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The Producers

The Producers(1968)

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teaser The Producers (1968)


Max Bialystock is a failing Broadway producer who has been reduced to wearing a cardboard belt and taking money from elderly women in exchange for fulfilling their sexual fantasies. His luck changes for the better when he meets Leo Bloom, a neurotic accountant who inadvertently gives him an idea of how to turn failure into fortune -- solicit a huge financial investment for a play, produce a guaranteed flop, and pocket the investors' money. Armed with Springtime for Hitler, the worst play they can find, Max and Leo set out to conquer Broadway--by closing in one night.

Director: Mel Brooks

Producer: Joseph E. Levine, Sidney Glazier
Screenplay: Mel Brooks
Cinematography: Joseph Coffey
Editing: Ralph Rosenblum
Music: Mel Brooks, John Morris
Cast: Zero Mostel (Max Bialystock), Gene Wilder (Leo Bloom), Christopher Hewett (Roger De Bris), Kenneth Mars (Franz Liebkind), Dick Shawn (Lorenzo Saint DuBois), Lee Meredith (Ulla), Andreas Voutsinas (Carmen Ghia).

Why THE PRODUCERS Is Essentials

The Producers plays like a demented parody of the Hollywood musical, particularly the ones where Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney decide to "put on a show in the old barn." It's also a blistering assault on the dubious ethics at work on Broadway and in the film industry.

Filled with some of the funniest dialogue in contemporary screen comedy, The Producers reconnected audiences with a tradition of American film humor that had not been seen since the heyday of W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers. Furthermore, it encouraged other comedy writers like Woody Allen to take up directing in order to express their own comic vision. The film's freewheeling style and unique mixture of sight and sound gags, vaudeville routines, and blackout sketches pushed the envelope with potentially tasteless jokes and humor.

Critics and audiences who saw The Producers during its scattershot theatrical run obviously relished the film's irreverent humor and it quickly acquired a cult following in its subsequent repertory and college screenings. It also established Mel Brooks, already a well-known television comedy writer (Your Show of Shows) and producer (Get Smart), as a promising film director and won him the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Brooks would continue to develop his "anything goes" style of humor which audiences would come to expect and love in such films as Blazing Saddles (1974) and Young Frankenstein (1974). It was this anarchic comic approach that would inspire future filmmakers like John Landis (National Lampoon's Animal House, 1978) and Jim Abrahams, Jerry and David Zucker (Airplane!, 1980).

The Producers was responsible for making Gene Wilder a star and the role of Leo Bloom earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

For Mel Brooks, The Producers was the gift that kept on giving. Thirty years after its theatrical release, he turned it into a smash hit Broadway musical. Following the musical's success, another film version was shot in 2005 starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.

by Andrea Passafiume & Scott McGee

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teaser The Producers (1968)

Before the release of Blazing Saddles (1974) established Brooks as a major comedic talent, The Producers was practically considered an underground film. This was the kind of movie that was hard to see prior to the video cassette era and could only be found on college campuses and the repertory film circuit. The Producers enjoyed a die-hard cult following for several years until the cable and VHS market brought the film to the attention of the general public.

Mel Brooks would continue to work with Gene Wilder after the release of The Producers. The duo went on to collaborate on two brilliant comedy classics in the early 1970s, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein (1974).

Years later, Brooks returned to lampooning the world of the theatre with a remake of To Be or Not to Be (1983), a World War II-era comedy about a Polish theatre troupe who foil the Nazis with a mistaken identity plot. Hitler was once again used as the target of numerous jokes but the film, despite the presence of Mel Brooks and his real-life wife Anne Bancroft in the leads, lacked the sheer lunacy of The Producers and Brooks' other comedies.

The band U2 named its album Achtung Baby after a line in the film spoken by the Franz Liebkind character.

In 2001 Mel Brooks adapted The Producers into a smash Broadway musical starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.

In 2005 a movie version of the Broadway musical was made with Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane reprising their original roles.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser The Producers (1968)

In the role of the outrageous choreographer Roger De Bris, TV fans may recognize actor Christopher Hewett before his long-running success as TV's Mr. Belvedere.

For the Springtime for Hitler number, Mel Brooks dubbed the actor who sings the lyric, "Don't be stupid, be a smarty, come and join the Nazi Party!" with his own voice when he didn't feel that the original line had enough punch. Brooks would later lend his voice for one of Madeline Kahn's outrageous musical numbers in Blazing Saddles (1974).

Mel Brooks learned his stock in live television, when he was hired to write gags for Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows in 1950. For over a decade, he served as script doctor for TV, radio, and stage musicals, including the libretto of a real Broadway musical flop, All American, which starred Ray Bolger and ran 80 performances in 1962.

Mel Brooks derived the title of the play within the film, Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva in Berchtesgarten, from a favorite of the summer stock circuit called Springtime for Henry. He had used the provocative title as a running gag for many years; when anyone asked him what his next project was, he'd say he was planning a musical called Springtime for Hitler. This news, of course, was usually received with shocked expressions, exactly the reaction Brooks wanted.

Mel Brooks had an extremely rare deal for the production of The Producers: a contract that gave a novice director full creative control of the project. Producer Sidney Glazier gave him creative autonomy based on Brooks' brilliant comedic work with Sid Caesar and the legendary audio recording of The 2,000-Year-Old-Man that he made with Carl Reiner. Furthermore, Brooks helped his own case by agreeing to direct the picture at one-third his normal fee. Glazier raised $600,000 for the production.

When Mel Brooks accepted his Oscar for the Best Original Screenplay for The Producers at the April 14, 1969 awards ceremony, he quipped, "I'll just say what's in my heart -- ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump."

The Springtime for Hitler sequence was filmed at Broadway's Playhouse Theater (torn down in 1969), whose marquee can be glimpsed momentarily. However, in the scene where the theater blows up, we see the marquee of the Cort Theater, which stood (and still stands) across 48th Street from the Playhouse.

Zero Mostel's early film work mainly consisted of playing the menacing heavy in such films as Panic in the Streets (1950) and The Enforcer (1951). Unfortunately, Mostel's promising film career took a nosedive when allegations put him in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Even though Mostel denied ever being a Communist Party member, he was blacklisted from working as a film actor for several years. He returned to the Broadway stage in 1958. In the early 1960s, he scored three successive stage triumphs, winning Tony Awards for his performances in Rhinoceros, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Fiddler on the Roof. Now a heralded stage phenomenon, Mostel returned to film in 1966, after a 15-year absence, with Richard Lester's adaptation of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966). He followed this with the role of Max Bialystock in The Producers.

Brooks described to Gene Wilder the character of Leo Bloom as "a neurotic bud that blossoms into a neurotic flower, a shy guy who carries around a piece of blue baby blanket with him for security." He continued to reassure Wilder that he wouldn't have to act, because Brooks was careful to hire only the actors "who are just right for the parts." Concerned, Wilder asked Bancroft, "Does he really think I'm like that?" She replied, "Just go along with him."

The drunk in the theater bar is played by William Hickey, a familiar character actor who was nominated in 1985 for Best Supporting Actor for his work in John Huston's Prizzi's Honor. He also lent his unique, high-pitched voice for the mad scientist in Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. (1993).

The Producers was banned in Germany during its initial release due to its negative portrayal of Germans.

Actor Kenneth Mars, who portrayed Springtime for Hitler author Franz Liebkind, took his costume home every night and slept in it, thinking it would help him channel the character.

Zero Mostel had it written into his contract that he didn't have to work past 5:30 PM due to a leg injury he had suffered in a bus accident.

For the pivotal scene in which Max finally convinces Leo to help him with his scheme, Mel Brooks was originally going to shoot it on the parachute jump ride at Coney Island. When he discovered that the ride was out of order awaiting repair, Brooks decided instead to shoot the scene at the fountain in Lincoln Center.

The actor who played Carmen Ghia, Andreas Voutsinas, was a friend of Anne Bancroft (Mel Brooks' girlfriend at the time) at the Actors Studio. He received the following direction from Brooks on how to portray his character: "I want you to look like Rasputin and behave like Marilyn Monroe.''

For the scene in which Leo goes crazy when his blue blanket is taken away, Gene Wilder did a sense memory, imagining that it was his beloved dog Julie that was being taken from him.

Max Bialystock is named after the Polish city of Białystok.

Franz Liebkind's last name means literally "love child'' in German.

During his search for "the worst play ever written," Max reads from one of the submissions a description of a man waking up one morning to find himself transformed into a giant cockroach. Max rejects the story, on the grounds that it is "too good." In actuality, it is the opening sentence to Franz Kafka's classic short story, The Metamorphosis.

Carmen Ghia is named after the Volkswagen car, the Karmann Ghia.

TV star Bill Macy can be glimpsed in the courtroom scene as the jury foreman, who proclaims Bialystock and Bloom "incredibly guilty." Macy later became a television fixture as Bea Arthur's husband on the sitcom Maude (1972-1978). He also appeared in a number of films for Mel Brooks' good friend and colleague, Carl Reiner.

Famous Quotes from THE PRODUCERS

"Bialystock and Bloom, I presume! Heh heh, forgive the pun!"
"What pun?"
"Shut up, he thinks he's witty." -- Roger De Bris (Christopher Hewett), Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder), and Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel)

"Not many people know it, but the Fuhrer was a terrific dancer." Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars)

"That's exactly why we want to produce this play. To show the world the true Hitler, the Hitler you loved, the Hitler you knew, the Hitler with a song in his heart." Max to Franz Liebkind

"Actors are not animals! They're human beings!"
"They are? Have you ever eaten with one?" Leo and Max

"Hitler...there was a painter! He could paint an entire apartment in one afternoon! Two coats!" Franz Liebkind

"You have exactly ten seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect." Max to Leo.

"I'm condemned by a society that demands success when all I can offer is failure." Max Bialystock

"I'm hysterical! I'm having hysterics. I'm hysterical. I can't stop when I get like this. I can't stop!" Leo Bloom

"I'm in pain and I'm wet and I'm still hysterical! No, no, no don't hit, don't hit. It doesn't help. It only increases my sense of danger." Leo Bloom to Max

"Will the dancing Hitlers please wait in the wings? We are only seeing singing Hitlers." Roger De Bris

"I don't know about tonight. I'm supposed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia, but I think I look more like Tugboat Annie." Roger De Bris

"How could this happen? I was so careful. I picked the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast. Where did I go right?" Max Bialystock

"He who hesitates is poor!" Max to Leo

"I want everything I've ever seen in the movies!" Leo Bloom


"There's not enough bad taste! I LOVE bad taste! I live for bad taste! I am the spokesman for bad taste!" - Films Illustrated, January 1982

"Vulgarity is in the hand of the beholder." - Films Illustrated, January 1982

"Comedy is serious---deadly serious. Never, never try to be funny! The actors must be serious. Only the situation must be absurd." - Playboy, December 1974

"One day, God said 'Let there be prey.' And he created pigeons, rabbits, lambs and Gene Wilder." - Newsweek, February 17, 1975

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume & Scott McGee

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teaser The Producers (1968)

"Somewhere in the back of my head," said Mel Brooks in a 2005 interview, "I knew there was a good story in the adventures of the producer that I was working for when I was 16-years-old. He was an unforgettable character and I just thought, 'one day I'm going to write a story about him.'"

And thus the seed was planted for the film that would launch Mel Brooks' feature film career and become a comedy classic. Brooks had started out as a comedy writer on the TV program, "Your Show of Shows," with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. He had gained some recognition with his Oscar®-winning short film The Critic (1963) and the TV show "Get Smart," which he co-created, but he yearned for something bigger.

Brooks first began writing The Producers as a book titled Springtime for Hitler, but there was too much dialogue and not enough narrative. So he tried writing it as a play, but there were too many scenes and sets for it to be practical for the stage. Finally, friends convinced him that he needed to make it as a movie.

When the screenplay was finished, Brooks showed it to his friend Sidney Glazier, who was a producer. Glazier loved it and vowed to get the movie made. The two shopped the project around Hollywood, and came close to making the film at Universal. At the last minute, however, the studio balked at having Hitler figure prominently in the story, regardless of the satiric tone, and decided to pass.

Brooks then met with producer Joseph Levine, who also loved the script. When Levine asked Brooks who was going to be the director, Brooks said that he was. Brooks had never directed a film before, but he talked Levine into giving him the chance. As the writer, he already had a detailed vision of what he wanted to see on screen. Levine had Brooks make one significant change to the script: the title would now be called The Producers. Springtime for Hitler was just too controversial a title, and Levine feared that no exhibitor would want to put that title on its marquee.

Brooks had written the character of Max Bialystock with Broadway legend Zero Mostel in mind. It was a role custom made to fit his larger-than-life persona. Mostel read the script and liked it, but he turned down the role at first. In fact, he turned it down several times before Brooks used a secret weapon: Mostel's wife, Kate. Brooks gave the script to Kate Mostel, who saw that the role was perfect for her husband. "Kate read it, she called me, she said, 'It's marvelous, it's sensational, I'm gonna work on Zero until he does it,'" recalled Brooks. "And she worked on him. He called me a week later and he said, 'You son of a bitch, I'm gonna do it. My wife talked me into it.'"

For the role of timid accountant Leo Bloom, Brooks first asked Peter Sellers to do it. Sellers agreed, but then Brooks never heard from him again. He had to look elsewhere.

Mel Brooks' girlfriend (and later, wife), actress Anne Bancroft, was starring in the play Mother Courage with a young actor named Gene Wilder. Brooks and Wilder had become friendly through their association with Bancroft, and Brooks realized that Wilder would make a great Leo Bloom.

In June 1963 Brooks invited Wilder to spend the weekend with him and Bancroft on Fire Island, where he gave him the first 30 pages of The Producers to read. He liked it immediately and Brooks offered him the part.

Three years passed without Wilder receiving a phone call or any contact with Brooks about The Producers. He assumed the project was dead. Then one night when he was performing in the play Luv, Brooks showed up in his dressing room out of the blue with producer Sidney Glazier in tow. It was as if not a day had passed. "We got the money, here's the script, you're Leo Bloom," said Brooks. Wilder couldn't believe it. There was just one obstacle: Zero Mostel didn't know Wilder and wanted to meet him first. If he passed muster with Mostel, he had the part.

Wilder was nervous about his first meeting with Mostel. "This huge, round, fantasy of a man came waltzing towards me," said Wilder in his 2005 autobiography Kiss Me Like a Stranger. "My heart was pounding so loud I thought he'd hear it. I stuck out my hand, politely, to shake his, but instead of shaking my hand, Zero pulled me into his body and gave me a giant kiss on the lips. All nervousness floated away...I gave a good reading and was cast."

Dustin Hoffman, who was then an unknown, was originally cast as the Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind. When an offer came through at the last minute for a starring role in Mike Nichols' The Graduate (1967), however, Hoffman pulled out. Brooks saw dozens of new actors for the role of Liebkind, but no one impressed him until Kenneth Mars showed up for the audition wearing a German helmet and gave a perfect reading. "I didn't know if the character was crazy or Kenny Mars was crazy," said Gene Wilder.

Rounding out the hilarious cast was Lee Meredith as the sexy secretary Ulla, Andreas Voutsinas as Carmen Ghia, Christopher Hewett as choreographer Roger De Bris, and Dick Shawn as the scene-stealing L.S.D.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser The Producers (1968)

Production began on The Producers in May 1967. It was shot entirely on location in New York City.

In a Playboy magazine interview (December 1974 issue), Mel Brooks recalled the filming of The Producers: "I did dumb things. First day on the set, first scene, sound men are ready, cameras are rolling, the director's supposed to say: 'Action!' Being a little nervous, I said: 'Cut!'"

Brooks, being a first time director, was often challenged in his creative decisions by Zero Mostel who had his own ideas about staging and performance after years of experience on the stage and in film. Brooks was used to the lightning pace of live television and could easily get impatient with the slowness of a film shoot. Zero, in turn, often offered unsolicited advice to Brooks on how he should direct a scene. The two lashed out at each other occasionally, but there was a mutual respect. Any animosity on the set was short lived.

Mostel took Gene Wilder under his wing while making The Producers, and the two became friends. "You may have heard stories about how bombastic, aggressive, and dictatorial Zero might be," said Wilder. "It didn't happen with me. He always took care of me. I loved him. He looked after me as if I were a baby sparrow."

The composer of the film, John Morris, was given the daunting task of creating the showcase musical number "Springtime for Hitler." Brooks directed him to create the biggest, flashiest, tackiest, most terrible number he could think of. "Every time we hit a level," said Morris, "we'd have to go broader, bigger, and that was the fun of it."

When it was completed, The Producers was in danger of not receiving a theatrical release. Producer Joseph Levine was dubious about its offensive humor and thought it might cause more trouble than it was worth so the film was temporarily shelved.

One night actor Peter Sellers and a group of show business friends saw The Producers. They had formed an informal film society where they watched one film a week together in Los Angeles. On this particular night, they couldn't get the film they originally intended to watch, but a copy of The Producers was available so they watched it instead. Although the group's reaction may have been influenced by the use of some illegal substances, an enthusiastic word of mouth campaign slowly grew from there. Peter Sellers even took out a full page ad in Variety singing his praises for The Producers and proclaiming it the "ultimate film."

by Andrea Passafiume & Scott McGee

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teaser The Producers (1968)


The Producers received Two Academy Award nominations: one for Best Original Screenplay and one for Gene Wilder's performance (Best Supporting Actor). Mel Brooks won Best Screenplay, but Gene Wilder lost to Jack Albertson in The Subject Was Roses.

Mel Brooks' screenplay was nominated for a Golden Globe along with Zero Mostel as Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.

In 1996 The Library of Congress named The Producers to the National Film Registry.

Mel Brooks received two nominations from the Writers Guild of America (WGA) for Best Written American Comedy and Best Written American Original Screenplay. Brooks won for the latter.

The American Film Institute named The Producers #11 on its list of the 100 Funniest Movies of All Time.

The Critics' Corner - THE PRODUCERS

"A violently mixed bag. Some of it shoddy and gross and cruel...the rest is funny in an entirely unexpected way...The Producers leaves one alternately picking up one's coat to leave and sitting back to laugh." The New York Times.

"The Producers has many things going for it -- notably a wild, ad-lib energy that explodes in a series of sight gags and punch lines....Unfortunately, the film is burdened with the kind of plot that demands resolution, and here Brooks the writer has failed Brooks the director. Springtime for Hitler is supposed to be like Valley of the Dolls - so excessively bad that it's hilarious. Instead it is just excessive." --Time.

"Mel Brooks has turned a funny idea into a slapstick film, thanks to the performers, particularly Zero Mostel.....The Producers is fast-paced and doesn't linger over the multiple puns, etc. that dot the script more frequently than punctuation makes a very entertaining film." -- Variety.

"It's a Marx Brothers sort of madness Brooks concocts, soaring to glorious heights of madness and hilarity in a gay camera romp through the city and the theatrical game." -- Judith Crist /The Today Show.

"Dismally unfunny satire except for the play itself, Springtime for Hitler, which is neatly put down. This has, however, become a cult film, so that criticism is pointless." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide.

"An almost flawless triumph of bad taste, unredeemed by wit or style," - Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

"Some of the material is funny in an original way, but Mel Brooks...doesn't get the timing right and good gags fall apart or become gross or just don't develop. The sequence consisting of tryouts for the role of Hitler in the potentially so great that what he does with it lets you down. Still, terrible as the picture is, a lot of it is very enjoyable. For satire of the theatre as inspired as Brooks' gags at their best, it's not hard to put up with the ineptitude and the amateurish camera angles. It's even possible to put up with Zero Mostel in closeups." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies.

" absolutely hilarious and tasteless New York Jewish comedy about Broadway...Mostel and Wilder (as his bumbling Portnovian accountant) ham outrageously, and some of the humour falls flat. But the entire flop itself could serve as the definition of kitsch, its centerpiece being the number "Springtime for Hitler," all tits, pretzels and beer steins, in the best tradition of gaudy American burlesque." - Rod MacShane, TimeOut Film Guide.

"The major strength of Mel Brooks's cult favorite is its clever premise...Max would seem to be the ideal role for Zero Mostel, but he looks uncomfortable whenever anyone else is dominating a scene and, like the most unskilled, insecure amateur, resorts to mugging to get attention. Wilder is fine, but Mostel can't handle being his straight man on occasion. Film's highlight is LSD's audition song, "Love Power"...." - Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic.

"The Producers has moments of rich bad taste, and its Jewish show-biz angle is all the sharper for having Hitlerism as an opponent and Zero Mostel as its spokesman." - David Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film.

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume, Scott McGee & Jeff Stafford

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teaser The Producers (1968)

The Producers is considered by many to be one of the top comedies of all time; this 1968 film ranked at number eleven on the American Film Institute's list of the top one hundred comedies. The film, which has grown to cult status, is noteworthy for a number of reasons: first, it marked Mel Brooks' directorial film debut. Brooks had begun his career in stand-up comedy, then moved into writing for the television comedies You Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour. After winning an Oscar in 1963 for his animated short The Critic, Brooks received financial backing from Joseph E. Levine to direct his hilarious original screenplay The Producers.

Brooks cast three-time Tony Award winner Zero Mostel as Max Bialystock, a failing Broadway producer who has been reduced to wearing a cardboard belt and taking money from elderly women in exchange for fulfilling their sexual fantasies. Mostel had taken a break from the silver screen somewhat unwillingly, as a result of being blacklisted during the McCarthy era Communist hunt. He had continued to act on stage, then made his return to movies in 1966 with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The Producers cemented Mostel's reputation as a zany comedian, and did much to restore his popularity with film audiences.

Gene Wilder was cast as neurotic accountant Leo Bloom, who gives corrupt Bialystock the idea to produce a huge flop and pocket the investors' money. Wilder had at that point only appeared in one film: a small yet amusing role in Bonnie and Clyde the year before. The Producers turned out to be a star-making performance for Wilder, and he was nominated by the Academy for Best Supporting Actor that year. Wilder would go on to become one of the great comedic actors of our time, and often starred in Brooks's later films.

The Producers also established many of the Mel Brooks trademarks that would be seen in his films to come. A wacky and often twisted sense of humor that was shocking to some at the time was part of Brooks's repertoire. Who else could make a film about two Jewish men putting on a play called "Springtime for Hitler"? Incidentally, that was one of Brooks's favorite running jokes before he made this film. When asked what his next project would be, he would often say that he was going to do a musical called "Springtime for Hitler". Because of the musical scenes, the movie was banned in Germany. It later made its appearance in that country in a film festival featuring the works of Jewish filmmakers. Brooks's sense of humor was recognized at the Academy Awards that year when he received the Oscar® for Best Screenplay, his only Oscar® to date. Brooks would later produce a musical version for the Broadway stage that became a long-running hit starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick; they recreated their roles for the 2005 film version directed by Susan Stroman.

Director: Mel Brooks
Producer: Joseph E. Levine
Screenplay: Mel Brooks
Cinematography: Joseph Coffey
Editing: Ralph Rosenblum
Music: Mel Brooks, John Morris
Cast: Zero Mostel (Max Bialystock), Gene Wilder (Leo Bloom), Christopher Hewitt (Roger DeBris), Kenneth Mars (Franz Liebkind), Dick Shawn (Lorenzo Saint DuBois).
C-88m. Letterboxed.

by Sarah Heiman

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