Max Bialystock is a producer on the skids. Now that his more successful days are over, he’s had to resort to swindling rich old ladies out of their dosh. They think they’re investing in a new play he is producing but there is no play. Max’s accountant Leo Bloom notices that it’s more profitable to make a flop than a hit as the books will never be audited on a flop and so no one will look into its financial affairs. With this in mind, they search for a play or musical so bad that it will be a huge flop. They find this in the guise of a musical celebrating Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. They also find the perfect eccentric leading man to play Hitler after auditioning for the part.
Mel Brooks’ film is hilarious. It all builds up to the stage number ‘Springtime For Hitler’ which is one of the funniest and most brilliant things I’ve ever seen on film (sample lyric- ‘Don’t be stupid, be a smarty, come and join the Nazi party’). Zero Mostel and the ever-brilliant Gene Wilder are perfectly cast as the quirky Max and Leo.
But The Producers works on another level. It also offers us a peek into the New York of the late 60s and the artists, kooks and characters who were frequenting its artistic core. Witness the director they employ, Roger De Bris, and his partner and how way out they are. Also, look at their leading man Lorenzo Saint DuBois (L.S.D. for short) who is bedecked head to toe in black, resplendent in thigh-high boots, a single ear-ring, and a Campbell’s soup can on a chain around his neck. This is, obviously, an Andy Warhol reference. This was the New York of the Velvet Underground and Who Killed Teddy Bear. The kooky actors, artists, and bohemians were pushed centre stage for some scenes within The Producers. Check out the auditions for the role of Hitler.
Of course, a film that mocks and makes light of Hitler and Nazi Germany was always going to be controversial. This was Mel Brooks’ first film and being Jewish himself he has stated that he could either get on his soapbox as to how awful the Holocaust was and be forgotten or he could make Springtime For Hitler and be remembered forever more. And it worked!
3.5 stars out of 5