Review: ‘To Be or Not to Be’

With the solid farcical underpinning of Ernst Lubitsch's 1942 To Be or Not to Be, Mel Brooks' glossy remake of the original Carole Lombard-Jack Benny starrer is very funny stuff indeed.

With the solid farcical underpinning of Ernst Lubitsch’s 1942 To Be or Not to Be, Mel Brooks’ glossy remake of the original Carole Lombard-Jack Benny starrer is very funny stuff indeed.

Maintaining some of the dramatic core of the original, but played mostly for Brooks-style laughs, the convoluted tale of a Warsaw theatrical troupe that winds up saving the Polish underground during the Nazi occupation does have some potential hurdles to clear. Cute Nazis and roly-poly Gestapo officers hardly have universal lure.

Brooks sustains, with varying success, a full-fledged role as Frederick Bronski, vainglorious head of a tawdry theatrical company whose shows run the spectrum from cheap vaudeville turns to Highlights from Hamlet. Mainstay of the film is a superbly sustained comic performance by Anne Bancroft, as Bronski’s wife, in the real-life Brooks couple’s first tandem co-starring acting job.

Charles Durning is a standout as the buffoonish Gestapo topper and Bancroft’s pseudo-seduction of him, and Nazi hireling Jose Ferrer, are among the pic’s highpoints. Bancroft’s sustained delights are not matched by Brooks, who seems to be trying too hard.

1983: Nomination: Best Supp. Actor (Charles Durning)

To Be or Not to Be

Production

Brooksfilms. Director Alan Johnson; Producer Mel Brooks; Screenplay Thomas Meehan, Ronny Graham; Camera Gerald Hirschfeld; Editor Alan Balsam; Music John Morris; Art Director Terence Marsh

Crew

(Color) Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1983. Running time: 108 MIN.

With

Mel Brooks Anne Bancroft Tim Matheson Charles Durning Jose Ferrer George Gaynes
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