The Video Vacuum (thevideovacuum) wrote,
The Video Vacuum

TO BE OR NOT TO BE (1983) ****

Mel Brooks stars in, but did not direct this remake of the Ernst Lubitsch classic. However, his gifted comic touch can be felt throughout this film, which is a classic in its own right. It would make a perfect double feature with Brooks’ The Producers as both films deal with Hitler and the theater, but in very different ways.

Brooks and his real-life wife Anne Bancroft star as married stage performers working in Poland. When the Nazis storm the country, they kick the pair out of their home and shut down their theater. Bancroft’s number one fan (Tim Matheson) is an RAF pilot and he enlists her help tracking down a devious double agent (Jose Ferrer). Armed with only costumes and fake beards from the theater, the tiny troupe tries to stick it to the Germans.

To Be or Not To Be is a lot of fun. Not only does it contain some very big laughs, it has plenty of heart too. The scene where the Nazis drag away Bancroft’s gay dresser and send him off to the concentration camp is pretty harsh. (Brooks quips, “If it wasn’t for the Jews, gays, and gypsies, there would be no theater!”) When Brooks dons a bevy of disguises to impersonate several high-ranking Nazi officials to get him back, the comedy works because the stakes are high. The balance between the comedy and genuine suspense is really quite something and you’ll find you’ll be holding your breath in between the laughter.

The film was directed by Brooks’ usual choreographer Alan Johnson. Since there are plenty of musical numbers and vaudeville routines, I’m sure Johnson directed more than his fair share of the flick. Still, I have a feeling that it was Brooks who more than likely was calling the shots in the comedy department. (The fact that Johnson only directed one more film, the terrible Solarbabies, probably proves my assumption.)

It’s great to watch Brooks and Bancroft play off each other. They have effortless chemistry together, and get lots of laughs. Matheson is also quite good as the square romantic hero, and the supporting cast, which includes everyone from Charles Durning to Christopher Lloyd are perfectly cast.

Tags: comedy, mel brooks, remake, t

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