Home Video Reviews
Alas, both of these truths have been violated in the three DVDs to be released of Mel Brooks’s 1968 comedy, The Producers. The first, 2002's perfectly fine "special edition" disc, was mysteriously succeeded by a 2003 movie-only disc. Now, to coincide with the theatrical run of the movie-musical remake, comes the two-disc "deluxe edition" that is essentially just the two-sided 2002 disc spread to two discs. In other words, it's pretty pointless, even more of a rehash than the movie musical in which, as unscrupulous title characters Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, respectively, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick do little more than imitate original stars Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder.
The features carried over from the 2002 disc are still outstanding. There's an in-depth, 64-minute documentary about the genesis, filming and release of the 1968 movie that interviews Brooks, such cast members as Wilder, Kenneth Mars and Lee Meredith and behind-the-scenes personnel including composer John Morris and choreographer Alan Johnson. Few hour-long DVD-bonus documentaries are as good. There's also one deleted scene featuring the drunk played by William Hickey (later of Prizzi's Honor and a gallery of production designer Charles Rosen's set drawings, among other extras.
If you don't have the 2002 DVD, by all means grab this. It still contains a true comedy classic, with ethically-challenged Bialystock (Mostel) and Bloom (Wilder) coming up with a "can't-lose" way to illegally turn a flop into a moneymaker: overfinance a bad play and then run off with the excess money after it quickly closes. American movie comedy had rarely been as flat-out aggressive as The Producers in the 35 years since the dreaded Production Code had straitjacketed the wild impulses fueling such early-1930s comedies as Duck Soup, Red Dust and Call Her Savage, and made the genre safe again for men, women and children. Brooks's debut as writer-director unabashedly tramples on convention and decency, as Bialystock and Bloom find a Hitler-praising script written by unreformed Nazi Franz Liebkind (Mars) and proceed to put this musical on Broadway. (The 1968 contains a musical-within-a-movie and three songs; the new movie musical contains over a dozen songs.)
Brooks's movie is as funny as ever, but by reformatting the 2002 DVD to two discs, giving it new packaging and the "deluxe edition" moniker, the implication is that the new disc enhances the old version. It doesn’t. The only addition is a trailer for the remake, which the "deluxe edition" gives the highfalutin name A Look at the New Theatrical Release: The Producers, probably the most excessive name ever given to a commercial. The new 2-disc set actually removes the hidden "Easter eggs" on the previous disc, which were only chintzy little audio-outtake sound bites from the dialogue dubbing sessions. But it probably would have required less effort to just leave them there.
It's hard to fathom why home-video labels release discs like the extremely flimsy two-disc re-release of The Deer Hunter that came out last fall or The Producers "deluxe edition." Obviously, if everyone had left well enough alone and kept the 2002 The Producers DVD in print, such dubious marketing could have been easily avoided. But if brewing consumer dissatisfaction and distrust is the plan, these companies are certainly succeeding.
For more information about The Producers, visit MGM. To order The Producers, go to TCM Shopping.
by Paul Sherman