(director/writer: Mel Brooks; cinematographer: Joseph Coffey; editor: Ralph Rosenblum; music: John Morris; cast: Zero Mostel (Max Bialystock), Gene Wilder (Leo Bloom), Dick Shawn (L.S.D), Kenneth Mars (Franz Liebkind), Lee Meredith (Ulla), Christopher Hewett (Roger De Bris); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Sidney Glazier; Avco Embassy Pictures; 1967)
“A wacky and hilarious and shameless delight.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Mel Brooks’ first feature as a director is a wacky and hilarious and shameless delight with a pulling Jewish motif. Zero Mostel is a has-been flamboyant Broadway producer named Max Bialystock, who hasn’t had a hit in years and is in big financial trouble–he claims his belt is now made of cardboard. The finagling Max gets backing for his shows by comically wooing old widows who have the hots for him. Gene Wilder is Leo Bloom, the mousey new accountant who after doing Max’s books inadvertently gives him an idea of how to get out of financial trouble. Max discovers that if he stages a flop that is so bad that it immediately closes in one day, he can clean up on the excess money if it is over-backed by all the rich widows he usually woos. Together they dream of making a fortune by selling 25,000% shares and pocketing the excess legally without fear of an IRS audit.

Leo becomes instantly corruptible and the two conspire to choose the worst play-Springtime for Hitler, the worst playwright-a still believing demented Nazi living in NYC named Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars), the worst director-the self-serving transvestite Roger De Bris (Christopher Hewitt), and the worst actor-the insanely hyper acid taking hippie-freak Lorenzo S. Dubois who is better known as L.S.D. (Dick Shawn). The guaranteed flop play is about “a delightful romp at Berchestedstgarden with Adolph Hitler and Eva Braun.” The helmet wearing playwright, whose only friends are the pigeons he keeps on his roof, is welcomed on the set and in a drunken rant insists that Hitler was a better painter than Churchill: “He could paint an entire apartment in one afternoon, two coats!” It’s a 1930’s style musical that has an opening number that features goose stepping chorus girls to the accompaniment of crass lyrics such as “Don’t be stupid, be a smarty! Come and join the Nazi Party!”

For its time it was a daring comedy, taking comic liberties with a sensitive area of recent Jewish history. The film received a poor critical reception when it opened and was a box-office flop, as the public was not sure how to take its puerile humor. The film has since grown in popularity as a cult classic and though its satire offended some and others felt it was unfunny, it has managed to live long enough to become accepted as a mainstream triumph of bad taste. The Producers was added to the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 1996 and is number 11 on the American Film Institute’s list of America’s 100 Funniest Movies.

The Producers (1967)