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To Be or Not to Be

To Be or Not to Be (1983)

December. 16,1983
| Comedy

A bad Polish actor is just trying to make a living when Poland is invaded by the Germans in World War II. His wife has the habit of entertaining young Polish officers while he's on stage, which is also a source of depression to him. When one of her officers comes back on a Secret Mission, the actor takes charge and comes up with a plan for them to escape.


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S.R. Hunt

As a theater nerd, and a Mel Brooks fan, I was intrigued when I saw this movie on Netflix streaming. I added it to my list and forgot about it. One night, I couldn't find anything to watch, so I decided to stop procrastinating and finally watch the movie. And I was not disappointed. It's not as outrageous as "Blazing Saddles" or "Spaceballs". It's more along the lines of "Young Frankenstein" or "the Producers" where the story is just as important as the jokes. To be honest, I didn't know this was a remake until I saw people saying it was one online. So, I won't compare it to that film. I'm actually shocked that people don't mention this movie when talking about World War II movies. They always focus on the ones about Jewish people, like "Boy in the Striped Pajamas" and "Diary of Anne Frank", not that that's a bad thing, I mean Jewish people were one of the bigger targets. But this one brings up the fact that it wasn't just Jewish people being hauled off to concentration camps. One character is homosexual, and Mel Brooks's character mentions gypsies being taken too. And I appreciate that. The comedy is brilliant. Some jokes are a hit and miss for the causal viewer, but if you know a little bit about theater or World War II, then you should get most of the jokes. In fact, I can see where Brooks got the idea for some of the songs in "the Producers" Broadway show, like "Heil Myself", "It's Bad Luck to Say Good Luck", and a few others. Also, I started laughing my butt off when Christopher Lloyd entered the film. "Back to the Future" is my favorite movie of all time, and Christopher Lloyd's character is one of my favorites. I didn't even know he was in this movie until I saw his name in the opening credits. But as soon as he entered, I was giggling like a maniac. Overall, if you enjoy Mel Brooks, theater, or World War II movies, definitely give this a watch.


A "9" because I am a Mel Brooks fan. The same basic story and script as the 1942 classic, but not a scene-for-scene remake, as reported by several others. Mel Brooks and Ann Bancroft reprise the roles made famous by Jack Benny and Carole Lombard. Mel Brooks plays a "Ham" of a Jewish Polish actor just barely making a living in a little theater in Poland. ("He is doing to the theater what Hitler is doing to Poland.") His wife is even more famous than him. Several good performances by many supporting actors, most notably Christopher Lloyd as "Schultz",and his commanding officer, the bumbling Col. Erhardt (Charles Durning). Based almost entirely on the comic devise of mistaken identity, Mel gets to play the three performances of his "Polish career", as a turncoat Nazi spy, Col. Erhardt, and even Adolf Hitler! There are two cute song and dance numbers, including "Sweet Georgia Brown" in Polish! In the end, the spy is shot by Ann Bancroft's "lover", and everyone flies off to England in Hitler's airplane. Several script changes from the 1942 original include: Col. Erhardt does not shoot himself, and "Hitler" (Mel Brooks) does not parachute into Scotland. Also missing here is "Hitler" (in the Jack Benny version) ordering the Nazis to jump out of the airplane without parachutes, as the plane is overweight. More plot exposition than the original, which makes it easier to follow, but not quite as funny. Be sure to see both versions to draw your own conclusions. There is a one-line "gag" with a stagehand named "Sondheim" (Ronny Graham) just so Mel can use the line "Send in the Clowns" in the movie! I love both versions of this film.


Frederick and Anna Bronski are husband-and-wife actors running a theatre company in Warsaw in 1939 when Germany invades Poland. By chance, they discover that visiting Professor Siletski is a Nazi agent with a crucial report on the resistance, and resolve to use all their acting skills to stop him getting those names to the High Command.This remake of the 1942 Ernst Lubitsch comedy classic is very faithful to its predecessor but is a hugely entertaining picture in its own right. What I like about it most is its terrific cast - Brooks and Bancroft seem almost made for these roles and both are sensational, as are the whole Bronski troupe. Matheson and Ferrer are suitably suave and slimy, but the real stars for me are Durning and Lloyd as Colonel Erhardt and his adjutant Schultz - you can basically never go wrong with a short fat man and a tall thin man as a comedy duo, but these two are hilariously mismatched. The scene where Bronski, disguised as Siletski, delivers his report to Erhardt and the two Nazis scream at each other is a masterpiece of comic bungling. This film's chief addition is Sasha, the gay dresser character, who would never have gotten past the Hays Code, but exemplifies the many moments where Brooks cleverly sprinkles the comedy with sharp reminders of the horrors it's lampooning. It also has much more of a musical element courtesy of a terrific score by John Morris and some funny numbers (who else but Brooks would open with Sweet Georgia Brown in Polish ?). There aren't many straight remakes I'm especially fond of, but this is a definite exception; it's funny, beautifully made, re-tells a great story and is a terrific showcase for the comic talents of its ensemble. Produced by Brooks, and deftly scripted by Thomas Meehan and Ronny Graham (the latter of whom plays Sondheim, the very loud stage manager).


having not seen the Ernst Lubistch original, I came into this film with a blank mind not comparing it to its predecessor. This for me, was a huge plus and I walked away knowing that it was one of the finest comedies I have ever seen. It followed the most basic rule of comedy, in that the plot was simple, yet interesting - meaning that you didn't have to spend time going over the plot in your head (something that can kill a comedy), yet you still maintain interest. Mel Brooks is on stunning form, combining personal depth with superb comedy. Anne Bancroft is strong, yet unforced in a role that seemed almost written for her, and the comic strength of the supporting cast helps add to what is a movie that you can just sit back and enjoy.