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MGM Studios DVD presents
The Producers: Deluxe Edition (1968)

"That's exactly why we want to produce this play. To show the world the true Hitler, the Hitler you loved, the Hitler you knew, the Hitler with a song in his heart."
- Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: December 12, 2005

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

Manufacturer: Studio Canal
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:29m:32s
Release Date: December 13, 2005
UPC: 027616130426
Genre: comedy


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

DVD Review

Mel Brooks probably never expected the enduring success of The Producers back in 1968, which was his first foray into writing and directing a feature film. It has certainly morphed into "classic" status over the years, in no small part due to the sheer absurdity of the surreal play-within-the-film, "Springtime For Hitler," with high-kicking, goosestepping dancers and a mondo groovy Der Fuehrer performance by Dick Shawn as a very clueless hippie-dippie actor full of "yeah baby" asides. In a weird case of life almost imitating art, The Producers has more recently become a smash musical on Broadway, spawned an upcoming film version of said musical, which also features brilliantly as the main story arc of Season Four of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) is a Broadway producer whose glory days are well behind him, and he has reluctantly resorted to romancing wealthy old women for money to raise capital for yet another flop production. The opening credit sequence, with Max schmoozing one of his regular marks (Estelle Winwood) is a wonderfully disturbing bit of physical comedy, sold by the sweaty wild-eyed dramatics of Mostel. An introverted accountant named Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) arrives to do Max's books, and makes an offhand comment that an unscrupulous producer could make more money with a flop than with a hit. This prompts Max to convince Leo, after much cajoling, to eventually join forces to raise a large sum of money, put on a show guaranteed to close in one night and then disappear with the unused profits.

The play is an awful doozy—a sincere, loving tribute to Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler ("Hitler. There was a painter! He could paint an entire apartment in one afternoon! Two coats!"), written by a demented, pigeon-loving Nazi playwright, played with an over-the-top zeal by Kenneth Mars. Max and Leo recruit effeminate director Roger De Bris (Christopher Hewett), who decides to turn the play into a musical, which seems to only guarantee the show to be a failure. The only thing that can tip it in as a surefire miss is casting clueless peace-and-love hippie actor named L.S.D. (Dick Shawn) as a retro-groovy Hitler.

Brooks has constructed The Producers very much like that of a Broadway play, with an endless string of often loud, one-note characters (the leads included) parading through a handful of sets, some of whom handle the comedy elements better than others. Mostel has one mode—loud—but he is really such a broad, comedic force here that it is clear that the production would have been far less robust without him. Wilder plays the quiet nebbish especially well, though I still find his frantic "breakdown" scene a tad overdone, to the point of being simply annoying. Mars, Hewitt, and Andreas Voutsinas (playing the creepy, bearded manservant of director De Bris) similarly ratchet things to seemingly play to the back of the theater, which is sometimes disconcerting in a feature film, though you will hardly find me complaining about Lee Meredith as the English-challenged receptionist, Ula, with her penchant for tiny dresses and go-go dancing.

There is much of Brooks' trademark rapid-fire wit throughout The Producers, but like a lot of his work it is the quantity over quality variety. The production of "Springtime," as well as the Hitler casting call, are two of the brilliant showcase moments, and they're the kind of things that will stick in your head for a long time afterwards. The bizarro quotient, even for Brooks, is very high in spots, but that's a good thing. Uneven here and there, this is still classic stuff.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesyes
Anamorphicyesyes


Image Transfer Review: MGM has included the same 1.33:1 full frame and a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen found on the 2002 release, here issued on one side of Disc 1. Despite the potential crowding problem and the presence of some fine grain in spots, the sharp transfer (speaking primarily for the widescreen option) is terrific, with bright, well-rendered colors that look exceptionally striking.

And here's my impartial gauge on assessing the richness of color quality of this 37-year-old film: my 14-year-old daughter, who as a rule has no interest in films made prior to 2000 because, in her words "they look old." I had her watch this, and as soon as the opening scene appeared her reaction was "wow, this doesn't look like it was made in 1968!"

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: As with the 2002 release, both the original mono and a new Dolby Digital 5.1 track are featured here; differences are actually quite minimal, with just a slightly more expansive feel to the multi-channel mix. Voice quality clips a bit during some of the louder Mostel and Wilder outbursts, but generally overall tonal clarity is more than adequate. The 5.1 option never really becomes anything more than a slightly trumped up mono track, offering very little to separate itself from the original.

Kudos, however, to MGM for the inclusion of the mono track—which really would have sufficed on its own.

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
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring West Side Story: Collector's Edition, Monty Python And The Holy Grail: Special Edition, Rent, Spaceballs: Collector's Edition, The Producers
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery
Extras Review: Packaging for this new two-disc so-called "deluxe edition" is rather sharp, with the Gladiator-style case housed inside of a slipcase that opens like a book, with a small Velcro snap. Perhaps not entirely necessary, but a nice presentation, nonetheless.

Unlike the two-sided release from a couple of years ago, this has Disc 1 reserved for the film, and Disc 2 is where MGM has gathered the supplements. The problem is that with the exception of the trailer for the new musical version with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick (deceptively referred to as A Look at the New Theatrical Release: The Producers) it's all the same exact material as was already released; though, to be fair, any time you get a Laurent Bouzereau-directed making-of, it's never entirely a bad thing. So the quality of the extras merits a "B" rating, but the fact that we've seen them all before earns it a "D."

Bouzerau's The Making of The Producers (01h:03m:49s) is from 2002, and it is split into five separate sections (Opening, Act I, Intermission, Act II, Closing), which can either be played separately or as one continuous doc. Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, Lee Meredith, assistant director Michael Hertzberg, Kenneth Mars, Andreas Voutsinas, composer John Morris, production designer Charles Rosen, casting director Alfa-Betty Olsen, and director Paul Mazursky all chime in on various elements of the production. Amidst scenes from the film, Brooks laments about "people not getting the joke" and discusses some of the original casting ideas, including Peter Sellers as Bloom and Dustin Hoffman as crazed Nazi Franz. And just to sell the whole thing, Meredith recreates Ula's go-go dance.

The Playhouse Outtake (03m:41s) is an alternate take of the scene where Mostel, Wilder, and Mars are planting dynamite, presented in a rather nicked nonanamorphic widescreen print. I actually prefer this one to the one featured in the final print, plus it features a little extra stumbling drunkenness from William Hickey.

The Peter Sellers Statement Read By Paul Mazursky (:54s) has the famed director reading an article that appeared in Variety in which Sellers gushed about how The Producers represented "the essence of all great comedy." A sketch gallery (02mn:14s) of Charles Rosen's original set designs is included, as is a fuzzy black-and-white photo gallery consisting of 40 assorted publicity stills.

The disc with the two prints of the features is cut into 28 chapters, with optional subtitles in English, French or Spanish.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Mel Brooks hit it big with his first feature in 1968, a classic comedy about the accidental success of the worst play of all time: a singing/dancing musical about Hitler. This new release is essentially an MGM double dip, containing noteworthy (but the same) extras as found on the 2002 version, only this time on two discs rather than one.

No need to purchase this again if you already own it, because there isn't anything new here to speak of.

Recommended.

 


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