, according to Brooks, Sellers "had accepted the role of Bloom and then was never heard from again."[7][10] The film premiered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on November 22, 1967[1] and subsequently had a limited release to only a small number of theaters.

It has been alleged that the film was "banned in Germany".[11] Following the film's lackluster response in the UK, German distributors did decline to distribute it,[citation needed] but their lack of interest did not technically constitute a ban.

In Sweden, however, the title literally translates as "Springtime For Hitler". As a result of its success, all but two of Mel Brooks movies in Swedish have been given similar titles: "Springtime For Mother-In-Law" (The Twelve Chairs); "Springtime For The Sheriff" (Blazing Saddles); "Springtime For Frankenstein" (Young Frankenstein); "Springtime For The Silent Movies" (Silent Movie); "Springtime For The Lunatics" (High Anxiety); "Springtime For World History" (History of the World, Part I); "Springtime For Space" (Spaceballs); and "Springtime For The Slum" (Life Stinks).[12]

Reception[edit]

When it was first released, the film received a mixed response and garnered exceptionally harsh reviews from New York critics— Stanley Kauffmann ("the film bloats into sogginess", The New Republic); Pauline Kael ("amateurishly crude", The New Yorker); and Andrew Sarris—partly because of its directorial style and broad ethnic humor.[13] Negative reviewers noted the bad taste and insensitivity of devising a broad comedy about two Jews conspiring to cheat theatrical investors by devising a designed-to-fail singing, dancing, tasteless Broadway musical show about Hitler, 23 years after the end of World War II.[14] Renata Adler wrote that it was a "violently mixed bag. Some of it is shoddy and gross and cruel; the rest is funny in an entirely unexpected way. It has the episodic, revue quality of so much contemporary comedy—not building laughter, but stringing it together skit after skit, some vile, some boffo. It is less delicate than Lenny Bruce, less funny than Dr. Strangelove, but much funnier than The Loved One or What's New Pussycat?" According to her, Mostel is "overacting grotesquely" while co-star Wilder is "wonderful", playing his part "as though he were Dustin Hoffman being played by Danny Kaye".[2]

Others considered the film to be a great success. Time magazine's reviewers wrote that the film was "hilariously funny [...] Unfortunately, the film is burdened with the kind of plot that demands resolution [... and] ends in a whimper of sentimentality." Although they labelled it "disjointed and inconsistent",[15] they also praised it as "a wildly funny joy ride",[16] and concluded by saying that "despite its bad moments, [it] is some of the funniest American cinema comedy in years."[17] The film industry trade paper Variety wrote, "The film is unmatched in the scenes featuring Mostel and Wilder alone together, and several episodes with other actors are truly rare."[18] Over the years, the film has gained in stature, garnering a 93% certified fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes. (the site's consensus reads the following: "A hilarious satire of the business side of Hollywood, The Producers is one of Mel Brooks' finest, as well as funniest films, featuring standout performances by Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel.") On Metacritic, the film holds an extremely high rating of 97, making it one of the highest rated films on the site as well as the second highest rated comedy (behind The Wizard of Oz). In his review decades late Roger Ebert later claimed that "this is one of the funniest movies ever made."[19][20] Ebert wrote,

"I remember finding myself in an elevator with Brooks and his wife, actress Anne Bancroft, in New York City a few months after The Producers was released. A woman got onto the elevator, recognized him and said, 'I have to tell you, Mr. Brooks, that your movie is vulgar.' Brooks smiled benevolently. 'Lady,' he said, 'it rose below vulgarity.'

Reviews in Britain were positive to very positive.[14]

It has since been noted that the plot of Brooks' film bears an uncanny resemblance to that of the British film Mister Ten Per Cent (1967). The similarity is noted in the sleeve notes of the 2014 DVD release of the earlier film (which starred British comedian Charlie Drake) and in a number of reviews on IMDb.

Awards and honors[edit]

In 1968, Mel Brooks won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and Gene Wilder was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. In addition, Zero Mostel was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, and Brooks was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay.

In 1969, The Producers won a Writers Guild of America, East Best Original Screenplay award.

In 1996, this film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

American Film Institute recognition

Re-releases and adaptations[edit]

In 2002 The Producers was re-released in three theaters by Rialto Picktures and earned $111,866[21][22] at the box office. As of 2007, the film continues to be distributed to art-film and repertory cinemas by Rialto.[citation needed]

Brooks has adapted the story twice more, as a Broadway musical (The Producers, 2001) and a film based on the musical (The Producers, 2005).

The Producers (1968) is currently available on DVD, released by MGM.

Influences[edit]

  • Max Bialystock is named after the city of Białystok, Poland. A bialystoker is a roll similar to a bagel. The character itself was inspired by Max Liebman, the producer/director of Your Show of Shows, on which Brooks was a writer.
  • Leo Bloom is named for the protagonist of James Joyce's classic novel Ulysses, Leopold Bloom. Leo meets Max on June 16 (Bloomsday), the date on which Ulysses takes place. Bialystock at one point calls Leo "Prince Myshkin", the titular protagonist in Dostoevsky's novel The Idiot.
  • In the search for "the worst play ever", Max reads aloud from one of the rejected manuscripts. It is the opening sentence of Kafka's The Metamorphosis, where Gregor Samsa finds himself transformed into a giant verminous bug, and Bialystock dismisses it as "too good". The book was also used as a joke in Mel Brooks' movie Spaceballs: "Prepare for Metamorphosis, are you ready Kafka?".
    In a case of life imitating art, however, The Metamorphosis was produced on Broadway (1989), featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov as Gregor and René Auberjonois as Gregor's father.[23]
  • Roger De Bris (pronounced "debris") is named for the Yiddish term for circumcision.[24]
  • Carmen Giya is named after the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia,[7] a popular car in production in 1968. The Volkswagen Karmann Ghia was one of the cars driven by Maxwell Smart in the television show Get Smart which was created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry.
  • The "singing Hitlers" at their audition sing a number of pieces. Mentioned or performed are Lilac Time, "A Wand'ring Minstrel I", "Beautiful Dreamer", and "Largo al factotum" ("della ... città" being all that is heard).
  • Siegfried from the Siegfried Oath is the main character in The Ring of the Nibelung by Richard Wagner. Siegfried was also a villain in the television show Get Smart.

In popular culture[edit]

  • Peter Sellers appeared on Michael Parkinson's BBC1 chat show Parkinson in a Nazi helmet reciting the entire "Hitler was a better painter than Churchill" speech. (Parkinson BBC1 09/11/74 & BBC Audiobooks (5 February 1996))
  • An episode of the TV series Remington Steele, "Springtime for Steele," has two men trying to pull the same scam by promoting a tour of an untalented singer after selling the rights for major profit. But just like in the movie, the scam is undone when the tour is a sellout. Keeping with a running theme in the series, Steele cites the movie as inspiration for the scheme.
  • The title of the U2 album Achtung Baby comes from a line in the movie.[25]
  • Season four of Curb Your Enthusiasm revolves around The Producers. Larry David is hired by Mel Brooks as a surefire way of ruining the play and ending its run. Instead, reflecting the actual plotline of the play, David turns it into a huge success.
  • According to critic David Ehrenstein, the film marked the first use of the term "Creative Accounting."[26] However, a philandering husband uses the term in the 1962 movie "Boys Night Out" when he makes up the name of a class he is supposedly taking.
  • In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, this is Patrick's favorite movie.
  • George Harrison's 1974 album "Dark Horse" has a photograph in the gatefold sleeve of Harrison and Peter Sellers walking through the Friar Park estate, a speech balloon saying 'Well Leo, what say we promenade through the park?', a quote from the film, a favourite of both Sellers and Harrison.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c The Producers at the TCM Movie Database
  2. ^ a b Renata Adler (March 19, 1968). "The Producers (1968)". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-02-21. 
  3. ^ Box Office Information for The Producers. IMDb. Retrieved April 2, 2013.
  4. ^ The Making of The Producers. The Guardian. Retrieved April 2, 2013
  5. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1968", Variety, 8 January 1969 p 15. Please note this figure is a rental accruing to distributors.
  6. ^ Shute, Nancy (August 12, 2001). "Mel Brooks: His humor brings down Hitler, and the house". U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved 2007-05-04. 
  7. ^ a b c d e The Making of The Producers' at the Internet Movie Database
  8. ^ Original 1967 The Producers screenplay[dead link]
  9. ^ Richard Alleman (2005). New York: The Movie Lover's Guide: The Ultimate Insider Tour of Movie New York. Broadway Books. ISBN 0-7679-1634-4. 
  10. ^ a b Mark Bourne. "The Producers(1968): Deluxe Edition DVD review". dvdjournal.com. Retrieved 2011-02-21. 
  11. ^ Radio Times. 24–30 November 2001. 
  12. ^ The Entertainment Weekly Guide to the Greatest Movies Ever Made I. New York: Warner Books. 1996. p. 42. 
  13. ^ J. Hoberman (2001-04-15). "When The Nazis Became Nudniks". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-02-02. 
  14. ^ a b Alex Symons (2006-03-22). "An audience for Mel Brooks's The Producers: the avant-garde of the masses.(Critical essay)". Journal of Popular Film and Television. Archived from the original on 2007-09-30. Retrieved 2007-02-02. 
  15. ^ "The Producers (review)". Time. 1968-01-26. Archived from the original on May 24, 2011. Retrieved 2007-02-02. 
  16. ^ "Arts & Entertainment (Cinema)". time.com. 1968-04-19. Retrieved 2007-02-02. 
  17. ^ "Arts & Entertainment (Cinema)". time.com. 1968-05-10. Retrieved 2007-02-02. 
  18. ^ Variety Staff (1968-01-01). "The Producers (review)". variety.com. Retrieved 2007-02-02. 
  19. ^ "The Producers (1968) Reviews".  RottenTomatoes.com
  20. ^ Roger Ebert (July 23, 2000). "The Producers (1968)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2011-02-21. 
  21. ^ "Business Data for The Producers (1968)". imdb.com. Retrieved 2007-02-02. 
  22. ^ "Business Data for The Producers (Re-issue)". boxofficemojo.com. Retrieved 2007-02-02. 
  23. ^ "Metamorphosis". Retrieved 2009-10-03. 
  24. ^ J. Hoberman. "about / The Producers". New York Times. rialtopictures.com. Retrieved 2009-08-24. 
  25. ^ "U2 History FAQ - Everything You Know Is Wrong". U2faqs.com. Retrieved 2008-04-15. 
  26. ^ [1][dead link]

External links[edit]