The Producers is one of those films that succeeds on every level. The story is funny enough: A washed-up theater producer and his accountant concoct a scheme to stage the worst musical ever, Springtime for Hitler, making millions in the process. Their plan, of course, backfires. But the fact that the movie involves a huge Nazi production number, complete with a kick-line swastika, takes the joke to the giddy edge of comfort, and the performances, writing and physical gags couldn't be better.
The Producers was Mel Brooks' directorial debut, and he brilliantly demonstrates a control of timing that rivals, and possibly surpasses, the great comedic directors of all time: Charlie Chaplin, Chuck Jones and Woody Allen. Humor is measured out and controlled on every level, flowing freely from the screen like wellspring. From the run of the words in a speech to the length of the scene, there is not a beat that Brooks misses. Even the larger pacing is perfect, with the most solid comic parts introduced first, and the one-note roles saved until later, always removed before they grow tiresome. It is a crescendo of comedy that sweeps you up a minute into the film, and builds deliriously for another hour-and-a-half.
And who wouldn't want to spend time with these actors? Zero Mostel as the producer and Gene Wilder as the accountant are virtuosi at the top of their form, changing faces and gestures faster than you can comprehend them, and delivering lines in perfectly unexpected ways. Simply watching these two makes you smile. Likewise Kenneth Mars, in the hilarious role of the author of Springtime for Hitler treads the dangerous line between madness and comedy with bravado. And Christopher Hewett as the mincing theater director and Dick Shawn as the tripped-out L.S.D. (Lorenzo St. DuBois) who is cast to play Hitler, are singular creations.
MGM Home Entertainment has done us all a service with this special edition DVD release (complete with a slyly funny "making of" documentary). The Producers is inspired lunacy, and it is entertainment at its best. If there is one film that can remind you that laughter is more than just the response to a joke, and that humor is something more splendid than gags, this is it.