© Tim Garcia 2020.
Aside from Leo Bloom’s intermittent character function as a 1950’s straight-man awkwardly transitioning into the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, interrelations between Max Bialystock and Bloom in The Producers provides both the conventional depiction and balance of contrasting personalities, or The Odd Couple revisited, while also offering an underlying and historically relevant dynamic. More specifically, writer and director Mel Brooks’ achievement in characterizing Bloom as the metaphorical representation of a socially malnourished and economically destitute Germany, coupled with the allusion of Bialystock as the insidious ideological rise of National Socialism, enhances the depth of the script’s overall intention in depicting the unfortunate reality of mankind’s seemingly perpetual relapses in self-destructive and criminal conduct.
From early on, Bloom’s character direction suggests a diluted self-confidence and constant reluctance toward confrontation, particularly during initial engagements with other characters. For example, while trapped lurking in the hall after witnessing the untamed lasciviousness between Biyalistock and The [lecherous] Little Old Lady, the script notes, “Bloom, very embarrassed, hugs the wall [and] tries to make himself less conspicuous,” then “Cut[s] to Bloom in shadows, aghast,” after a prolonged exposure to the lewd, shameless romp (Brooks 12). This also ties into the foreshadowing of a later discussed cultural collision involving the socially repressed 50’s mindset and the dawn of sexual liberation in the 60’s surfacing throughout the script. Bloom’s perpetually rattled state is further highlighted as we, “Cut to Bloom in shadows. It is all too much for him. He looks the other way. Suddenly his eyes widen in surprise…” (Brooks 13). Bloom’s tendency in “dutifully” submitting to orders is firmly established “[as] he discovers another man hiding in the next doorway… [who] puts a finger to his lips indicating silence…. There is no place left for Bloom to look. He looks to heaven” (Brooks 13). This pattern is reiterated when Bloom enters Bialystock’s office “timorously… [not knowing] quite where to go… [while looking] to Bialystock for guidance” (Brooks 17). These initial scenes undoubtedly solidify Bloom as epitomizing an impressionable innocence accentuated by an habitual subordination, hysteria and apprehension.
Throughout the script, a distinct trend of contrasting behavioral conduct exists between a neurotically submissive Bloom and an unapologetically brazen Bialystock. In order to achieve this conventional dynamic of how opposites attract and the ensuing hilarity that follows, we find it is imperative that Bloom and Bialystock each possess thoroughly dissimilar physical traits and mannerisms. In terms of action, script direction indicating how Bialystock “wipes window with his cuff… Grimaces… [while taking] the remains of a cardboard container of coffee and sloshes it against the window… [then wiping it] with his tie,” demonstrates his unabashed crudeness (Brooks 20). Meanwhile, Bloom’s gentleness, sensitivity and poise, “[speaking] to Bialystock as a teacher would a student… plunging into his work… [as Bialystock] hurls himself down on the couch,” (Brooks 26) marked with how Bloom is later “aghast…[and] wounded” after enduring Bialystock’s bullying and condemnatory spewing, emphasizes the concept of opposing behavioral forces ultimately evolving into an unequal distribution of power between the two main characters (Brooks 21). In addition, a blending of the contradictory characteristics between Bialystock and Bloom manifests after they begin embarking on their mission to find “the worst play ever written” (Brooks 44), when the script notes how “Bialystock and Bloom are thoroughly disheveled and badly in need of a shave” (Brooks 45). Thus suggesting that upon entering the world of Bialystock, we begin witnessing the decay of Bloom, previously referred to as “Mr. Tact” (Brooks 17).
In accordance with extensive group research concerning the societal and historical context of the era in which the script was written, the recurring juxtaposition of the uptight, conservative Bloom and exotic caricatures illustrates a clashing of decades. A glaring friction between the buttoned-up 50’s rigidity embodied in Bloom and the sexually-charged 60’s emancipation displayed in Bialystock’s Little Old Ladies, Roger De Bris, Carmen Ghia and Ulla, reflects the unraveling conflict in the bridging of old and new eras. Bloom’s utter shock when encountering Bialystock’s “toy,” or receptionist Ulla, immediately questioning Bialystock, “Have you gone mad? A receptionist that can’t speak English? What will people say?” (Brooks 69) suggests his uncomfortability with the “well-endowed” blonde bombshell (Brooks 68). Moreover, Bloom has adopted an odd tendency to “unconsciously… [reach] into his pocket [for his blue blanket]… [and] nervously stroke his cheek with it” (Brooks 22).
Interestingly, when the blanket is snatched away by Bialystock, “Bloom leaps up in hot pursuit of his blanket… shrieking in panic… My blanket. Give me my blue blanket” (Brooks 23). Here, Bloom’s clingy, irrational fear of losing his security blanket can be attributed back to his profound dread of detaching from his frenzied adherence to his role as a “wet-blanket,” or the ongoing voice of reluctance, spoiling the fun of more socially liberated characters. As the script progresses, we experience an expanded exploration of Bloom’s timidity when faced with foreign elements of explicit sexuality, particularly when encountering the “peculiar” Roger De Bris and the “strange” Carmen Ghia (Brooks 73).
After being lead down “A narrow corridor lined with examples of classic Greek sculpture — each one depicting nude males in various poses… [and into an] elegantly feminine [room]” (Brooks 75) a “shocked” Bloom “whispers ‘Max! He’s [Roger De Bris] wearing a dress’…[as] his mouth remains open” (Brooks 76). Bloom’s bewilderment when introduced to the cross-dressing and stereotypically flamboyant De Bris is reinforced as “Bloom’s mouth [remains] agape” (Brooks 76) and he fumbles over his words, “(very embarrassed) Well, it’s… uh… it’s nice and long… I mean, it’s… uh… uh… where do you keep your wallet?” (Brooks 77). Finally, the mounting tension between Bloom and De Bris reaches a crescendo when, under orders from Bialystock, “Bloom nervously reaches for a book of matches, rips one out and strikes it. It doesn’t light. He tries another and another. One finally catches fire. He tries to hold it steady, but he is too nervous. De Bris firmly places his hand over Bloom’s to steady the flame” (Brooks 78).
The intimate moment between the two is intensified as De Bris flirtatiously asks ‘Didn’t I meet you on a summer cruise?’ [while continuing] to hold Bloom’s hand,” as Bloom stutters “‘I’ve… I’ve… never been on a cruise” (Brooks 78). Although devoid of any blatant or incendiary homophobia, aside from the flagrantly stereotypical characterizations of gay men, Bloom’s actions assuredly reveal the prevailing and misguided societal perceptions of the era surrounding the widely deemed abnormal concept of homosexuality. Next, Bloom’s inherently unstable vulnerability is also comparatively aligned with an equally susceptible post-WWI Germany, providing undeniable parallels involving the exploitation of human emotion, at the hands of maniacal and sociopathic criminals.
Upon Bloom “merely [posing] a little academic accounting theory” (30) about how “under the right circumstances, a producer could make more money with a flop than he could with a hit,” a wildly intrigued Bialystock begins launching inquiries geared toward a coaxing of Bloom’s dark side (Brooks 27). Besides generating an archetypal portrayal of how opposites attract, Bialystock’s stage direction indicating how he “starts moving in on Bloom… [grabbing him] in his arms and begins to lead him in a wild tango around the room,” culminating his criminal proposition by declaring that “Don’t you see, Bloom. Darling, Bloom, glorious Bloom…You can do it… you’re a wizard,” arouses Bialystock’s incremental romanticization of a gullible Bloom (Brooks 30). Bialystock turns his theatrics and accolades up a notch by declaring, “No… you don’t understand. This is fate, this is destiny. There’s no avoiding it,” as he “sweeps Bloom into an elaborate dip” (Brooks 31).
Moreover, Biyalistock’s aggressive probing, “You miserable, cowardly, wretched little caterpillar. Don’t you ever want to become a butterfly? Don’t you want to spread your wings and flap your way to glory?” as he “angrily [hovers] over Bloom… and flaps his arms like a huge predatory bird”, further exemplifies the depiction of a vicious entity creeping up on an isolated prey (Brooks 32). As scenes progress, the relational bond surfacing between Bialystock and Bloom reveals traces of the rise of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party in Germany. In essence, Bialystock’s unrelenting seduction of Bloom reflects the methodically orchestrated captivation of a battered nation through duplicitous narratives and fiery nationalism by those wielding power under National Socialism.
Bloom’s feverishly delirious behavior, or self-professed “hysterics,” as he “crashes to the floor… rolling away in terror,” evoke the precarious socio-economic infrastructure of a post-WWI German nation (Brooks 30). Bloom asserts, “Hysterics have a way of severely depleting one’s blood sugar,” underscoring the debilitated national German conscience, while Bialystock assures that “the least [he] could do is raise it a little,” foreshadowing his continued intoxicating entrapment of Bloom (Brooks 36). Moreover, in replying to Bialystock’s invitation to a lunch date on Coney Island, Bloom professes ” I… I love it. I haven’t been there since I was a kid,” effectively unveiling his emotionally underdeveloped state (Brooks 39). In a parallel sense, both Bialystock and the Nazis lure their desired allies by taking advantage of suggestible minds under dire and fragile circumstances.
At the peak of his seduction Bialystock continues “relentlessly working on Bloom,” asserting that “Bloom, it can always be like this. Life can be beautiful. Let me show you,” while Bloom remains “mesmerized” with Bialystock’s “enchanting tone” as the two drift in a gondola and boat together in the “Tunnel of Love” (Brooks 41). As Bialystock continues offering poetic proclamations, “Money is honey.. Money can put soft things next to your skin. Silk… satin… women,” Bloom’s euphoric enticement grows (Brooks 42). In response to Bloom’s fear of a prison sentence if their scheme was to backfire, Bialystock, “sensing victory… [while marshaling] his forces for the final assault,” asks, “You think you’re not in prison now? Living in a grey little room. Going to a grey little job. Leading a grey little life” (Brooks 42). Suddenly, Bloom reaches an explosive and climactic realization “You’re right. You’re absolutely right. I’m a nothing. I spend my life counting other people’s money — people I’m smarter than, better than. Where’s my share? Where’s Leo Bloom’s share? I want… everything I’ve ever seen int he movies!” (Brooks 42).
Here, Bialystock’s dialogue and actions targeting a gullible Bloom are reminiscent of how the alluring rhetoric propagated by the National Socialist German Workers’ Party in an bankrupt and trampled German climate stirred not only a revival of ferocious national pride, but a blind, full-fledged allegiance by the German people. Additionally, Bialystock’s mellifluous “us against the world” sentiment and explicit admission, “Thank you, Bloom. I knew I could con you” (Brooks 25), is directly associated with the mastermind behind the mass production of Nazi propaganda, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, who once disclosed his diabolical technique stating that, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it” (Goebbels). In a final declaration Bialystock announces, “It’s Bialystock and Bloom — on the rise. Upward and onward. Say, you’ll join me. Nothing can stop us,” while a seemingly liberated Bloom shouts, “I’ll do it! By God, I’ll do it!” (Brooks 43). However, script direction detailing that “Bloom grabs Bialystock’s hand and shakes it firmly,” insinuates that Bloom has just made a deal with the devil (Brooks 43).
Upon analyzing the intricacies surrounding Bloom and Biaylistock’s relationship and the sinister interrelational undertones mirroring Nazi-inspired indoctrination, mankind’s universally susceptible nature and doomed tendency to repeat history is conveyed throughout the evolution of the script. After failing in their dangerous endeavor of demolishing the theater, in an effort to halt the success of Springtime For Hitler, the duo stand trial where Bloom boldly asserts, “[Max Bialystock is] a liar and a cheat and a scoundrel… He’s talked people into doing things they never would have dreamed of. Especially me. But who has he really hurt? Who are the victims? Not me, I had the most exciting adventure of my life. And what about the little old ladies? What would their lives have been without Max Biyalistock? He made them feel wanted and young and attractive again” (Brooks 133). Bloom’s attempt at downplaying the severity of Bialystock’s crooked nature is in direct relationship with discussions of German guilt and responsibility after the collapse of National Socialism. Bloom bases his general defense on the fact that he was merely another one of Bialystock’s blissfully ignorant pawns, similar to how, “the [German] nation as a whole was an instrument, however ignorant, of crimes and of the conspiracy against humanity” (Balfou 264).
Essentially, early settings exposing an erratic, feeble and desperate Bloom to Max’s charming persuasion and nefarious temptations reflected “…the German nation [which] found itself in a crisis in which it’s accumulated possessions and inherited values seemed at risk… and, in an atmosphere of panic… resorted to such solutions as were in their own power to apply. In the apparent urgency for drastic action, they allowed their norms of judgment and humanity to be swept aside. The forms which action took were largely determined by Germany’s past history and the society resulting from it..” (Balfou 252) In short stemming from their innate and situational vulnerability, or malnourished sense of identity, purpose and societal mistreatment, both Bloom and the German nation were easily compelled to march in lock-step with charismatic leaders who proved to ultimately violate their trust and jeopardize their existence.
Although the collapse of the Third Reich and international efforts in the denazification of Europe were successfully carried out, the toxic legacy and ideological remnants continued to fester in various parts of the world. For instance, rampant genocide or “ethnic cleansing” soon ravaged other nations, inflicting heinous terror and mass murder. This flagrant pattern of mankind’s doomed tendency to repeat the past, all the while consciously aware of the fatal consequences, is illustrated in the final scene of The Producers as it is revealed that neither Bialystock nor Bloom have truly learned their lesson. Instead of espousing any redeeming qualities, Bialystock and Bloom resort back to their criminal ways by planning to produce a second flop, Prisoners of Love, in yet another scheming attempt to illegally secure a hefty profit. Moreover, an earlier scene depicting Bialystock and Bloom cuddling together in a Tunnel of Love amusement park ride was clearly meant to foreshadow Bialystock and Bloom’s shackling to one another, as a prisoner of each others’ love. In a broader sense, The Producers conjures a disturbing truth that mankind is tragically destined to repeat history and engage in behavior already deemed draconian and immoral. Aside from the resurgence of genocidal horrors, contagious propaganda promoting marginalization, bias and scare tactics, aimed at brainwashing a majority in order to oppress an historically disfavored minority, continue to virulently pollute international and political discourse.
Brooks, Mel. The Producers. Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation, 1967. Script.
Balfou, Michael Leonard Graham. Withstanding Hitler. Routledge, 1988 (http://books.google.com/books?id=FiyHJ8MiR1gC&pg=PA262&dq=collective+responsibility+german&sig=NHnIn8bNfr_WYo4F_AZ2Gea0cc0#v=onepage&q=collective%20responsibility%20german&f=false)
Dr. Joseph Goebbels quote (http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/holoprelude/goebbels.html)
Additional group references
American Cultural History: http://kclibrary.lonestar.edu/decade60.html
Broadway 101: http://www.talkinbroadway.com/bway101/6d.html
Making of The Producers: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2008/aug/16/comedy.theproducers
Sexual Revolution: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2749376?uid=3739560&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=55986425623