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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).
by Sarah Heiman