a review of to be or not to be Mel Brooks
I took all pictures off my TV using my Ipad. The rights to the movie belong to 20th century fox and there creators.
I got something called the Mel Brooks collection about 6 months ago, and I have been going through the 9 movies in the collection and checking them out. Now some of the movies I have seen some before like the classics Space Balls and Young Frankenstein. There are several however that I haven’t seen like the phenomenal silent movie and high anxiety. I also hadn’t seen this movie which is To Be or Not to Be. This is interesting the only movie on the collection not to be directed by Mel Brooks. Brooks declined to direct this movie because he needed an edge like 12 chairs but he wanted it to be funnier without going over the top. And for the most part it works.
The story which takes place in the late 30’s in Poland before the Nazi’s invade follows Frederick and Anna Bronski a married couple who owns a theater. Frederick is more of a comedian and a terrible dramatic actor, he also has an ego that won’t allow him to see it or be criticize for it (leading to some humorous moments where his stage crew groans After he announces he's doing hamlet). After his big comedic number Naughty Nazi’s is axed from the show for being too controversial Fredreick decides to do Hamlet. This lets Anna invite a young fly boy named Sobinski who is interested in her to go back stage and they have intimate conversations. However when the Nazi’s do finally invade Anna’s fly boy manages to join a squad in Britain.
When Sobinski arrives needing the name he and Anna manage to convince Fredreick his acting might be good enough to fool the traitor into giving over the names. The rest of the movie really has Fredreick bouncing from one hopeless situation too another, with only his acting abilities and his wits to survive. But he also try to find a way to sneak his entire staff which contains jews, gypsies, and homosexuals out of Poland before the Nazi’s catch them and send them to concentration camps.
When I first saw this I thought it would fall into the problems with Mel Brooks 2nd movie the 12 chairs, where it’s too dark, and you don’t know when the farce begins and when the drama is supposed to be real. It’s hard to see Mel Brooks drunken character in the 12 chairs has funny, when you the movie is so dark that it comes off more tragic then funny. This movie luckily avoids that problem. Despite the World War 2 setup at the beginning it quickly moves into the light hearted with Mel Brooks and Ann Bancroft (who were a real happily married couple) singing Sweet Georgia Brown in Polish. Followed by them having a conversation in Polish only to be interrupted by a somewhat omnipotent voice saying for the sake of sanity the rest of the movie will be in English and not Polish. Quickly after they have a fight in English we see Brooks do a skit dressed up like Hitler saying that all Hitler wants his peace, followed by a song where Hitler version of peace is a piece of Austria, piece of France, and a piece of Poland. This immediately sets up the vibe, it’s not going to be the over the top satire that we see in Blazing Saddles or History of the World Part 1. But at the same time it’s not meant to be taken too seriously.
The characters are also important while comic it’s easy to treat these characters with a bit more carrying. Fredreick himself is an interesting man; he is an egotist and a bit stuck up on himself. However he is not beyond caring or risking himself if there is a higher cause. He treats Anna flirting with Sobinski with calm and cool for the most part, and I love his line dealing with the issue: If I don’t get out of this alive I want you to know that I forgive you for Sobinski, but if I come back alive you’re in a lot of trouble.
You also see that Fredreick is in over his head and keeps digging deeper with each act, and each Nazi higher up he has to impersonate. Luckily all though not a great actor he is clever. After having to be disguised has Salinski to give the names to the colonel of the Gestapo you hear him listening to the officer on the phone saying all the names of the Polish underground that have been killed. He later gives those names to the Nazi’s has the people that were on top of the Polish underground and should be interrogated getting the 2nd in command at the Gestapo in trouble for having them killed.
If the movies weakest point would be the Nazi’s themselves. Christopher Lloyds 2nd in command who is always getting chewed out over Colonel Erhardt decisions is kind of funny. But Erhardt comes off a bit too much like Colonel Clink. He isn’t a complete idiot and he is certainly a threat, but at the same time he comes off has too big of a buffoon to be that major threat and you feel that Frederick never has to struggle too much to outsmart him.
You get several featurettes one that was made fairly recently interviewing Brooks and some of his fellow cast members. And one that was made back in the 80’s to promote the film. There is also a trivia track about the different actors and the making of the movie. There is also an isolated score track in the package too. It’s just like most of the other movies in the Mel Brooks collection that don’t have commentary’s on them.
To Be or Not To Be isn’t the same type of potent satire that Mel Brooks is known for it takes itself a lot more seriously. Still there is a lot of comedy and some satire when it comes to dealing with the Nazi’s and there is plenty of making fun of Hitler and his WW2 cronies. The more dramatic edge helps the comedy hit home, it’s in tense situations that often times you need a joke and a laugh to get through and Brooks brand of comedy really shines through.