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There can be very few figures in the film industry as renowned for creating great comedy as Mel Brooks. The director of Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein has won admiration from around the world for his hands-on approach to all aspects of the film-making process.  He directed, he wrote and, occasionally, he starred. It's unfortunate then, that the later stages of his career have produced a wealth of 'lesser' features which have harmed his reputation somewhat (take a bow Robin Hood: Men in Tights). Not to worry, because we’re going back to the top of his résumé. To coincide with the launch of the musical on London's West-End, Brooks' directorial debut,  The Producers, finally arrives on region two DVD...but was it worth the wait?
 
Producers, The
Film
Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) is a washed up Broadway producer, down on his luck and forced to charm little old ladies into investing in his latest productions. When 'creative' accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) is called upon to balance his books, the pair discovers that there is big money to be made by producing a huge flop. All they need to do is find an over-abundance of investors, produce a relatively high-budget failure and then secretly pocket the rest of the budget when the show closes on opening night. However, for the plan to work, Bialystock and Bloom need a guaranteed failure. After days of reading a countless amount of lousy scripts, they eventually find the most horrible of them all. Enlisting the help of the worst director and actors in the business, the producers launch their show upon Broadway: 'Springtime for Hitler'; a kitsch, camp musical....about the Nazi party.

The film goes on to follow the making of the musical, culminating in the fall-out from opening night. Adhering to Hollywood rule #1, things go less than smoothly for our two characters.

Following the completion of this movie, Executive Producer Joseph E. Levine informed Mel Brooks that it would not be released. Indeed, it was only following the intervention of Peter Sellars that the movie made it to the cinemas. It seems that Levine did not get the joke, declaring that there was 'nothing remotely funny about the Nazi party'. He's right of course—there's not...but that's the point.

While good comedy never dates, attitudes to political correctness certainly do, and it’s a shame that a little of the 'shock' effect of this film have dissipated. In a society which lavishes countless awards on the critically acclaimed Jerry Springer: The Opera, the idea of a musical based on the Nazi party is perhaps not quite as outrageously funny as it was back in the 1960s.

A further drawback is that the key thrust of the plot is over far too quickly. While comedy invariably works due to a tight pace, director Brooks seems to be in a frantic hurry to get to the end credits. To compensate for this, the audience is afforded only a brief look at how 'Springtime for Hitler' is rehearsed ('Will the dancing Hitlers please wait in the wings? We are only seeing singing Hitlers'). The fact that these scenes rank as classics makes it all the more disappointing.
 
Producers, The
Ditto for the show itself; the opening number of 'Springtime for Hitler' ranks as one of the funniest scenes in cinema history, but it’s the only music number from the show that we get to see. Following this astonishing scene, the movie struggles to recover: it is the climax of the film...thirty minutes too soon. As a result, the third act seems slightly tired and the movie struggles to come up with something which can top this. It never does and, although the ending is satisfying, there's always an indication that it could have been so much better.

Fortunately, the chemistry between Mostel and Wilder is as fresh as ever, and their interplay remains a constant delight. Although they adhere to the basic rules of a cinematic double-act by being diametrically opposed (Gene Wilder's anxious, pessimistic Bloom is the antithesis of Zero Mostel's cocky, self-obsessed Bialystock), they are both well-rounded characters in their own right, brought to life by wonderful comic actors. In the scenes which lack spectacle, the film relies on its two stars to maintain the entertainment value; they do so admirably.

The Producers is a constant joy: light-hearted but with a cheeky charm that showcases an ulterior motive to shock. While the 'noughties' audience may not respond to it with quite the same amount of appreciation as those in the sixties, it remains a must-see for any comedy fan.

Video
To get a good idea of just how spruced up the transfer is, take a look at the opening credits sequence which blends footage with stills. The stills are grainy and devoid of any brightness whatsoever, whereas the film is sharp and detailed. There're a few moments where grain and scratches are apparent (particularly in those scenes which were filmed on location), but this is pretty solid video quality. Admittedly this is not the sort of disc to convince VHS devotees to finally make the jump to DVD, but, considering the age of the feature, it's a job well done by the studio.

Producers, The
Audio
Although touted as a 5.1 mix, it's worth pointing out that the film only all uses five speakers in the musical numbers. As already mentioned, there's not nearly enough of them...so, for the most part this is pretty low-spec on the audio side of things. That's not surprising considering the age of the film, and to its credit, the songs sound great. There's a pesky hiss through the unused speakers throughout much of the movie, but a little fiddling should remove this (minor) irritation.

Extras
The DVD of The Producers is one of those cases of a Special Edition that feels significantly 'un-special'. The second disc contains a sparse list of extras that could easily fit onto the first disc.

The main attraction is, undoubtedly, The Making of The Producers, a documentary which, despite an over-reliance on clips, is a pretty thorough recount of how the film was made. At around an hour in length, and drawing on interviews with Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder, there are many interesting anecdotes to be gleaned. A minor irritation is that, despite the documentary being split into chapters, there is no option to ‘play all’, meaning you are returned to the menu several times before it's actually complete.

The Playhouse Out-Take is the DVD’s sole deleted scene and an alternate explanation about how the theatre blows up towards the end of the film. It’s overly slow and deserved to be omitted from the final cut, but its presence here is welcome; even if it is also featured in the documentary.

Peter Sellar's Statement is a letter written by the comic legend to raise awareness of the film. Read by actor and occasional director, Paul Mazursky, its appearance here is rather redundant as the statement is perfectly readable when it appears during the course of the documentary. Indeed, this fifty three second reading feels like it was simply cut from the Making of to populate the list of special features.

Image galleries tend to be a rather tame special feature as they usually contain little more than PR images which were used to publicise the movie. However, there's some insight to be gained from the included Sketch Gallery, which contains many ideas for the sets.  

Finally, the trailer is included. Whereas on contemporary releases, this traditional feature is rather dull, on older films such as The Producers it's always a novelty to see how films were marketed in the 1960s.  

Producers, The
Overall
Fans of this comedy classic will be delighted that The Producers has finally reached region two, but they shouldn't be too enthused by the Special Edition tag. Although time and effort has been clearly taken to transfer the film to the digital format, the extras are sorely lacking. Nevertheless, this is a good movie that deserves to be seen by contemporary audiences.


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