Max (Zero Mostel) is a down and out New York theater producer constantly in search of funding for his newest Broadway bomb in Mel Brooks' 1968 first feature film comedy "The Producers." Though a rather slobbish old man, Max is as smooth as they come and possesses a tongue that can set the human heart aflutter, but only female geriatric hearts. And only hearts attached to hands with enough dexterity remaining to pen a check out to "cash." Heck, if given the opportunity, Max could even sell Japanese investment trusts in today's market. The sinking ship is his specialty.

So no, getting funding is not Max's problem. Getting past opening night is. Max picks winning plays as well as I pick "onigiri" at the convenience store (no matter what the package says I keep getting the ones with the brown shredded fish stuff inside). But one day opportunity walks through his office door.

Actually his new accountant, Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) walks through his front door. Leo, a young bookish fellow, naively, and in a joking manner, proposes that Max could really clean up if he were a little less than transparent with his investors. Leo supposes, "Let's assume, just for the moment, that you are a dishonest man." Max plays along, "Assume away."

Leo's idea is positively simple. If Max raises far more money than he needs on his next play, and if there are no profits to share with the senior citizens afterwards, he could keep the surplus. This only works of course if the play fails and there are no profits. Could anything be simpler? Ah, the best laid plans of Max and Leo...

After a little hesitation on Leo's part, Max convinces him to form a partnership to execute their plan to deceive. The first step is to find a script that is the most rotten, offensive, despicable, and downright horrendous steaming pile of vomit possible. Their task would have been simplified immensely had the script for "Rent" been written in 1967.

But it wasn't and "Springtime for Hitler," penned by Franz Liebkin, was. Liebkin is a rather odd, military helmet and uniform wearing, German ex-pat that only has time for penning plays about his favorite Fuhrer ("Not many people know it, but the Fuhrer was a terrific dancer.") and tending to his collection of birds.

After the Kraut signs the contract assuring Max and Leo nothing but bird droppings from the sky, the next step is to get the cash - a million dollars, Max surmises. This is a snap. Max wines. Max dines. Max romances. Max dances. So much so that Max's finances are supple enough to afford a new office, a sexy monolingual (Swedish) secretary, and a snappy set of duds. But this is only half the scheme, somebody has to be captain and crew this Titanic.

In steps Roger de Briz. A Debris-directed play is said not to last past the first rehearsal, much less opening night. A perfect captain, even if he is a cross dresser. Now, who will be the lead? Who will be the perfect Hitler?

At the auditions, Max, Leo, Liebkin, and de Briz watch Hitler dance, they watch Hitler sing, they watch Hitler salute. But not until the last Hitler, a rock n' roller named Lorenzo Saint Dubois ("LSD" to his friends), do they find their Hitler. Then it's on to opening night.

Of course "Springtime for Hitler" is a failure, a failure for Max and Leo that is, because the play is a Broadway smash. It's not a smash because of the pretzel and stein toting half-naked female German dancers, nor for such sing-along lines as, "Don't be stupid, be a smarty, come and join the Nazi party," and certainly not for all the lederhosen. Nope, it's because the audience finds the ridiculous sayings and antics of LSD so engaging. "One and one is two, two and two is four, I feel so bad 'cause I'm losin' the war," cries LSD. Only the audience cries louder, in laughter.

"The Producers" is not a movie whose appeal lies in its story. The pacing is rather slow. Also the possibility of an audience being upset at the crassness of an offensive play one minute and believing it to be endearing the next due to the ludicrous ramblings of a beatnik is sort of silly. Yoshiro Mori is a prime example of the flaw in this logic. Plus the ending is rather ridiculous.

The cast of eccentrics is the reason to watch "The Producers." Wilder and Mostel work well in leading the parade of nuts, fools, and imbeciles through this theater farce spewing quote after memorable quote of Brooks' dialogue.

The film was recently selected as the 11th best comedy film of the 20th Century by the American Film Institute. A musical version will hit Broadway in 2001. The Shibuya Cinema Society screened the film in Japan for the first time earlier this year. Might "Oshogatsu for Hitler" be coming to a Tokyo theater soon?

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