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The Producers (1968 film)

The Producers is a 1968 feature-length comedy film written and directed by Mel Brooks. In the film, two New York City con men (Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom) attempt to cheat theater 'angels' (investors) out of their investment money by deliberately producing a "flop," or unsuccessful show.

This was the first film directed by Mel Brooks, who won an Academy Award for his screenplay.

Plot

Max Bialystock is a failed, aging Broadway producer who ekes out a living romancing rich old women in exchange for money for his "next play." Nebbish accountant Leo Bloom 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 now-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. 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". Bialystock then collects money from dozens of little old ladies—ultimately selling 25,000 percent of the play—and hires the monumentally untalented (and comically gay) director Roger De Bris to stage the production. The part of Hitler goes to a charismatic but semi-coherent hippie named Lorenzo St. Dubois (aka LSD), who wanders into the wrong theater by accident during the casting call.

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 overrunning Europe. Unfortunately for the protagonists, their attempt to make an unwatchable play backfires as, after initial dumbfounded disbelief, the audience finds LSD's beatnik-like portrayal of Hitler to be hilarious, and the play is a universally praised hit. (The film doesn't clarify if De Bris & LSD's staging of the play as a farce is intentional, or a serendipity of tastelessness, enthusiasm, and lack of talent.)

After an enraged Liebkind attempts to shoot the producers in their office, the three of them band together and, in desperation, try to blow up the theater to end the production. They get caught in the explosion and are arrested. Found "incredibly guilty" in their criminal trial, they are sent to prison, where they proceed to create a new play starring their fellow convicts entitled "Prisoners of Love," running the same scam as before.

Cast

Note

The original screenplay had Franz Liebkind having Max and Leo swearing on "The Siegfried Oath", accompanied by The Ride of the Valkyries and promising fealty to Siegfried, Wagner, Nietzche, Hindenburg, The Graf Spee, the Blue Max, and Adolph "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.

Influences

  • 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".
  • 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 entitled "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.

Release history

According to Brooks, after the film was completed, Embassy executives declined to release it due to "bad taste" until Peter Sellers 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.

Reception

The film received 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 Jewish men 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). Time Magazine's reviewers wrote, "...hilariously funny ... Unfortunately, the film is burdened with the kind of plot that demands resolution ... 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.

Awards and recognition

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.

In 2004, The Producers was placed at #11 of the American Film Institute list of The 100 Funniest Films Of All Time

Cultural legacy

  • 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.
  • 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 show and ending its run. Instead, reflecting the actual plotline of the play, David turns it into a huge success.
  • The movie introduced 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!"

Quotations

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."

References

External links

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