Mel Brooks's first and funniest, a spoof of Broadway theater that has earned a deservedly devoted cult following. Forewarned, though, is forearmed: Zero Mostel, genius that he is, doesn't scale his performances down at all for film. The first half hour you feel you're in the presence of comedy's king. After that, you gradually begin to feel bludgeoned by shrill overkill.
Max Bialystock (Mostel) is a down-and-out but still pompous theater producer who desperately wants to regain his former glory. Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) is the meek new accountant who finds his books an utter disaster. He tells Max that the only way he will ever recover is to produce an enormous hit or, he whimsically suggests, to collect a lot of money from investors for a play guaranteed to fail — that way Max could keep most of the investors' money. Max persuades Leo not only to doctor the books but to become his partner in the production. They exhaust themselves soliciting and reading the worst scripts ever penned until they hit upon a play that is a surefire flop, "Springtime for Hitler," written by Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars), a Nazi fanatic living in Yorkville. Next, Max woos and wins the backing of every spinster in New York, taking in hundreds of thousands of dollars to back his doomed play. Although everything
possible is done to make the play an unbearably tasteless flop, disaster strikes when it proves a smash hit.
THE PRODUCERS raised Mostel to new heights of zany appeal and made a star of Wilder, who proceeded to beat this kind of role into the ground in a series of subsequent films. Our favorite among the investors: Estelle Winwood, as "Hold Me, Touch Me" — she takes the material and runs with it. Highlights: the opening number, opening night; "I'm hysterical! I'm wet and I'm hysterical! "I'm wet and I'm hysterical and I'm in pain."
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