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Release Date(s)1968 (July 2, 2013)
The Producers was Mel Brooks’ first hit as both a director and a writer flying solo, the latter of which earned him the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. A tough act to follow, but he then went on to make two of the most remembered and respected American comedies ever made: Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. None of this is news, by any means, but at the time that, The Producers was a bit of a gamble for a group of people who just believed in the material, controversial thought it might have been.
I think that Mel Brooks usually manages to wrangle in the controversy regarding his work by taking the piss out of it and making the foolish and awful people even more foolish. It’s not an easy task though. You can take it too far by having your characters so cartoony and buffoonish that they’re beyond relatable, or not do enough with them and have them come off as a bit creepy, as if the filmmakers didn’t know what they were doing. Thankfully Mel Brooks does know what he’s doing, and despite his latter output not being as accepted as much as his heyday material, he’s still looked upon as one of the greatest comedic writers and directors of all time.
But let’s not just praise Mel Brooks solely for the success of The Producers. There was more it than that, after all. A lot the film’s success has as much to do with its cast, namely Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel. Both are total opposites as characters but meld wonderfully into a single comedic unit, and it’s hard to imagine them as separate from each other. A lot of that has to do with Wilder, who worked well with other actors and is obviously the funnier of the two, but Mostel is also the great lynchpin for Wilder’s sometimes manic performance. The film itself is definitely dated and set well within the time period that it was shot in, but like many comedies, it doesn’t matter much if the comedy is universal. And even though the film was remade for both the stage and the big screen, I think the film’s appeal is still there. Maybe not in great numbers, at least compared to other Mel Brooks comedies, but mostly anyone with good taste in a well-written comedic romp.
While Shout! Factory’s new HD transfer of the film is often a very detail-oriented presentation, some might find some fault with it, mainly because of the flaws inherent in the images themselves. There are many soft-looking shots in the film. In particular, during the dance by Wilder around the fountain at Lincoln Center. I don’t necessarily see these as flaws of the transfer itself. Attempting to digitally sharpen these images would just make them look worse in my opinion, so you have to go into something like this keeping in mind that it was shot quickly for not a whole lot of money. Flaws are bound to crop up under those circumstances, but without dwelling on them, let’s get back to the transfer itself. Grain is fairly solid throughout, minus a couple of patches that looked a little too smooth, but image detail is very abundant. Skin tones and colors are also very nice. They’re not extremely robust, but they pop quite well. The contrast and the brightness are also very good. You’ll find some minor debris left behind (during the title sequences, for instance), but extremely minimal. It’s a very strong presentation that, while a bit flawed, is still very sharp and nice-looking. The audio presentation is about equal. You get two tracks to choose from: the original English mono on an LPCM track and an English 5.1 DTS-HD track. As per usual, I would stick with the original mono track for this release; mostly because I’m a purist, as I’ve mentioned before, but also because the 5.1 track leaves a little to be desired. It is, of course, repurposed from the mono track, so it doesn’t work as well as it should. It tries to create some surround activity, but it was never mixed in that way, so when you attempt to repurpose it, it doesn’t work. The music has been given a boost, but perhaps a bit too much, as the dialogue is a bit too low. On the mono track, while it’s not perfect, it was what was originally intended. The dialogue, with this track as well, could have been a little louder, but oh well. Overall, it’s still the best the film has likely ever looked and sounded. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
In the extras department, you get a nice little treasure trove to dig through (carried over from the previous MGM releases). You get the Making of The Producers documentary, the Mel and His Movies: The Producers featurette, a deleted scene, Peter Sellers’ ad about the film in Variety being read to camera, a sketch gallery and trailers for the film itself, American Masters’ Mel Brooks: Make a Noise and The Incredible Mel Brooks: An Irresistible Collection of Unhinged Comedy. The material covers a lot of ground and it tends to overlap, but overall, it’s very good. There’s some interesting details to be discovered, like who would have known that both Dustin Hoffman and Peter Sellers were both set to be in the film originally? It’s just a shame that there isn’t much in terms of new content, but I don’t think there’s much more that can be done with it - not without overdoing it anyway.
It’s a great little package, and is very much a win for those looking to upgrade, as well as newcomers to the film. The Producers is not Mel Brooks’ best film, in my opinion, but it’s certainly a very funny film that gave him his start as a director and I hope that with this release that it finds new audiences, and I think it will.
- Tim Salmons