The Producers (1967)

Mel Brooks | 1hr 28min

Mel Brooks may be a greater writer than he is a director, but there is no holding back in either department when it comes to his film debut, The Producers. He wastes no time in zooming from one plot point to the next like a Marx Brothers routine, and it takes great comedic talents like those of Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel to not just match his brisk pace, but to push it even further. On top of that, The Producers would simply not work if Brooks had anything less than a full ensemble giving it their all in sending up the executives, directors, actors, writers, and even accountants of the musical theatre industry, in all their highly-strung, neurotic quirks.

Brooks’ main and supporting roles take turns playing the fool and the straight man as each scene sees fit, and yet all of their idiosyncrasies are always kept in mind to realise the full comedic potential of each interaction. These are some of Brooks’ best characters, and the groundwork he does in building them up makes for remarkable farcical pay-offs that almost always call back to established running gags and key character traits, from Max Bialystock’s willingness to degrade himself to hysterical lows for money, to Roger De Bris’ vain conviction that self-expression is humanity’s most noble pursuit.

This frenzied opening sequence heightened by manic freeze frames, paired with the opening credits.

Continuing to lift The Producers above many of Brooks’ other directorial efforts is the pure insanity of his editing choices, as he builds the opening credits from freeze frames of Max’s sweaty face in the midst of a playful yet desperate affair with an older woman, trying to extract money from her. Later, Brooks’ set décor vividly complements the lunacy of the characters that inhabit them – the red walls of the restaurant, the blue curtains of the bar, the oranges and whites of Max’s office, and especially the yellow patterned wallpaper of Roger De Bris’ apartment, luridly clashing with the theatre director’s blue, sequinned dress.

Bright, garish production design, always reflecting the insanity of the characters.

Finally, we reach the brazenly offensive musical production, ‘Springtime for Hitler’, complete with pretzel bras and a Busby Berkeley-style dancing swastika. As the camp tastelessness of these artists is revealed in the flamboyant, Nazi regalia, Brooks’ abject, visual artistry fully manifests in all its scandalous glory. And then, just as that reaches its peak, so too does his hilarious send-up of these entitled creators who rip through hallowed topics with reckless abandon, monetising controversy for their own tactless, selfish purposes.

A blend of Nazi regalia and show-stopping Busby Berkeley choreography – the entire ‘Springtime for Hitler’ musical sequence is Brooks at his most comically irreverent, satirising the entertainment industry’s grotesque exploitation of sacrosanct subject matter.

The Producers is available to rent or buy on YouTube.

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