The Story: Mel Brooks' screenplay for "The Producers" won the 1968 Best Original Screenplay Oscar beating out the scripts for "The Battle for Algiers," "Hot Millions" (by Peter Ustinov), "Faces" (by John Cassavettes), and "2001: A Space Odyssey" by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke.
(pause for effect)
And I really can't kick about it.
Because it really is a splendid script of invention and wackiness and heart, born of Brooks' days scripting for "Your Show of Shows" and many show business personalities that Brooks had to suffer with in his career-building days. The measure of hysteria that Wilder evokes is at once terrifying and astoundingly funny. Before this scene, Mostel has been doing the heavy lifting with a pyro-technical display of energy and theatrics, while Wilder has had only to sit back and get tossed about by the Zero tailspin. With this scene, Wilder finally gets to dominate, and his reactions send the previously alpha Mostel into a temporary holding pattern--it at least compels him to stand still.
And Wilder is amazing. Supposedly, to get to this agitated state, he had to imagine the worst thing Mostel could do to him, and it works like gangbusters. Wilder's face turns a florid purple, and one worries about him popping a blood vessel, but the comic timing is precise--Brooks wouldn't settle for anything less--and the scene builds to a boil and continues to bubble even turned down to "simmer." It's testament to these two comic geniuses (okay, three, but let's talk about the actors), the veteran and the novice, that the scene is as hysterical as it is.
Accepting his Oscar, Brooks said, "I want to thank Gene Wilder, and Gene Wilder, and Gene Wilder." I think he's still thanking him.
The Story: Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) hapless schlemiel Broadway producer, is scraping out a living seducing ancient old widows for their money on the promise of an upcoming mythical production. On this sourful day, he is being audited by accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder), who, thinking out loud, surmises that a Producer could, in effect, make more money with a flop than a hit, an idea that sends Bialystock into insane flights of avarice.
BIALYSTOCK: Don't you see, Bloom. Darling, Bloom, glorious Bloom, it's so simple. BIALYSTOCK: Step one: We find the worst play in the world -- a sure flop.
BIALYSTOCK: Step two: I raise a million dollars -- there's a lot of little old ladies in this world. BIALYSTOCK: Step three: You go back to work on the books. Phoney lists of backers -- one for the government, one for us. You can do it, Bloom, you're a wizard.
BIALYSTOCK: Step four: We open on Broadway and before you can say...
BIALYSTOCK: ...'Step five' we close on Broadway. Step six: We take our million dollars and fly to Rio de Janiero.
BIALYSTOCK GRABS BLOOM IN HIS ARMS AND BEGINS TO LEAD HIM IN A WILD TANGO AROUND THE ROOM.
BIALYSTOCK: (sings) "Ah, Rio, Rio by the seao, meo, myo, meo ..."
BLOOM (afraid of the scheme, afraid of the dance, afraid of Bialystock): Mr. Bialystock. No. Wait. Please. You're holding me too tight. I'm an honest man. You don't understand.
BIALYSTOCK (leading Bloom as he talks): No, Bloom, you don't understand. This is fate, this is destiny. There's no avoiding it.
AT THIS POINT, BIALYSTOCK SWEEPS BLOOM INTO AN ELABORATE DIP.
BLOOM (the back of his head practically touching the floor): Mr. Bialystock, not more than five minutes ago, against my better judgment, I doctored your books. That, sir, is the ultimate extent of my criminal life.
BIALYSTOCK RAISES HIS FISTS TO THE HEAVENS IN DESPAIR. BLOOM, EXPERIENCING A DEFINITE LACK OF SUPPORT, GOES CRASHING TO THE FLOOR.
BIALYSTOCK: OOOOOHH! OOOOOHH! OOOOOHH! OOOOOHH! I WANT THAT MONEY!
CAMERA ON BLOOM AS HE LIES STRICKEN ON THE FLOOR.
BLOOM (to himself): Oh, I fell on my keys. (he shifts slightly to make himself more comfortable) I've got to get out of here.
BIALYSTOCK (angrily hovering over Bloom): You miserable, cowardly, wretched little caterpillar. Don't you ever want to become a butterfly? BIALYSTOCK: Don't you want to spread your wings and flap your way to glory?
BIALYSTOCK FLAPS HIS ARMS LIKE A HUGE PREDATORY BIRD.
BLOOM (his eyes widened in terror): You're going to jump on me!
BIALYSTOCK STARES AT HIM INCREDULOUSLY.
BLOOM: You're going to jump on me! I know you're going to jump on me -- like Nero jumped on Poppea!
BIALYSTOCK (nonplussed): Who???
BLOOM (by now he is shrieking): Poppea! She was his wife! And she was unfaithful to him! So he got mad and he jumped on her! Up and down, up and down, until he squashed her like a bug! Please don't jump on me!
BIALYSTOCK (shouting and jumping up and down next to Bloom): I'm not going to jump on you!
BLOOM (rolling away in terror): Aaaaaaaaaa! BIALYSTOCK (hoisting Bloom to his feet): Will you get a hold on yourself.
BLOOM (up on his feet and running for cover): Don't touch me! Don't touch me!
HE RUNS TO A CORNER OF THE ROOM. TRAPPED! HE TURNS.
BIALYSTOCK: What are you afraid of? I'm not going to hurt you! What's the matter with you?
BLOOM: I'm hysterical. I'm having hysterics. I'm hysterical. I can't stop. When I get like this, I can't stop. I'm hysterical.
BIALYSTOCK RUSHES TO THE DESK. PICKS UP A CARAFE OF WATER AND SHOSHES ITS CONTENTS INTO BLOOM'S FACE.
BLOOM: I'm wet! I'm wet! I'm hysterical and I'm wet!
BIALYSTOCK IN A DESPERATE MOVE TO STOP BLOOM'S HYSTERICS,SLAPS HIM ACROSS THE FACE.
BLOOM (holding his face): I'm in pain! And I'm wet! And I'm still hysterical!
BIALYSTOCK RAISES HIS HAND AGAIN.
BLOOM: No! No! Don't hit. It doesn't help. It only increases my sense of danger.
BIALYSTOCK: What can I do? What can I do? You're getting me hysterical.
BLOOM: Go away from me. You frighten me. (he indicates the sofa) Sit over there.
BIALYSTOCK SITS ON THE SOFA.BIALYSTOCK (exasperated): Okay. I'm way over here. Is that better?
BLOOM: It's a little better, but you still look angry.
BIALYSTOCK: How's this? (he smiles sweetly)
BLOOM: Good. Good. That's nice. That's very nice. I think I'm coming out of it now. Yes. Yes. I'm definitely coming out of it. Thank you for smiling. It helped a great deal.
BIALYSTOCK (for want of something sensible): Well, you know what they say...
BIALYSTOCK: ..."Smile and the world smiles with you." Heh, heh.
BIALYSTOCK (to himself) The man should be in a straight jacket.
BIALYSTOCK(to Bloom) Feeling better?
BLOOM: Much, thank you. But I am a little lightheaded. Maybe I should eat something. Hysterics have a way of severely depleting one's blood sugar, you know.
BIALYSTOCK: They certainly do. They certainly do. Come, let me take you to lunch.
BLOOM: That's very kind of you, Mr. Bialystock, but I ...
BIALYSTOCK (interrupting): Nonsense, nonsense, my dear boy. I lowered your blood sugar, but least I could do is raise it a little.
BLOOM LOOKS AT HIM SUSPICIOUSLY.
BIALYSTOCK: And I promise you faithfully, I won't discuss that silly scheme to make a million dollars anymore.
"The Producers" (originally "Springtime for Hitler")
Words by Mel Brooks
Pictures by Joseph F. Coffey and Mel Brooks
"The Producers" is available on DVD from MGM Home Video.