The Producers (1968) Review

Producers is lunacy, a spark that ignited a madcap comedians often raucous and offensive brand of enlightening humor. Mel BrooksProducers is hysterical genius, a first time affair with plentiful zingers as an aging Broadway shyster seeks millions from gullible old woman in exchange for producing a destined flop.

Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) has a misfire, a glowing beacon of love designed to frame Hitler as a dancing humanitarian. Written by a pigeon keeping, crackpot German, Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars), “Springtime for Hitler” is utter stage nonsense. Brooks’ talents lampoon the unusual, while selecting a cast of certain favorites to berate each other as “Springtime” enters production.

Bialystock is unkempt and on edge, prone to explosive outbursts that reel in an unwilling partner in this scheme to end all schemes. Humbled account Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) uses his soft eyes to maintain innocence, an oppressive bout of anxiety and OCD making the situation alarming to his psyche. The two slam into one other, divergent personalities that define comedy buddy films, simmering until their bubbles burst.

Producers is loud. It screams into the camera, boisterous activity pouring from the script that can escape the confines of its lightly dated facade. This is not modern comedy, although those currently gracing theatrical screens owe their lot to Mel Brooks. Few were this risque – and few still are – sharply wandering into uncomfortable displays of Nazi swastikas, cross-dressing, and homphobia. Subjects are treated with callousness, yet so playfully as to blur lines of good taste. Brooks’ career would dip further into societal nonsense, poking and jabbing where need be to make sly gags from oppressive reactions.

Actors knowingly shatter the fourth wall, peering into the audience enough to break illusions and drop expected walls. Producers is intentionally personal, making its scenarios hilariously unsettling as seniors are exploited and an untethered German soldier casually walks with rigged dynamite. Audiences are seated as actors bombard a luxurious and stupidly glamorous stage show that displays affinity, complete with luridly dressed showgirls in a dancing line with high-ranking Nazis. All the while, a poignant picture of Hitler stands behind them.

Nobody takes to “Springtime,” and who would? That is until L.S.D. (Dick Shawn) takes the stage with a positively groovy spin on Hitler’s incompetence, one-upping even America’s own propaganda films. Shawn was Robin Williams before Robin Williams, remarkably adept at comedic impersonations, playing a character seemingly oblivious to his own talents. If he only knew the trouble he caused a mild mannered accountant and shady Broadway producer.

Movie ★★★★☆ 

In action @ 52:42

Producers no longer has an original camera negative; it was destroyed by the owner. That means Shout pulls this new master from an unspecified generational source. Fidelity and resolution are in demand, the AVC encode replicating the film stock with enough zest to necessitate a Blu-ray release. Close-ups sprout fine detail, and sets are defined with resolved texture.

There are problems. Damage is one of them, springing to life in various capacities, via small scratches or even reel markers. It’s possible Producers was constructed from various sources, reel markers certainly an indicator. Scratches and judder join in on the fun, dating the film although likely in an unavoidable fashion without better prints to work from.

All of those source flubs are readily wrote off. Not so much for Shout’s encoding work. Grain, despite bitrates high enough to handle spikes, is ill-managed. It looks boxy and lacking film-like qualities. During optical fades, expected resolution drops are hammered with noise, unfortunately losing significant fidelity, from a source naturally on edge. Motion causes increased concerns, Ulla’s (Lee Meridith) dance in a bright yellow dress a haven for DVD-level blockiness.

Transferring has brought in questionable decisions, some level of filtering adding an unnatural haze and smoothness to many shots. That could be where the bothersome grain is sourcing its issues. Color is in a daze, the saturated reds and blues of the opening credits crawling from their spaces with some bleed. Producers has never been one to shock with its color, and here feels lifted. Flesh tones, however elevated, feel natural.

Video ★★★☆☆ 

What matters to Producers is “Springtime for Hitler,” the gaudy musical number that swells nicely into added channels without feeling audacious. Lacking in overall fidelity, the processing adds a smooth, natural bass that sits in the mix without feeling overdone. Those looking for the traditional mono can partake in a PCM affair as opposed to the DTS-HD 5.1 remix.

Dialogue feels period accurate, some scratchiness and fluctuations on par. Those maniacal arguments are lifted into the mix while losing some of the clarity, although more than presentable.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

Pulled from DVD, the wonderful making of interviews many surviving cast members (and Mel Brooks) about the film, running an hour in length. It’s a must see piece that chronicles the beginning of Brooks’ lengthy place behind the camera. Mel and his Movies is a 19-minute interview, reflecting on Producers and other pieces to his career. A deleted scene is more of an alternate take, and a short reading of Peter Sellers’ outstanding ad in Variety to praise the film is worth the minute. A gallery of sketches and some trailers remain.

Extras ★★★★☆ 

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