Producers, The (1968): Mel Brooks’ Cult Showbiz Comedy Starring, Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder

In 1968, Mel Brooks made directorial and writing debut with “The Producers,” a modestly budgeted (less than $1 million) comedy, starring Broadway favorite Zero Mostel and a relatively newcomer named Gene Wilder.

Grade: B (*** 1/2* out of *****)

The Producers
The Producers (1968).jpg

Theatrical release poster

After being blacklisted for many years, Zero Mostel gets to play one of his best roles, a hard-luck Broadway type named Max Bialystock, who comes up with a brilliantly wicked scheme.  Why not find the worst possible play and sell shares of it to gullible backers, so that when it flops, he can pocket the money.

He is assisted by his accountant, Leopold “Leo” Bloom, played by the gifted comic actor Gene Wilder. who was then not well known to the large public, having appeared in Bonnie and Clyde (in which he had one great scene).

Mostel finds the “perfect” vehicle: Neo-Nazi Kenneth Mars’ apen to Der Fuhrer, which he turns into a musical titled “Springtime for Hitler.”

Unexpectedly, the audience thinks the awful play is a put-on and the musical goes on to become a smash hit.

Clever Ending

In the end, Max, Leo, and Franz are sent to the penitentiary, where they produce a play Prisoners of Love. The show proves to be even worse than Springtime for Hitler, because Leo and Max are striving to make a good rather than a bad play. While Max and Franz supervise rehearsals, Leo continues their old scam, overselling shares of the play to fellow prisoners and the warden.

The song “Prisoners of Love” plays while the credits roll.

One of the witty elements of the movie was the choice of names for the characters, from top to bottom.

Poor Critical Reception

Despite poor distribution, and initially negative critical response, the movie became a sleeper hit and earned Brooks an Oscar for Best Original Story and Screenplay.

Over the years, The Producers has become a cult classic, due to its repeated showings on TV and embracement by college students.

Recycling: Movie to Broadway Production to Musical Movie

Decades later, it was made into a successful Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, which was then turned into a Hollywood musical picture.

Oscar Nominations: 2

Story and Screenplay (Original): Mel Brooks
Supporting Actor: Gene Wilder

Oscar Awards: 1

Story and Screenplay

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar was vet stage actor Jack Albertson for the Vietnam War drama, The Subject Was Roses.

Cast

Zero Mostel as Max Bialystock
Gene Wilder as Leopold “Leo” Bloom
Dick Shawn as Lorenzo St. DuBois (L.S.D.)
Estelle Winwood as “Hold Me! Touch Me!”
Christopher Hewett as Roger De Bris
Kenneth Mars as Franz Liebkind
Lee Meredith as Ulla
Renée Taylor as actress playing Eva Braun
Andreas Voutsinas as Carmen Ghia
Bill Macy as Foreman of the jury
William Hickey as the drunk in bar (credited as Bill Hickey)
David Patch as actor playing Joseph Goebbels
Barney Martin as actor playing Hermann Göring
Madlyn Cates as Concierge (“I’m not a madam!”)
Shimen Ruskin as The Landlord
Frank Campanella as The Bartender
Josip Elic as Violinist
John Zoller as Drama Critic
Brutus Peck as Hot Dog Vendor

Mel Brooks as Singer in “Springtime for Hitler” (voiceover cameo, uncredited)

Directed, written by Mel Brooks
Produced by Sidney Glazier
Cinematography Joseph Coffey
Edited by Ralph Rosenblum
Music by John Morris
Distributed by Embassy Pictures

Release date: November 22, 1967 (Pittsburgh); March 18, 1968 (wide release)

Running time: 88 minutes
Budget $941,000
Box office $1.6 million (Rentals)