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MGM Studios DVD presents
The Producers (1968)

"You know, not many people knew it, but the Führer was a terrific dancer."
- Franz Leibkind (Kenneth Mars)

Review By: Brian Calhoun  
Published: December 01, 2002

Stars: Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder
Other Stars: Dick Shawn, Kenneth Mars, Lee Meredith, Christopher Hewett, Andreas Voutsinas, Estelle Winwood, Renee Taylor, David Patch, Bill Hickey
Director: Mel Brooks

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult humor)
Run Time: 01h:29m:32s
Release Date: December 03, 2002
UPC: 027616868329
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-A-B+ B

DVD Review

I have always believed that if a joke needs to be explained, it immediately loses its merit. While the jokes in The Producers do not necessarily need to be explained, it is very difficult to define exactly why they are so funny. Rather than make a futile attempt to describe the madcap humor of Mel Brooks' directorial debut, I will simply go on the record to state that this zany romp needs to be seen by anyone who enjoys the healing power of laughter.

The Producers tells the story of low-rent Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) and his neurotic accountant, Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder), the demented duo who develop a crazy notion that they can make more money on a Broadway flop than on a hit. After reading hundreds of potential plays that are just "too good," they discover "Springtime For Hitler," "the worst play ever written" and sure to be a box office failure.

The Oscar®-winning, Brooks-penned screenplay is filled with sidesplitting dialogue and innumerable sight gags. Just try to keep a straight face during the scene where the producers audition a theater full of singing and dancing Hitlers. Watching this bizarre film, it is hard to believe that it is loosely based in reality. Yet, Brooks insists that he actually drew part of the story from his own experiences in the film industry.

Over thirty years after its initial release, The Producers still packs a wallop to the funny bone. It is exactly the type of brash lunacy that one would expect from this now legendary writer/director. However, in the 1960s, the unknown Brooks had his share of troubles getting the production off the ground. Though the subject matter was deemed offensive by most major studios, Brooks soldiered on, never backing down even on simple compromises such as changing his fictional play to the less overtly humorous "Springtime For Mussolini." In the midst of all this resistance, Brooks also insisted that he be the director of the film. Seeing as he wrote the screenplay, he was the only one who truly knew the ins and outs of how it should appear on film. This simple logic earned Brooks his first shot in the director's chair, and he certainly proved himself to be the most inspired choice for the job.

In addition to Brooks' charismatic direction, the success of The Producers can largely be attributed to its hilarious performances. Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder display a wonderful chemistry with their impeccable comedic timing. Perhaps their compatibility had something to do with the fact that Mostel gave Wilder (a relative newcomer at the time) a big kiss on the lips during his audition in order to break the tension. Yes, this production was unusual both on and off the screen! The most inspired performance comes from Kenneth Mars, who plays Franz Leibkind, the erratic nazi author of "Springtime For Hitler." A consummate professional, Mars went so far as to sleep in his nazi costume in order to consume himself in the role. Watching the over-the-top Mars tour de force, I find it an ironic blessing that the originally cast Dustin Hoffman was forced to back out at the last minute in order to film Mike Nichols' The Graduate.

The Producers is one of the strangest films I have seen in a while, and it happens to also be one of the funniest. Though not every joke is as brilliant as the next, it is a true comedy classic that is well deserving of its many accolades. There are bound to still be those who approach the subject matter with great trepidation, but remember that it was always Brooks' intention to denounce the evil of Hitler with this great ridicule. I may not be able to explain why, but trust me—singing and dancing Hitlers make for hysterical comedy.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno
Anamorphicyesno


Image Transfer Review: The Producers was made in 1968?! Bearing this in mind, perhaps my expectations were too low, but this 1.85:1 anamorphic image transfer is as visually impressive as many modern day films. Colors are truly exemplary, appearing lush, vivid, and lifelike in every frame. Even deep reds (which can often be problematic in a video-based environment) are perfectly rendered with no signs of distortion or blooming. Gazing at Max's bright red robe in the first scene, I found just a glimpse of how accurately colors are presented throughout. Complementing the perfect color scheme is a perfect black level, its rich and deep presence adding a beautifully spacious element. A soothing level of grain also adds deeply to the film-like aesthetic of the picture. The only noticeable downside is the presence of motion artifacts. Though irritating, they are miniscule and inobtrusive in the grand scheme of an otherwise gorgeous transfer.

Also available is a 1:33.1 full-frame version, which fails to convey the film-like vision of the widescreen transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Both the original monaural track and a new 5.1 mix are offered. Upon comparison, I detected only minor differences between the two. Though the 5.1 track is certainly more expansive with stronger dynamics and a more robust bottom end, it ultimately conveys the same characteristic as the monaural soundtrack. While there is slight stereo separation evident in several scenes, the majority of the presentation is mono in nature. Dialogue properly remains locked in the center channel, with no signs of distortion or unintelligibility. Those who demand that a film's original soundtrack always be preserved will certainly appreciate the inclusion of the monaural mix. Yet, these purists may also find that the 5.1 soundtrack admirably preserves the essence of the mono mix while boasting better fidelity.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Greatest Story Ever Told, Fiddler on the Roof: SE, The Princess Bride: SE, Some Like It Hot
1 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery
  2. Sketch Gallery
  3. Peter Sellers Statement
Extras Review: The Producers comes on a double-sided disc with side one housing both the widescreen and full-frame versions of the film. All of the extras are on side two, with the exception of a bizarre easter egg. The menu options on disc one are presented on a ticket stub that features seven selectable icons on all sides. Each selection offers a group of still photos from the film, accompanied by unusual vocal sound bytes. This is a very bizarre inclusion, yet entirely fitting of this unusual film.

Side two begins with the wonderful documentary The Making of The Producers. Divided into five acts and running just over an hour, this is the type of documentary treatment I wish all DVDs would offer. This fascinating look behind The Producers features revealing interviews with the cast and crew and offers a candid look at the entirety of the production, from its conception to its release.

A brief sketch gallery features interesting location sketches drawn by production designer Charles Rosen. I was disappointed to find that the sketches advance automatically, but praise should be given to the unique method in which the sketches are zoomed and panned, offering the viewer an encompassing look at how they would later turn into the actual film set.

The Playhouse Outtake is a deleted scene presented in nonanamorphic widescreen. Though this three-minute scene is quite humorous, I was left wanting more.

The photo gallery consists of 40 black & white clips from the movie as well as a few cheesy head shots. Like most photo galleries, this is essentially a worthless inclusion.

Next is an interesting Peter Sellers statement read by actor/filmmaker Paul Mazursky. As explained in depth by Mazursky in the documentary, Peter Sellers saw The Producers in a roundabout sort of way, but when he did, he enjoyed it so much that he had to write a statement exclaiming his love for the film. This is a brief but admirable inclusion that gives weight to the level of praise The Producers has received.

The theatrical trailer is presented full-frame with mono sound. The trailer is a well-edited, intriguing romp that should certainly entice viewers to watch the film. Also included in this section are trailers for four other MGM DVDs.

Finishing up the special features is a soundtrack spot. A bit misleading, this is not an ad for the film soundtrack, but rather for the smash Broadway musical based on this classic film.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

The Producers finally makes its way to DVD with a magnificent new video transfer that is certain to dazzle even the most discriminating viewers. Mel Brooks' zany masterpiece is still as funny as ever, and the documentary special feature is well worthwhile. The Producers comes highly recommended.

 


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