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THE PRODUCERS
Deluxe Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Kenneth Mars, Dick Shawn
Director:  Mel Brooks
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1, Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  MGM
Features:  See Review
Length:  90 Minutes
Release Date:  December 13, 2005

“I don’t understand.  I had the wrong play, the wrong director, and the wrong cast…where did I go RIGHT??”

Film ***

Sometimes films take the place of real life experiences.  Most of what I learned about movie direction came from watching Francois Truffaut’s Day For Night.  And all I know about producing a play came from Mel Brooks’ The Producers.  I have no way of knowing how accurate my assessments of those professions are, but I watch those movies and can’t help but think that’s more or less how they have to be.

Poor Max Bialystock (Mostel)…once the master of an up and down profession, he’s now firmly rooted in the down part, playing lovers’ games with little old ladies to scrape together enough money to produce a new play!  Success on Broadway is hard to come by, but failure is all too easy.  And that’s when Max’s nebbish accountant Leo Bloom (Wilder) inadvertently hits upon a bizarre but tempting idea:  if you over-financed a play that flopped, you could walk away with a fortune…that is, if you were dishonest enough to do it.  Max is dishonest enough.

Soon, like a gleefully rabid Mephistopheles, Max convinces the nervous Leo to join in with him on the scheme.  All he needs is a sure-fire flop of a play, which he finds in Springtime for Hitler (penned as a love homage to the Fuhrer by a crazed Kenneth Mars), a terrible director, and a horrible lead actor (Dick Shawn as the burned-out hippie LSD), and it’s money in the bank!

The offensive play, which features cheesy music and dance numbers, seems guaranteed to close in one night, especially given the audience’s horrid reaction as it begins on stage.  But as Max and Leo toast their success…er, failure, something unexpected happens.  The crowd actually roars to the antics of LSD’s “wow, man” performance as Hitler.  Max finally has the smash hit he’s spent his life dreaming about…and it’s about to land him and Leo in prison for fraud!

That’s the story in a few simple strokes, but it’s one that’s made The Producers one of Hollywood’s most beloved comedies for better than four decades now!  Mel Brooks made his directorial debut with this film, which he also wrote, and it began a career of zany motion pictures for him.  Some have been classics, like Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety, some have been forgettable, like Robin Hood:  Men in Tights or Spaceballs, but movie fans have never forgotten The Producers.

And as a result, I, for one, have never pursued a theatrical career, for fear that someday I too may have to play “the chauffeur and the contessa” with some little old lady only known as “Hold Me, Touch Me”.  First impressions are indeed the hardest to shake.

BONUS TRIVIA: Mel Brooks originally conceived The Producers as a play itself, but it was rejected as being too improbable for the theatre.  Now that the Broadway version has become the most honored musical in history, I’d say Mr. Brooks had the last laugh!

Video ****

MGM has long been reputed for the quality of their classic films as presented on DVD, and The Producers is something of an apex.  This brightly colored transfer is pristine from start to finish, with rich, intricate tones, crisp images, and remarkable levels of detail, all coming from a print that you’d never believe was of a 40 plus year old movie!  Even subtle shading differences are clearly rendered…note when a red robe clad Max steps in front of a red curtain how clear both colors are…no bleeding or distortions.  This is everything fans hoped for…possibly even more!

Audio ***

The 5.1 remix is welcome, though the nature of the film doesn’t call for much in the way of bass or surround staging.  Most of the time, the rear stage is only occasionally accessed for ambience (crowd noises and so on), and the subwoofer kicks in mainly for one explosive scene, but the rest of the picture is dialogue oriented, and nicely presented.  Spoken words are clean and clear, and the musical score is lively.  I noticed little, if any, apparent background noise.  For purists, the mono track is also included.

Features ***

You’ll find a terrific new (and lengthy) making-of documentary, which includes brand new interviews with Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, Kenneth Mars and more…a terrific treat!  There is also an outtake from the playhouse scene, galleries of photos and sketches, trailers for this and other releases, plus a preview of the new film based on the musical.

Summary:

MGM has produced (no pun intended) another benchmark DVD for one of their treasured classics.  The Producers looks better than ever on disc, and those fresh features are a genuine plus as well.  Your investment in a copy of this DVD for your home library will not be in vain!

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