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The Producers is a 1968 American comedy film written and directed by Mel Brooks, which tells the story of a theatrical producer and an accountant who attempt to cheat their investors by deliberately producing a flop show on Broadway. The film stars Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder and features Dick Shawn.
The Producers was the first film directed by Mel Brooks, who won an Academy Award for his screenplay.
It was shot at the Chelsea Studios in New York City.
Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) is a failed, aging Broadway producer who ekes out a living romancing rich old women in exchange for money for his "next play." Nebbishy accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) arrives at Bialystock's office to do his books and discovers a two thousand dollar error in the accounts of Bialystock's last play. Bialystock cons Bloom into hiding the fraud, and while shuffling numbers, Bloom has a revelation which Bialystock immediately puts into action: a scheme to massively oversell shares in a Broadway production, then purposely make a horrific flop, so that no one will ever audit its books, thus avoiding a payout and leaving the duo free to flee to Rio de Janeiro with the profits. Leo is hesitant to commit to the criminal venture, but is eventually convinced by Max that he deserves some happiness, and his current drab existence is no better than being in prison.
After an extensive search the partners find an unproduced play worthy of their efforts: Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden, a work which Bialystock gleefully describes as "a love letter to Hitler," written in total sincerity by deranged ex-Nazi Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars). They convince Liebkind to sign over the stage rights, telling him they want to show the world "the true Hitler, the Hitler with a song in his heart." In order to guarantee that the show is a flop, they then hire the worst director in the business ("his plays close on the first day of rehearsal"), Roger De Bris (Christopher Hewett), to stage the production. The part of Hitler goes to a charismatic but only semi-coherent hippie named Lorenzo St. Dubois, aka LSD (Dick Shawn), who wanders into the wrong theater by accident during the casting call, and can barely even remember his own name. Bialystock then proceeds to collect money from dozens of little old ladies, ultimately selling 25,000 percent of the play.
The result of all of this is a cheerfully upbeat, utterly tasteless musical detailing the life of the dictator, which opens with a lavish production number, also titled "Springtime For Hitler," celebrating Nazi Germany conquering Europe. Unfortunately for Bialystock and Bloom, their attempt utterly backfires as, after initial dumbfounded disbelief, the audience finds LSD's crazy, beatnik-like portrayal of Hitler to be hilarious and misinterpret the whole production as an anti-Nazi satire. Springtime For Hitler is declared a smash-hit, guaranteed to run for months, which means of course the producers' investors will be expecting a financial return that cannot be provided.
As the stunned partners come to blows in their office, they are confronted by a gun-wielding Franz Liebkind, who is enraged by LSD's portrayal of Hitler, thus breaking the Sigfreid oath (an earlier deleted scene explains this, and it was later restored in the musical). In desperation, the three of them band together and plot to blow up the theater to end the production. They get caught in the explosion, arrested, tried, and found "incredibly guilty". In spite of Leo's impassioned statement praising Max, all three defendants are sent to prison. There, they proceed to create a new play starring their fellow convicts entitled Prisoners of Love, selling 100% and becoming successful producers once again.
- The foreman of the jury is played by Bill Macy, who would later star in the 1970s sitcom, Maude, and numerous Hollywood films. The film also features Barney Martin, who would later achieve fame as Jerry Seinfeld's father Morty on Seinfeld, and William Hickey, best known as the Godfather in Prizzi's Honor (1985), as the drunk in the bar.
- Writer-director Mel Brooks is heard briefly in the film, singing "Don't be stupid, be a smarty/Come and join the Nazi Party", in the song Springtime For Hitler. His version of line is also dubbed into each performance of the musical and in the movie version of the musical.
- In an interview on the movie's DVD, Brooks says that Dustin Hoffman was originally cast as Franz Liebkind, but the night before shooting he bowed out to star in The Graduate (1967), which co-starred Brooks' wife, Anne Bancroft.
- Mel Brooks wanted to title the film Springtime For Hitler, but Embassy Pictures producer Joseph E. Levine would not let him.
The original screenplay had Franz Liebkind have Max and Leo swearing on "The Siegfried Oath", accompanied by The Ride of the Valkyries and promising fealty to Siegfried, Wagner, Nietzsche, Hindenburg, The Graf Spee, the Blue Max, and Adolf "You know who." This explains Franz's outraged cry when entering Max's office, "You have broken the Siegfried Oath - you must die!" The Oath was restored in the musical version.
- Max Bialystock is named after the Polish city of Białystok. A 'bialystoker' is a roll similar to a bagel.
- Leo Bloom is named for the subject of the novel Ulysses, Leopold Bloom. Leo meets Max on June 16, the date that all of the action in Ulysses takes place. Bialystock at one point also compares Leo to Prince Myshkin, the titular protagonist in Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel The Idiot.
- One of the rejected manuscripts in the search for "the worst play ever" features the opening sentence to Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, where a character named Gregor Samsa wakes up to find himself transformed into a "giant cockroach". Bialystock quickly dismisses the story idea as "too good".
- In a case of life imitating art, however, The Metamorphosis was produced on Broadway in 1989. The play, featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov as Gregor, and Rene Auberjonois as Gregor's Father, ran only from March 6, 1989 through July 1, 1989.
- Roger De Bris is named for the Yiddish term for circumcision
- Carmen Ghia is named after the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, a popular car in production in 1968.
- A showman overselling shares in a deliberately produced Broadway flop so he could pocket the excess investment was the basis for the RKO Radio feature film New Faces Of 1937. The film starred comedian Milton Berle, dancer Ann Miller and singer Harriet Hilliard (later Harriet Nelson of "Ozzie and Harriet" fame). The 1937 film itself was based on an earlier play Shoestring. An obscure murder mystery film released in 1944 entitled The Falcon in Hollywood also had a similar premise, but with a much darker take on it, with a scheming movie producer resorting to sabotage & murder when the surprisingly good performance of the inexperienced director & cast threatened to sink his investment scam.
- In the British sitcom Bottom, one of the main characters is named Edward 'Elizabeth' Hitler, referencing the character Franz Liebkind, who states that Adolf Hitler's middle name was Elizabeth.
According to Brooks, after the film was completed, Embassy executives declined to release it due to "bad taste" until Peter Sellers (who Brooks claims had been offered and accepted the role of Bloom, then never heard from him again) saw the film privately and placed an advertisement in Variety in support of the film's wider release. It was still only released to a small number of theaters. The Producers was rated PG by the MPAA for brief mild language.
In 2002 The Producers was re-issued to three theaters by Rialto Pictures and earned $111,866 at the box office.
In 2001 Brooks adapted the film into a Broadway musical of the same name (The Producers). In 2005, a film, based in turn on that musical, was released (The Producers).
The Producers is currently available on DVD, released by MGM. As of 2007, the film continues to be distributed to art-film and repertory cinemas by Rialto.
The film received a mixed response when it was first released, and garnered exceptionally harsh reviews from New York critics Renata Adler ("shoddy and gross and cruel" in The New York Times), Stanley Kauffmann ("the film bloats into sogginess" - The New Republic), Pauline Kael ("amateurishly crude" in The New Yorker) and Andrew Sarris, partly due to its directorial style and broad ethnic humor. 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 (a mere 23 years after the end of World War II).
However, others considered to be a great success. Time Magazine's reviewers wrote, "...hilariously funny... Unfortunately, the film is burdened with the kind of plot that demands resolution...[and] ends in a whimper of sentimentality... The movie is disjointed and inconsistent..." and "... a wildly funny joy ride ...", "...despite its bad moments, is some of the funniest American cinema comedy in years." The film industry trade paper Variety magazine wrote, "The film is unmatched in the scenes featuring Mostel and Wilder alone together, and several episodes with other actors are truly rare." Over the years, the film has gained much more positive praises, garnering a 90% fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert later claimed that "this is one of the funniest movies ever made." In his review, Ebert writes,
"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 the U.K. were positive to very positive.
Despite the complaints about the content, many of the people involved in the project, such as Brooks, Mostel, Wilder etc were all of Jewish origin. Both Eva Braun and Hitler are played by Jewish actors, and Goebbels is briefly represented by a black actor.
The timing of its release should be considered, since it occurred when the TV series Hogan's Heroes was at the height of its success. Hogan's Heroes had a slightly similar concept (lampooning Nazis as inept; finding dark humor in an otherwise dead-serious subject; using Jewish actors to portray Nazis, etc.), and even had similar reviews. Like The Producers, critics of Hogan's Heroes agreed that the scripts were often very funny, but terribly inappropriate for the subject matter. It is possible that Brooks may have been emboldened by the success of the show.
Awards and honors
In 1968, The Producers won an Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay—Written Directly for the Screen and was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Gene Wilder).
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
In popular culture
- Peter Sellers was a fan of the film and 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 Feb 1996))
- The title of the U2 album Achtung Baby comes from a line in the movie.
- An episode of the 1980s series Remington Steele has a pair of men try a similar scheme by over-selling the rights to the tour of a horrible singer only to have her be a sell-out. In keeping with a running theme of the series, Steele notes the movie as the real-life inspiration for the scam.
- At its theatrical release in Sweden, the film was given the Swedish title Producenterna (The Producers), but it was not a success then. After it was re-released under the title Det våras för Hitler (Springtime for Hitler), it scored with the Swedish audience. Because of this, all of Mel Brooks' films were given a title with Det våras för... (Springtime For...) in Sweden, up until Life Stinks (Det våras för slummen, Springtime For The Slums). For example, Blazing Saddles was retitled Det våras för sheriffen (Springtime For The Sheriff) and Spaceballs was retitled Det våras för rymden (Springtime For Space). After this, Mel Brooks himself has complained at the Swedish habit of always calling his films something with 'Springtime For...' and so, his last two films have been called Robin Hood: Karlar i trikåer (Robin Hood: Men in Tights) and Dracula: Död men lycklig (Dracula: Dead and Loving It), although the latter is called Det våras för Dracula on the Swedish DVD cover.
- 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."
- In an episode of House, Dr. House is looking for a new employee and after the interview, which Dr. Wilson felt went well, Wilson exclaims "That's our Hitler!"
From Mel Brooks' U.S. News and World Report interview:
- "I was never crazy about Hitler...If you stand on a soapbox and trade rhetoric with a dictator you never win...That's what they do so well: they seduce people. But if you ridicule them, bring them down with laughter, they can't win. You show how crazy they are."
- ^ TCM interview of Gene Wilder by Alec Baldwin, originally aired April 15, 2008
- ^ New York: The Movie Lover's Guide: The Ultimate Insider Tour of Movie New York - Richard Alleman - Broadway (February 1, 2005) ISBN 0767916344
- ^ The Entertainment Weekly Guide to the Greatest Movies Ever Made. New York: Warner Books. 1996. p. 42.
- ^ Original 1967 The Producers screenplay
- ^ "Metamorphosis". http://www.ibdb.com/production.php?id=4536. Retrieved 2009-10-03.
- ^ J. Hoberman, New York Times. ":: about / The Producers ::"". http://rialtopictures.com. http://rialtopictures.com/prod4/prod4.htm. Retrieved 2009-08-24.
- ^ The Producers(1968): Deluxe Edition DVD: The Making of The Producers | Interview with Mel Brooks
- ^ Mark Bourne. "The Producers(1968): Deluxe Edition DVD review"". dvdjournal.com. http://www.dvdjournal.com/reviews/p/producers68_de.shtml. Retrieved 2007-02-02.
- ^ "Business Data for The Producers (1968)". imdb.com. http://imdb.com/title/tt0063462/business. Retrieved 2007-02-02.
- ^ "Business Data for The Producers (Re-issue)". boxofficemojo.com. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=producers02.htm. Retrieved 2007-02-02.
- ^ J. Hoberman (2001-04-15). "When The Nazis Became Nudniks". New York Times. http://www.filmforum.org/archivedfilms/prodnytimes.html. Retrieved 2007-02-02.
- ^ a b Symons, Alex (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. http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-17530754_ITM. Retrieved 2007-02-02.
- ^ "The Producers (review)". time.com. 1968-01-26. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,837773-1,00.html. Retrieved 2007-02-02.
- ^ "Arts & Entertainment (Cinema)". time.com. 1968-04-19. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,838198-3,00.html. Retrieved 2007-02-02.
- ^ "Arts & Entertainment (Cinema)". time.com. 1968-05-10. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,902162-3,00.html. Retrieved 2007-02-02.
- ^ Variety Staff (1968-01-01). "The Producers (review)". variety.com. http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117794183.html?categoryID=31&cs=1. Retrieved 2007-02-02.
- ^ "The Producers (1968)". http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1016819-producers/.
- ^ "U2 History FAQ - Everything You Know Is Wrong". U2faqs.com. http://www.u2faqs.com/history/d.html#2. Retrieved 2008-04-15.
- ^ "Mel Brooks Movie Posters, 1917-2007". nordicposters.com. http://www.nordicposters.com/cgi-bin/seek?seek=Mel+Brooks. Retrieved 2008-04-17.
- ^ 
- ^ Shute, Nancy. Mel Brooks: His humor brings down Hitler, and the house U.S. News and World Report. August 12, 2001. Retrieved 2007-05-04