Filmsite Movie Review
The Producers (1968)
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The Producers (1968) was writer/director Mel Brooks' debut film and most popular farce - a zany, often brilliant spoof comedy about Broadway productions (and their producers) and the Nazis that many considered shoddy and in very bad taste. The subversive and irreverent film deliberately skewered gullible theatrical investors - oversexed, preyed-upon old ladies treated as sex objects, offensive and tasteless art that entertained middle-class audiences and could make millions through fraudulent, nebbish accountant tricks, the flamboyant gays in Broadway productions, counter-cultural hippie flower-children, and busty dumb-blonde Swedes. Most importantly, the stereotype of Jews (although never specifically mentioned in the film) were portrayed as transgressive, lustful, unethical, greedy and corrupt, while Nazis were represented as naive, dedicated, disciplined and innocently revealed to be kick-lines of sexy showgirls.

After its sneak-preview premiere showing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on November 22, 1967, the film was initially rumored to be shelved (due to its disastrous opening and other negative test screenings), but its strong word of mouth in the intervening months propelled it to be opened in more cities. Its widespread theatrical release on March 18, 1968 in New York City and then in other cities ensured its success. Its opening in March of 1968 thereby qualified it for the 1968 Oscars. [Note: The film has often been considered a 1967 film release due to its original opening date.].

Although certain elements are now tame and have lost some comedic shock value since the late 60s, the black comedy was still daring, non-PC, controversial, audacious and subversive. (The Embassy studio would never have released Brooks' film without the intervention of Peter Sellers, who wrote a review of the film in Variety, and convinced executive producer Joseph E. Levine to release it after its disastrous premiere in Pittsburg in late 1967 - the only compromise being a change from the original title Springtime For Hitler to The Producers.)

The film's 'play-within-a-film' was produced and staged at the Playhouse Theatre located at 137 West 48th Street in midtown Manhattan, and turned out to be the playhouse's final production. Shortly after its use for the film (for its interior and exterior), the building was demolished in 1969 to allow for further expansion of Rockefeller Center. The Producers was filmed in eight weeks on a budget of $946,000.

The underground cult comedy received two Academy Awards nominations (with one win): Best Writing, Story and Screenplay - Written Directly for the Screen (Mel Brooks) (win), and Best Supporting Actor (Gene Wilder). Wilder went on to star and collaborate with the director in two other extremely popular Brooks films: Blazing Saddles (1974) and Young Frankenstein (1974).

There were two off-shoots of the madcap film:

  • The Producers, a Broadway theatrical musical version produced by Mel Brooks, for a six-year run from 2001-2007, with Nathan Lane (as Max) and Matthew Broderick (as Leo); it earned twelve Tony Awards (three for Brooks) including Best Musical [Note: To date, it holds the record as the Broadway musical production with the most Tony Awards for a single production, and the second most-nominated production in Tony history.]
  • The Producers (2005), a film version of the musical play, directed by Susan Stroman (who also directed the Broadway musical version), with Lane and Broderick reprising their stage roles on film

Plot Synopsis

The Opening Credits Sequence:

The high-energy, opening credits sequence began with a view of the frosted glass on the exterior of the door of "Max Bialystock, Theatrical Producer." Silhouetted figures were vaguely seen canoodling through the door. Cash-hungry, desperate, bankrupt, wild-eyed, hustling, has-been Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) was entertaining and romancing a rich, love-starved little old lady for her money. He was dressed as a gigolo in a dark-burgundy, silk sleeping waistcoat (similar to the preference of Playboy's Hugh Hefner). After seducing "Cash" from his "angel" (his name for his elderly donors), the unscrupulous, portly man with a comb-over uttered the film's first line as she left his office and descended the stairs - when the coast was clear:

Don't forget the check-y! Can't produce plays without check-y.

With a smile, the little old lady responded: "You can count on me, you dirty young man." He pinched her butt, causing her to squeal.

[Note: "Bailystock" was specifically chosen as main character's name. Bailystok was the name of a northeastern Polish city where one of the major armed ghetto uprisings of Polish Jews against Nazis took place on August 16th, 1943. Thus, it expressed a sense of the Polish Jews' outrage and power against the Nazi's criminal and fascist murder of European Jews. Thus, in the film, Bailystock was able to outwit the one true Nazi in the film, Franz Liebkind, to ridicule Hitler and the Third Reich.]

The desperate, washed-up, once-great Bialystock, the "toast of Broadway," returned into his run-down office, decorated with framed posters of his previous low-brow, bad-taste productions that were sensational failures. He brought the framed picture of his most recent guest back to a double-doored cabinet, with framed portraits of other elderly ladies. He searched for the picture of his next expected guest who was one of his favorites - known as "Hold Me Touch Me." A second spry, veiled little Old Lady (85-year-old Estelle Winwood) had just ascended the stairs and given his door two double-knocks. The frenetic but chivalrous Max greeted her with a very leering: "Darling!" She responded with her name: "Hold me, touch me." He cautioned: "Not in the hall," and ushered her into his office - as the opening credits began to play.

He participated in many ridiculous sex games with her, including hide-and-seek behind the sofa ("Where are you Devil-Woman?"), "Come to Papa," and a Game of "Tom-Cat on the Prowl for a Pussy-Cat." The arrival of Max's accountant Leopold "Leo" Bloom (Gene Wilder in his first starring role) interrupted his shenanigans with the Old Lady, and Leo was forced to make himself inconspicous in the hallway. During the opening credits, other sexual games were mentioned: "The Innocent Little Milkmaid and the Naughty Stable Boy," "The Contessa and the Chauffeur (Rudolfo)," and "The Abduction and The Cruel Rape of Lucretia."

Max told her: "We can't play today," and tried to steer her to the door and usher her out into the hallway. He kept promising her they would resume their session on Thursday, and called her a "bawdy wench" as he slapped her butt, and she laughed and ran off. After a few moments, however, Max called her back to remind her about money: "Oh, Lucretia, you forgot the check. Can't produce plays without check." She apologized that she had it with her all the time and gave Max a check endorsed to "CASH" - explaining: "You didn't tell me the name of the play." As she left, he waved at her with the check in his hand (as if it was a handkerchief).

Suddenly out of his hiding place in the shadows, Max's landlord (Shimen Ruskin) grabbed the check, and asserted a semi-legal sounding phrase: "He who signs a lease, must pay rent. That's the law." Max retorted with a semi-Biblical statement toward the heavens: "Oh Lord, hear my plea. Destroy him. He maketh a blight on the land."

Max's Timid Accountant Leo:

Max's timid, meek, scared, high-strung and neurotic accountant Leo nervously explained that he worked for Whitehall and Marks and was sent to examine Max's financial ledgers and books. He apologized for prying: "I'm terribly sorry I caught you with the old lady." Max intimidated the frizzy-haired Leo by calling him a "pervert: "Then account for yourself! Do you believe in God? Do you believe in gold? Why are you looking up old lady's dresses? Bit of a pervert, eh?"

The self-pitying Max delivered a "rhetorical conversation" with himself about his failed professional life - and how he now resorted to wearing a cardboard belt, and was romancing old ladies as their "last thrill on the way to the cemetery":

You know who I used to be? Max Bialystock! The King of Broadway. Six shows running at once! Lunch at Delmonico's. Two hundred dollar suits. (Max gestured at his stick pin) You see this? This once held a pearl as big as your eye. Look at me now. Look at me now! I'm wearing a cardboard belt! (He took off the belt and ripped it up)
I used to have thousands of investors begging, pleading, to put their money into a Max Bialystock production. Look at my investors now. (He gestured toward his open cabinet) Voila! Hundreds of little old ladies stopping off at Max Bialystock's office to grab a last thrill on the way to the cemetery.

He showed off his open cabinet filled with dozens of photos of older women admirers. Then, Max pressured to have Leo only give his financial records a cursory glance by delivering an intimidating command: ("Do the books! Do the books!"). Then at the window after rubbing it clear with a splash of his coffee drink and his white scarf, Max spotted a chauffeured white Rolls Royce parking outside Kippys Restaurant across the street, and gleefully yelled in admiration and jealousy: "That's it baby, when you got it, flaunt it, flaunt it."

After Leo looked at Max's accounting books, he began to cough and stutter about discovering some kind of discrepancy. Leo was allowed a timed one-minute explanation, but became so upset that he reached into his pocket for the calming, comforting and security effect of touching a small tattered piece of his little blue baby blanket. Max grabbed the blanket, causing extreme anxiety in Leo as he shrieked: "My blanket. My blue blanket. Give me my blue blanket." Max immediately returned the blanket as Leo explained his compulsive infantile need for it: "I'm sorry. I don't like people touching my blue blanket....It's a minor compulsion. I can deal with it if I want to. It's just that I've had it ever since I was a baby and, and I find it very comforting."

Leo was finally able to stutter: "I've discovered a serious error here in the accounts of your last play" - it was a $2,000 discrepancy in the finances of Max's last failed play that had raised $60,000 dollars to produce, but the costs were only $58,000 dollars. He had actually raised slightly more money than the cost of his last show, but Max downplayed the oversight. When Leo asked him about it, “Max” replied: "Who cares? The show was a flop. What difference does it make?" Leo warned that the "difference" was considered fraud and might be punishable by prison time.

Leo's 'Creative Accounting' Techniques:

Max suggested that Leo - as an accountant - could easily conceal the relatively minor fraud, by readjusting, altering or shuffling the numbers. Leo was aghast: "But that's cheating!" Max begged for leniency and wished to avoid jail time: "I'm drowning. Other men sail through life. Bialystock has struck a reef. Bloom, I'm going under. I am being sunk by a society that demands success, when all I can offer is failure....Don't send me to prison." Leo was genuinely affected by Max's pleas and volunteered to use various accounting techniques to hide the $2,000 ("I'll do it, I'll do it"). He also off-handedly and naively suggested: "After all, the Internal Revenue Service isn't interested in a show that flopped." As Leo altered the figures, he mused to himself that a producer could make more money with a flop than a hit - by deliberately over-financing a flop and then pocketing the investors' money:

But under the right circumstances, a producer could make more money with a flop than he could with a hit. Yes. Yes. It's quite possible. If he were certain the show would fail, a man could make a fortune.

Max overheard Leo talking to himself and came over to him - and repeated Leo's perfect rascally-scheme or plan: "You were saying that under the right circumstances, a producer could make more money with a flop than he could with a hit." But then Max was uncertain and asked for confirmation: "How could a producer make more money with a flop than with a hit?" Leo answered with a term that has since become a catchphrase in popular discourse:

It's simply a matter of creative accounting....You simply raise more money than you really need...Well, you did it yourself, only you did it on a very small scale....You raised two thousand dollars more than you needed to produce your last play....You didn't go all the way. You see, if you were really a bold criminal, you could have raised a million...You could have raised a million dollars, put on a sixty thousand dollar flop and kept the rest.

The two put their heads together to speculate that they might never be caught or audited for overselling shares in a production that was sure to lose money. The two greedily paired up and concocted an illegal scheme to make a million dollars from investors by producing the worst, most tasteless play ever made (a "sure-fire flop"). They would then purposely over-finance the play that would close on opening night, and then pocket the remainder of the investors' money after the show closed. Max fantasized that afterwards, they would run away with the stolen money to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Max grabbed Leo and began to waltz around the room with him.

Leo - claiming to be "an honest man," immediately feared being labeled a criminal and sent to prison. He also regretted having just doctored Max's financial records. Max loomed over him and cursed at him: "I WANT THAT MONEY!...You miserable, cowardly, wretched little caterpillar. Don't you ever want to become a butterfly? Don't you want to spread your wings and flap your way to glory?" Leo cowered below him and begged from him not to jump on him the way Nero stomped on his wife Poppea: "Please don't jump on me....Don't touch me!"

Leo had a further outburst and escaped to a corner and hid behind Max's office chair: "I'm hysterical. I'm having hysterics. I'm hysterical. I can't stop. When I get like this, I can't stop. I'm hysterical." To ease Leo's frazzled nerves, Max threw a cup of cold water at him:

I'm wet! I'm wet! I'm hysterical and I'm wet! I'm in pain and I'm wet, and I'm still hysterical.

Max threatened to slap Leo across the face, but then both of them calmed down. Max offered to take the "light-headed" Leo out to get lunch. Wearing a dark blue suit, black hat, and flourishing a cane, Max escorted Leo from his office, and the two strolled and promenaded during the mid-afternoon through Central Park after cheapskate Max bought two 25-cent hot-dogs from a sidewalk vendor (Brutus Peck). They also bought popcorn, a balloon, rode the park's Carousel and rented a row-boat. Although stressed about not returning to his job, Leo confessed that he felt "so strange" but "happy." Atop the Empire State Building, Max stood behind Leo and exclaimed how the whole world was at his beck and call:

There it is, Bloom. The most exciting city in the world. Thrills, adventure, romance. Everything you ever dreamed of is down there. Big black limousines, gold cigarette cases, elegant ladies with long legs. All you need is money, Bloom. Money is honey. Money is honey.

And then as night fell, Max was still exhorting Leo (who was sucking his thumb) with further promises of wealth ("He who hesistates is poor"). As they sat before Lincoln Center's fountain, Leo was certain that their plotting would send them to prison: "But if we get caught, we'll go to prison." Max assaulted Leo with one decisive argument: "You think you're not in prison now? Living in a grey little room. Going to a grey little job. Leading a grey little life." The fountain erupted as Leo joyously danced around it and shouted that he would join Max to fraudulently carry through on their scheme:

That's right. I'm a nothing. I spend my life counting other people's money. People I'm smarter than. Better than! Where's my share? Where's Leo Bloom's share? I want - I want - I want everything I've ever seen in the movies!...I'll do it! By God, I'll do it! I'm Leo Bloom. I'm me. I can do whatever I want. It doesn't matter. I'm Leo Bloom!

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