The Producers (1968)
When Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) meets Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) it is the beginning of a Broadway friendship of a Broadway “odd couple,” and the creation of a scheme that will bring them both financial success. Max Bialystock is at the end of his rope, he is a seedy Broadway producer with a comb over that would make Donald Trump jealous. His one success in life is his ability to get elderly women to give him money. Leo Bloom is a nervous accountant whose neurosis drive him into literal hysterics. During this chance meeting Leo mentions that a well-financed Broadway flop would make more money than a hit. With Bloom’s help Bialystock will produce a Broadway flop, pocket the money, and then fly off to Brazil.
The first step is to find a script. Immediately, they set out to find the worst play ever written. Bloom is beginning to lose hope when Bialystock finds “Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolph and Eva in Berchtesgaden”. Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars), the author of the play appears equally obsessed with his carrier pigeons as he is with Hitler and Nazi Germany. His play, an homage to Hitler, will be his vehicle to show the world the true Hitler that he knew and loved. Liebkind describes his Fuehrer as good-looking, a good dresser, he had more hair than Winston Churchill, told funnier jokes, and he could dance the pants off Churchill. Hitler was also a better painter, “he could paint an entire apartment in one afternoon…two coats!” With the Liebkind contract in hand and Nazi armbands on they walk out of the apartment, ready to raise capital. Bailystock now “launches himself into little old lady land.” What follows is a hilarious montage of little old ladies handing over checks to their precious “Bialy,” when finished Bailystock has sold 25,000% of the play to his old lady investors.
Next, Bailystock must assemble the rest of the group to round out the worst production in history. Roger De Bris (Christopher Hewett) will be the director of the play. As Bialystock describes him, he is the only director whose plays close “on the first day of rehearsal.” This will be DeBrise chance to enter dramatic theater, with a little music put in. On the day of auditions, Bailystock and Bloom have been unable to find the perfectly terrible Hitler, this is after seeing singing Hitlers and dancing Hitlers. In walks flower power hippie, Lorenzo Saint DuBois “LSD” (Dick Shawn) singing a psychedelic song accompanied by his female band. Bailystock has done everything he can to ensure the failure of the play. However, on opening night the worst Broadway play in history becomes a comic hit.
“How could this happen? I was so careful. I picked the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast. Where did I go right?” -Max Bialystock
The Producers was the directorial debut for Mel Brooks and the first collaboration between Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder: The Producers (1968), Blazing Saddles (1974), and Young Frankenstein (1974). Two of these films, The Producers and Young Frankenstein, Brooks adapted into musicals. In 2005, Brooks again adapted the musical version of The Producers into a new film. The story line was updated with a few minor changes, but the premise and the characterization of Bialystock and Bloom (played by Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick respectively) still remains true to the original.
Comedies about Adolph Hitler and Nazis have not always proven to be successful. The trauma of World War II makes it difficult for comedies or satires to be successful about such a historic tragedy. Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940) and To Be or Not To Be (1942) starring Jack Benny and Carole Lombard where Hollywood failures. Both of these films where ahead of their time criticizing Hitler and the Nazis, being produced and released during the Second World War. Despite being comedies both films had important messages about the Nazis, and their domination and oppression. By the 60’s, shows like Hogan’s Heroes were popular on network television, and audiences where able to laugh at satirical depictions of the war. This paved the way for Brooks’ comedy generous. One of things I’ve always enjoyed about Mel Brooks productions is that nothing is ever sacred. He is willing to find and make the most out of every comedic scene, with characters that are over-the-top and are able to make light of social stereotypes.