Blu-ray Review: The Producers (1968)

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Long before it became a Broadway smash, Mel Brooks established himself as a major filmmaker with The Producers in 1968. The concept—deliberately producing a flop play by raising a much higher budget than needed, then running off with the surplus funds—is as clever and bitingly funny now as it was then. Brooks took home a Best Original Screenplay Oscar and, in a rare acknowledgment of comedic acting, co-star Gene Wilder was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. It’s a landmark film and has now been given a suitably terrific Blu-ray release.

Brooks pushes everything to the extreme in The Producers. The 89-minute film zips along with manic, frenzied energy. Zero Mostel stars as Max Bialystock, a selfish, sleazeball producer who courts rich elderly women to fund his plays. Once the king of Broadway, he’s now past his prime and stuck in a seemingly permanent slump. Meek accountant Leo Bloom (Wilder) discovers that Max pocketed a $2,000 budget surplus from his last production and is struck by sudden inspiration. If Max were to raise an ungodly amount of money for a production he knew would close after one night, he could retire a rich man. No profits means no payback to investors. Max loves the idea and, partnering with Leo, sets out to find the worst unproduced play ever written.

The story has become something of common knowledge at this point, a pop culture touchstone that has been referenced and re-referenced ad nauseam. But even if you’re familiar with the Broadway production (or the ill-fated 2005 movie adaptation of said production), the punch lines still sting and the over-the-top zaniness of the supporting performances is still spot on. Max and Leo stumble upon the musical Springtime for Hitler, a celebration of Nazi Germany written by former SS member Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars). Liebkind has romanticized Hitler’s reign, attempting to turn him into a heroic figure. What could be more offensive? After casting Lorenzo St. DuBois (Dick Shawn), L.S.D. for short, in the title role, the finished production takes on the unintended tone of intentional satire.

No fair giving away more if you haven’t experienced The Producers yourself. Suffice it to say, Brooks’ struck a particularly potent mine of comic gold. Some still insist this is his finest hour (though Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein provide formidable competition). In less skillful hands, the intensity and pure mania of Brooks’ style would be more grating than anything else. But Mostel, Wilder, and the supporting cast (let’s not forget Lee Meredith as Ulla, Max’s Swedish secretary) manage to pull it off in spades. It’s an essential part of any well-rounded collection of classic comedy.

Having suffered through the film numerous times on VHS over the years, the previous DVD release of The Producers was a breath of fresh air. Anyone still unconvinced of the value of upgrading to high definition need look no further than Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray. This offers a tremendous upgrade that retains all the natural grain, ensuring that this 1968 production looks like a film of its era. But the enhanced clarity is truly impressive, along with colors more vivid than I thought possible based on the previous editions. A 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is offered but, while it sounds fine, the uncompressed mono track is my personal preference. The surround mix does a fair job of expanding the sound design, but the authentic mono mix remains the best option.

Good news for fans, the Blu-ray carries over the supplements from the previous DVD special edition. The 63-minute “The Making of The Producers” is the best of these, providing a really engaging retrospective about the production. There’s also a welcome brand new addition, the 19-minute “Mel and His Movies: The Producers.” Whether you're seeing it for the first or fifteenth time, The Producers remains a cherished classic.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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