Kino’s new Blu-ray release of Mel Brooks’ directorial debut, The Producers, sports a new transfer derived from a recent 4K restoration and an engaging new commentary track.
The Production: 4/5
Washed-up Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) has been taking advantage of little old ladies (to put it politely) to fund his failing productions and lifestyle for several years. When a by-the-book accountant, Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder), finds a $2,000 discrepancy in Bialystock’s latest flop (he raised more than he spent), Max convinces Leo to “cook the books” and plug the money in somewhere. This leads Leo to think aloud that, on a much grander scale, a producer could make more money from a flop than a hit. And thus is the premise for Mel Brooks’ The Producers, as Max corrupts Leo even further, convincing him to become a producing partner, and the two go in search of the worst play and hire the worst director. What they find is Springtime For Hitler (the film’s original title), written by Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars), a crazy Nazi war criminal hiding in New York that still idolizes Adolf Hitler. Hoping to seal the deal, Bialystock and Bloom hire cross-dressing director Roger De Bris (Christopher Hewitt), whose plays typically “close on the first day of rehearsal” and flower-power hippie actor Lorenzo St. DuBois, better known as L.S.D. (Dick Shawn), as Adolf Hitler. After witnessing the audience’s shocking reaction to the play’s opening musical title number (complete with singing and dancing SS-men, and concluding with a Busby Berkley dancing swastika), Max and Leo retire to the bar across the street to celebrate their total failure. However, things do not go as planned, and the audience quickly warms up to the idea that Springtime For Hitler may be a musical comedy, storming the same bar during intermission and christening the play as a success. Max and Leo find themselves in a pickle, trying to find a way to close the show before it can turn a profit (they sold a combined 25,000% stake in the show), ultimately landing them in prison.
The Producers was the first film Mel Brooks had directed, and often appears as a filmed stage play, cutting away to extreme close-ups, with no sense of style. Brooks did not really develop a style of direction until his third film, Blazing Saddles. Zero Mostel is completely over-the-top as Max Bialystock, and it fits the manicness of the film quite well. Gene Wilder, in only his second film role, plays Leo Bloom as a panic attack waiting to happen, and provides a taste of some of his more famous roles to come. Kenneth Mars, as Franz Liebkind, is almost as nutty as his Inspector Kemp in Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. Critics and audiences were not exactly kind to The Producers when it was first released back in 1968. However, the film did garner two Oscar nominations, one for Gene Wilder’s supporting performance, and another for Brooks’ original screenplay, with Brooks winning for the latter category. Over the years, the film gained in popularity thanks to home video, cable, and movie critics like Roger Ebert, who placed The Producers on his Great Movies list in the year 2000, calling it “One of the funniest movies ever made.”
3D Rating: NA
The Producers was released on Blu-ray previously in 2013 by Shout Factory, and my review of that disc’s transfer was given a rating of 4 out of 5, with the film never looking better despite a few instances of nicks and dirt debris here and there, with some shots appearing soft, mostly during optical transitions. Kino’s transfer used on this release was sourced from a more recent 4K scan and restoration (that omits the film’s original opening Avco-Embassy logo) that is evident from the opening shot of Bialystock’s office door that is now free of minor but noticeable specks of dirt that were present on the Shout Factory release. The other noticeable difference is that this release appears just slightly darker than Shout Factory’s. The Kino gets the upper hand, though, as Zero Mostel’s red velvet jacket and the white background credit sequences do not appear as blown out. Zero’s jacket appears to bloom in some shots on the Shout Factory, yet appears more natural on the Kino. Detail gets a slight uptick on Kino’s 4K sourced transfer, but not enough that many would not notice.
Kino’s new Blu-ray release contains the same audio options found on Shout Factory’s 2013 release, with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 mono tracks (although Shout’s 2.0 mono track was PCM) that sound nearly identical, with Shout Factory’s disc sounding as if it was mastered at a much higher volume. The 2.0 mono is clear and clean throughout, while the 5.1 mix opens up the soundstage a bit by expanding the music to the left, right, and surrounds, while directing dialogue and effects to the center channel.
Special Features: 4/5
Like the Shout Factory release, Kino has ported over most of the special features that first appeared on MGM’s 2005 DVD release of the film. The major difference is that Kino has included an audio commentary track and omitted the excerpt from the Shout Factory/PBS special Mel and His Movies.
Audio Commentary: Film historian Michael Schlesinger discusses the film in a very engaging manner, including extra trivia on some of the bit players and even noting the major differences between the film and stage versions of The Producers.
The Making of “The Producers” (SD, 1:03:52): This is an excellent documentary on the making of the film, ported over from the Deluxe Edition DVD released by MGM in 2005.
Playhouse Outtake (SD, 3:41): A secondary scene in which Franz Liebkind attempts to blow up the theatre.
Sketch Gallery (SD, 2:15): A slideshow of several production sketches made for the film.
Peter Sellers’ Ad In Variety (SD, 0:53): Paul Mazursky reads the full-page ad Peter Sellers placed in Variety shortly after first seeing The Producers.
The Producers Radio Spot (1080p; 0:33)
The Producers Trailer (480i; 2:11)
Trailers (480i): Additional Mel Brooks, Zero Mostel, and Gene Wilder trailers – Spaceballs (2:36), Life Stinks (2:01), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (2:23), The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (2:53), The Woman in Red (1:19), and Haunted Honeymoon (2:19).
The Producers is my third favorite Mel Brooks film after Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles. Kino gets the slight edge over Shout Factory’s out of print (but still readily available) release, with a (current) lower price tag, a slightly improved transfer, and an engaging commentary track.
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