Thursday, November 15, 2018

CMBA Outlaws Blogathon: The Producers (1967): It's Criminally Joyous

This is my entry in the Classic Movie Blog Association's Outlaws Blogathon. Click here for more outrageous cinematic lawbreakers.

Zero + Gene = Love
They're adorable, they're hysterical, they're lovable. They're desperate con men and deliberate thieves. They're Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom and they are "The Producers."
Words don't do this justice
Let me say right out of the gate: I love this film, almost above all others. It is by far my favorite comedy. Where to start? 

Max gives his all for his art
In a nutshell, Mel Brooks' "The Producers" tells the story of once-successful-but-now-down-on-his-luck Broadway Producer Max Bialystock and his accountant, Leo Bloom. Max, who has produced a long string of flops of late, keeps his enterprise afloat by romancing elderly (and frisky) women to finance his next play. He's dishonorable, greedy and desperate. Leo Bloom, a timid accountant, finds an error while auditing the books for Max's last play, which presumably made a few dollars. While Max attempts to persuade Leo to ignore the error, Leo has a revelation: the books for a Broadway failure would never be audited. If more than 100% of shares were sold, who would know? And so, a dastardly scheme was hatched and a beautiful friendship was born.

Neurotic, hysterical and a budding criminal
First, the fraud. Arm-locked in the scheme to mount the worst play in the history of Broadway, one sure to lose a bundle, the pair strikes gold with something called "Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp With Adolph and Eva at Berchtesgaden." A love letter to Hitler, it is written by the proud and totally nuts Nazi Franz Liebkind. Words can not do justice to the comical discomfort felt by 2 Jews who entertain the ravings of this lunatic (including wearing a swastika before they peel it off with revulsion as soon as they are out of Liebkind's sight) in order to get the rights to his play.
Courting the author: a producer does what a producer has to do
Now that the play has been found, it is important to find just the right (wrong) cast and crew. Over the top gay director Roger De Bris is chosen and hippy-dippy, improv actor Lorenzo St. Dubois (otherwise known as LSD) appears as their perfect Hitler. There's no way this can succeed, right? The boys  gleefully dream of their financially secure future with this over-sold turkey and lease some posh office space with a sexy secretary. All the while, Max continues to do his part by romancing his little old ladies and overselling shares of "Springtime for Hitler." Note here that Max is doing all the heavy lifting.

Hold Me! Touch Me! Max's couch gets a workout
Estelle Winwood is especially frisky and funny as a lady known only as Hold Me! Touch Me! (the words she coos to Max when they meet for their tryst).

Getting up close and personal with the Reich
Ah, the best laid plans. After a stunning musical number of the title song, the audience is appalled and success at failure seems assured. But wait, LSD, vamping as a totally cool and kooky Hitler, send the audience into hysterics and they view it as a comedy. Making fun of Hitler! What a concept! And just like that, the play is deemed a hit. Max and Leo are doomed and author Liebkind becomes unhinged as his Fuhrer is mocked. As Max says, "I picked the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast...where did I go right?" Max and Leo turn on one another (Leo, as Leo would, wants to turn himself in), but are united again when author Liebkind tries to kill the pair and them himself, but runs out of bullets. The 3 band together to try and blow up the theater - anything to stop this success and the assault on Liebkind's hero - but are foiled and arrested. They are all sent to prison after being found not just guilty, but incredibly guilty.

Dick Shawn is a groovy Fuhrer
Have no fear. The lure of larceny and the boards can't be quelled behind bars. Our last view of Max and Leo find them mounting a prison show called "Prisoners of Love," and happily over-selling shares of the production to the prison guards. You can't keep a good con man down.

A little "Springtime for Hitler" for your viewing pleasure (it never gets old):

So, that's the story. But the real joy of the film is the loving relationship of Max and Leo. Leo, timid and nervous, finds a father figure in Max, a father figure who builds him up and gives him courage. And Max, that heartless cynic who never let a good scam get by him, finds a surrogate son in Leo. He should simply dismiss the boy, but he can't because he knows Leo needs him and he needs Leo.

Partners in crime. What fun!
The jokes are just too numerous to detail. Let's just say Mel Brooks hits a home run with story, character and jokes. The story is so strong that, years later  in 2001 it became a hit Broadway musical starring a brilliant Nathan Lane as Max (forget the film version of this play; stick with the original).

So, yes, Max and Leo were outlaws, but look what they and this film gave us: an unforgettable film debut for Gene Wilder, Dick Shawn at his wildest best, the Busby Berkeley-style overhead dance of in-synch swastikas of "Springtime for Hitler," the crystallization of the mad genius cinematic voice of Mel Brooks and, above all, a performance for the ages by Zero Mostel. 

Like all great films, words can't convey the wonder of "The Producers." You have to see it. Hold Me!Touch Me! had it right. Sometimes you just have to say "thank you," even when you know your pockets are being picked.


Caftan Woman said...

I really like the way your mind works in seeing "outlaws" and thinking of Max and Leo. Your love of The Producers is infectious. I was grinning all the time I read.

FlickChick said...

Hi CW - well, they certainly operated outside the law! I love this film so much - it is screamingly funny, but it also has such an air of sweetness. Plus, I love seeing people who get dressed for the theater. Ah, those were the days......

Linda J. Sandahl said...

I also love the way Brooks never holds back -- once the guys are committed to this wonderfully insane idea, they take it all the way. Like the showgirls wearing pretzels bratwurst, and beer steins on their heads.

John/24Frames said...

I remember seeing this film when it first came out on the Upper East side of Manhattan. The theater was packed and the laughter was louder than I ever heard before. Along with Young Frankenstein my favorite Mel Brooks film. Great choice!

FlickChick said...

Linda- yes, Brooks goes all in with no shame whatsoever. That's what makes it all so fun. He is a treasure.

FlickChick said...

Hi John. Oh, what fun to be in a theater with communal laughter. I experienced the same at Blazing Saddles - you know, the campfire scene. And thanks for all of your hard work on the blogathon. said...

Laughed reading this even though I haven't seen the film yet! Great writeup and reminder of why comedies are so essential to us all.

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Leah. I love the lovable and funny outlaws the best. The real ones sometimes scare me!

Amanda Garrett said...

A great out-of-the-box choice for this blogathon and your review made me giggle several times. Both Wilder and Mostel gave Oscar-worthy performances and Brooks' shtick never gets old.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

What a great pair of outlaws! The "Springtime" number is always hysterical, but I love the audience reaction. A fun choice for this blogathon.

The Lady Eve said...

What's not to love about The Producers...or your take on it? Both are great and lovable and funny. Perfect choice of outlaws for Outlaws, the blogathon. I remember seeing this in a theater back in the day...and the feeling of my jaw on my chest during the "Springtime for Hitler" number.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Amanda. There are no more out of the box outlaws than Max and Leo.

FlickChick said...

Jacqueline - "springtime" always reduces me to tears. Mel proves you either go big or go home.

FlickChick said...

Patty - oh yeah, that first viewing on "Springtime" is memorable. the audience reaction in the film is perfection.