Producers (1968), The (US - BD RA)
Gabe revisits Mel Brooks' first and best comedy on Shout Factory's new Blu-ray
Low-rent Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) and his high-strung accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) discover that, with the help of a few gullible investors, they can make more money on a flop than on a hit. So armed with the worst show ever written – Springtime For Hitler – and an equally horrific cast, this double-dealing duo is banking on disaster. But, when their sure-to-offend musical becomes a surprise smash hit, they find themselves in the middle of a Broadway blitzkrieg! (From Shout Factory’s official synopsis)
I am not what you’d call a fan of most of Mel Brooks’ film output. In fact, with age, I’ve come to sort of hate most of his films. But I can’t discount or dismiss the value of his comedic voice or the impact it had on the greater film world over the decades. At his best, Brooks took the lessons he learned from the vaudeville tradition and applied it to a post-Summer of Love mindset. Unfortunately, he became trapped in a rut and was unable to gracefully grow with the modern filmic landscape. Sadder still, he embraced his place as another run-of-the-mill spoof filmmaker. The incendiary social satire of Blazing Saddles was lost among lazy jokes at the expense of popular non-comedic films and the genuine artistry of Young Frankenstein disappeared into an ocean of stylistic mimicry where its only purpose was to make the audience say ‘Hey, I recognize that image from a different movie I’ve already seen.’ Somewhere, someone has written a lengthy essay comparing his career to that of his New York Jew contemporary, Woody Allen, who grew from a popular satirist into a filmmaker of real artistic merit (this comparison is a little unfair when you account for the scope of Allen’s massive filmography vs. Brooks’ rather small one).
Even if I can’t laugh with Spaceballs like I did when I was seven (I found it difficult to laugh at all the last time I saw it) and find it difficult to differentiate between the supposed qualities of Robin Hood: Men in Tights and the average Scary Movie sequel, I can’t possibly downplay how great Brooks’ early films are. His directorial debut, The Producers, remains his finest achievement as a writer. The film’s Academy Award-winning screenplay doesn’t wasting a minute of the brief 88-minute runtime, unlike his later films, which putter along, slowly spewing the same ten jokes at the audience over and over again for an eternity. The bite of the film’s more fearlessly offensive elements has dulled a bit over the years over the years, thanks in no small part to a super-popular Broadway version and the musical film version that followed, but the situational comedy, slapstick, and satirical wit are all still sharp as knifes. Of course, one can’t downplay the added value of a career-best Zero Mostel performance and a career-making (Oscar-nominated) Gene Wilder performance. There’s a whole lot of screaming hysteria that might overwhelm modern audiences (and would overwhelm Brooks’ other films), but it fits the unabashedly and consistently silly tone perfectly.
The Producers is presented here in the intended 1.85:1 aspect ratio and full 1080p. Those expecting perfection from a modestly budgeted and not particularly arty comedy from 1968 are probably going to find this release a bit disappointing. The rest of us that are left expecting something a little more realistic are in for an authentically filmic transfer, complete with all the grain expected from an aged 35mm transfer. This grain structure is consistent, save a handful of optical zooms. Though occasionally quite soft, the overall image quality is pretty sharp, from the wacky, wide-angle facial close-ups (you can practically count the hairs in Mostel’s comb-over) to the slightly less textured, but still relatively clear backgrounds. Some of the exterior location shots are a little on the dark side, but overall blacks are rich without crushing out the finer gradations within darker elements. Colour quality is certainly stronger than the DVD version, especially the vivid reds and rich blues, which pop out of the screen and feature plenty of impressive hue variations. The rest of the palette is mostly simple, but these occasionally dull hues appear organic, especially the consistent and warm skin tones. The biggest issue I imagine most videophile fans are going to have with this transfer is the presence of print damage artefacts – of which there are more than we would expect from a prestige re-release (not that I’m considering this a prestige release). The majority of this refers to tiny flecks of white and some clumped grain, but there are some surprisingly chunky burns and scratches towards the beginning of the film.
The Producers comes fitted with two natural and as-clean-as-expected audio tracks, one in the original two-channel mono, presented in lossless LPCM, and a 5.1 remix, presented in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio. The differences between the two mixes are negligible, which is, I suppose, a good thing if we’re aiming for more authenticity. That said, I suppose I slightly preferred the DTS-HD track because it does a fine job remixing John Morris’ musical score for the stereo and LFE channels (I didn’t notice anything notable in the rear speakers) without sounding too artificial (no added effects, no awkward directional enhancements). The bulk of the film is pretty dynamically thin and flat, made up of slightly tinny dialogue and basic sound effects work, which sounds basically the same on the two tracks. There are some over-crisp sounds and muffled inconsistencies in the vocal performances inherent in the material, but nothing outrageously inadequate.
Shout Factory has, fortunately, moved all the important extras over from MGM’s special edition DVD and even tossed in a single new feature for good measure – Mel and His Movies: The Producers (18:50, HD), an interview with the writer/director as he recalls making the film. Here, Brooks discusses his pre- Producers career, writing the script, finding funding, meeting/hiring/working with his cast, and the film’s release.
The classic DVD extras begin with The Making of The Producers behind-the-scenes documentary (63:20, SD). It covers similar ground to Brooks’ new interview (including some of the exact same jokes), just in greater detail, and adds further details about the production design, losing Dustin Hoffman to The Graduate, dance choreography, release, and Peter Sellers’ part in its popularity. It features 2002 interviews with Brooks (again), first assistant director Michael Hertzberg, choreographer Alan Johnson, production designer Charles Rosen, casting director Alfa-Betty Olsen, and cast members Wilder, Lee Meredith, Andreas Voutsinas, and Kenneth Mars. The extras come to an end with a deleted scene (3:40, SD), Peter Sellers’ original Variety print ad for the film (1:00, SD), a sketch gallery (2:20, SD), and trailers.
Even as a non-fan or even an anti-fan of the bulk of Mel Brooks’ work, I can still appreciate the incredible historic and comedic value of The Producers. In fact, I’d even mark it among the best feature filmmaker debuts of all time. It’s just too bad Brooks tripped into such mediocrity as his career expanded, Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles notwithstanding (perhaps he just needs Gene Wilder’s influence as an actor?). Shout Factory’s new Blu-ray release is about as sharp as could be expected from the already soft and grainy material, features two mostly equivalent soundtrack options, and a nice collection of extras, including the stuff available on MGM’s special edition DVD.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 2nd July 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, LPCM 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: The Making of The Producers, Mel and His Movies: The Producers, Peter Seller's Variety Ad, Sketch Gallery, Deleted Scene, Trailers, DVD Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Mel Brooks
Cast: Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Kenneth Mars, Dick Shawn
Length: 88 minutes
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