There’s not a doubt in my mind, THE PRODUCERS ($25) is one of the funniest movies ever made. This debut film from writer/director Mel Brooks garnered the comedy legend his only Oscar, but Brooks still had several decades worth of hilarity to lay on movie fans. While later films like YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN and BLAZING SADDLES may have garnered greater recognition from fans during Brooks’ movie career, THE PRODUCERS clearly remains his finest artistic achievement in the cinema. That is probably why I wasn't surprise when Brooks decided to revisit THE PRODUCERS, and adapt this zany comic gem for the stage, where it became one of the most critically acclaimed Broadway musicals of all time.
The plot of THE PRODUCERS concerns a down-on-his-luck Broadway producer named Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel), who has taken to romancing little old ladies as a means keeping his head above water. Into the quagmire of Max’s existence comes a neurotic accountant named Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder), who is required to audit the books of his last Broadway flop. While going over the books, Leo discovers that Max actually raised $2,000.00 more than the production actually cost and was able to pocket the difference. It is at this point, that Leo makes the passing comment that a producer could theoretically make more money with a flop, than he could with a hit.
Seeing dollar signs before his eyes, Max hatches a scheme to produce a surefire flop and head off to Rio with a small fortune in investor money. In his quest to produce the mother of all Broadway flops, Max selects Springtime For Hitler, a love letter to Der Fuhrer by demented former German soldier Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars)- a play that Max guarantees will close on page four. Of course, Max isn’t taking any chances with his flop, so he hires Roger De Bris (Christopher Hewett), the worst possible director, who wants to turn the show into a tasteless, gaudy musical extravaganza. On top of all that, Max casts a spaced out flower child with the moniker LSD (Dick Shawn) in the lead role of Adolph Hitler. The loopy cast of THE PRODUCERS also includes Estelle Winwood, Renée Taylor, Lee Meredith and Andréas Voutsinas.
MGM Home Entertainment has made THE PRODUCERS available on DVD in a 1.85:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. A full screen version is also offered on a separate layer of the DVD, but the comments in this review will only address the wide screen version. MGM really deserves a round of applause for their new 16:9 enhanced transfer, because THE PRODUCERS looks glorious on this DVD. The image is far crisper and better defined than anything that preceded it, including the Criterion Laserdisc. I was fairly amazed by the amount of snap in the picture; everything shot on a soundstage or under controlled lighting really looks virtually brand new. The outdoor cinematography dates the image a bit, looking a bit dull by comparison to the film's interiors. Colors are generally vibrant and well saturated, while flesh tones come across in a very appealing manner. Blacks appear accurate, whites are clean and contrast is quite smooth. Although authored on a single layer, the wide screen version of THE PRODUCERS doesn't display any bothersome sign of digital compression artifacts.
THE PRODUCERS comes with a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack, which has been upgraded from the original monaural track. For all intents and purposes the new mix provides a slightly wider presence for the original monaural recordings, without creating any true sense of directionality. However, the track would appear to have been digitally cleaned to remove all signs of background hiss and surface noise. Despite limited fidelity, the musical numbers and the film's score are pleasantly rendered and manage to sound enjoyable with a bit of amplification. Dialogue is perfectly reproduced, so one can understand each and every joke. The film's original monaural track is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD’s interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental features, which are contained on side two of the DVD. Starting things off is a sixty-four minute documentary entitled The Making of The Producers. Produced specifically for this DVD, the documentary is presented in "five acts" and features interviews with writer/director Mel Brooks and cast members Gene Wilder, Kenneth Mars and Andréas Voutsinas and Lee Meredith. While I found the program to be both highly entertaining and informative, the most amazing thing about the documentary is how good actress Lee Meredith looks more than three decades later- I think this woman may be even more gorgeous now than when she made the film.
Also included on the DVD is a Sketch Gallery that offers a look at the original designs for the film's sets. The Playhouse Outtake is a deleted scene from the movie, which is rather amusing but would have slowed the film's pacing in the final act. The Photo Gallery offers a nice number of black and white production and publicity stills. Peter Sellers Statement Read By Paul Mazursky offers the actor/director telling the story of how the late comic genius had taken out full-page ads in the trades heralding THE PRODUCERS as one of the greatest screen comedies of all time. A Soundtrack Spot for the Broadway Cast album for the Tony Award winning musical version of the film is also provided. The film's theatrical trailer and bonus trailers for other MGM special edition DVDs close out the extras.
THE PRODUCERS is a hilarious cinematic gem that has been given the royal treatment by the folks at MGM. The DVD looks fantastic and offers a terrific supplemental section. If you are a fan of the movie, you will want to own this DVD. If you are a fan of the Broadway show, you'll want to own this DVD, so you can see where it all began. If you never seen either, you'll want to own this DVD because THE PRODUCERS is truly one of the funniest movies of all time. Absolutely recommended.
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