Vintage Mel Brooks returns in ‘The Producers: Special Edition’ (Blu-ray movie review)
Mel Brook’s 1967, Academy Award-winning, satirical masterpiece skewering the business side of Broadway returns to the high definition format sourced from a new 4K restoration and still ripe with laughs and even a new extra in The Producers: Special Edition (Kino Lorber, not rated, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 88 minutes, $29.95).
The absurdist tale stars theatrical producer and former “King of Broadway” Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) suffering from hard times and in desperate need of a hit show. He meets high-strung accountant Leopold Bloom (Gene Wilder) assigned to check his books, but Leo stumbles upon a clever plan. Specifically, under the right circumstances, a producer could make more money with a flop than a hit. Raise more money than you need and when the show fails, you keep the extra.
The pair become partners and first seek out the worst play ever written and find the immortal musical “Springtime for Hitler.”
Springtime for Hitler – A guaranteed flop?
Max raises the funds by bilking rich old woman out of their cash, buys the play from former Nazi Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars), hires a director with a losing track record Roger De Bris (Christopher Hewett), and casts a too-hip hippie Lorenzo St. DuBois (Dick Shawn) to play Hitler.
All looks ripe for a massive failure, but could success foil the pair’s payday?
Mostel and Wilder’s swirling manic performances are eye-watering throughout. Further complemented by such laugh out loud scenes as the Nazi playwright ranting on how much greater Hitler was to Churchill, the frantic casting call for Der Fluhrer, and the rousing musical number “Springtime for Hitler” — “Don’t be stupid, be a smarty. Come and join the Nazi Party.”
The visual presentation in The Producers is the best ever released for home theaters, sometimes a bit soft with some film grain. But sharp colors such as Max’s velvet red smoking jacket as well as the costuming really shine. Particularly during the “Springtime for Hitler” song. Be sure to check out the golden pretzels brassiere on one of the dancers and the Busby Berkeley-style, over-the-top swastika dance.
Also appreciated is the screen-filling aspect ratio that bodes well when Max and Leo are practically kissing the camera lens.
The Producers – Best extras:
First, viewers get a brand new commentary track with film historian Michael Schlesinger. He first questions why he was asked to do the track with the director still alive. Nonetheless, he forgets that quickly and immediately points out that Mr. Brooks is his own personal god.
Mr. Schlesinger then enthusiastically dives into the commenting, often explaining the major credits of most of the cast and crew, Mr. Brooks’ origins and his intellectual side of comedy, how Mr. Books met Wilder. Generally adding fun and informational stories from the set.
He sometimes sounds like a studio tour guide with the lists. However, his track has plenty of facts, plenty of nostalgia, and manages to not sound like a fan gushing about his deity.
The Producers – Old extras are new again:
Next, viewers get almost all of the extras previously available on DVD releases going back to 2002.
Best of the bunch is the roughly hour-long, five-chapter documentary on the film that covers almost all facets of the production process. While offering plenty of commentary by the director and surviving cast and crew (as of 2002).
Viewers will love the nostalgia trip listening to Mr. Brooks discuss how Dustin Hoffman was set to play the Nazi writer but gave up the role to star in “The Graduate” or Wilder remembering the antics of Mostel on the set as well Lee Meredith (Max’s secretary) reenacting one of her go-go dance scenes.
Also worth watching is the brief gushing review of the film from Peter Sellers (more of a long statement) read by director Paul Mazursky.
The only extra missing, and originally found on Shout! Factory’s 2013 Blu-ray release, was a more contemporary 19-minute interview with Mr. Brooks. It’s too bad Kino Lorber could not get the famed filmmaker to offer another look at his classic. Even if in a socially distanced video call.
• This story originally appeared in The Washington Times.