MOVIE REVIEW: “To Be or Not to Be” stars Mel Brooks (The Muppets Movie, Blazing Saddles), Anne Bancroft (The Graduate, The Turning Point), Tim Matheson (National Lampoon’s Animal House, The West Wing [TV series]), Charles Durning (O Brother Where Art Thou?, Dog Day Afternoon), José Ferrer (Dune , Moulin Rouge ), Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), Jack Riley (The Long Goodbye, Frances), Lewis J. Stadlen (Serpico, The Verdict), George Gaynes (Tootsie, Police Academy), George Wyner (A Serious Man, Not Another Teen Movie), Rohnny Graham (Dirty Little Billy, The World’s Greatest Lover), and James ‘Gypsy’ Haake (The Morning After, Clifford). It is directed by Alan Johnson (Solarbabies), with the screenplay being written by Thomas Meehan (Hairspray , One Magic Christmas) and Ronny Graham. As Nazis invade Poland, an acting troupe tries to keep their theatre show alive, but are soon placed on a mission that will put their lives on the line.
Dipping into a more serious project, Mel Brooks’ “To Be or Not to Be” seeks to tell a story of survival, mischief, and love, all in the confines of Poland during Nazi’s invasion. No, this isn’t a Brooks directorial (he produced and starred in it). Therefore, it wasn’t attached to my second iteration of his Director’s Chair marathon. Bummer, but it was included in my blu-ray collection, so I thought “why not?” Really, it wasn’t my most anticipated feature of his releases. I can’t explain why, maybe because of the subject matter or fact that it didn’t look to parody anything, but after seeing it, I can say it surpassed expectations. “To Be or Not to Be” is not the best film to be touched by Brooks, but it is a remarkable one in how it balances comedy and drama in an effort to paint a horrific time. Blending historical politics and classic Brooks gags, the movie entertains and engages, seeking to explore its characters more than any other Brooks feature has, while making memorable. Is it? Certain bits. I found the comedy to be more entertaining than the drama (clearly), and walked away having remembered mainly that. Brooks’ “highlights” of Hamlet, the duping of Professor Siletski (Ferrer), and Christopher Lloyd’s bit part of Captain Schultz come to mind, all of which gave way to good laughs. And who can forget the dynamic pair that is Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft? The famed couple starred as a couple in this, and they stole the show. Boy, what I would give to have the chemistry they have (when it comes to spouses). Brooks entertained and Bancroft was graceful; both bounced off each other well and made for wonderful leads. Everyone did a fairly good job in this piece, including Tim Matheson, Charles Durning, and José Ferrer. There wasn’t really a performance I didn’t like. Granted, I am slightly confused how Durning could go on to be nominated for an Academy Award for his role in this (he was good, but not that great), but that’s beside the point. The story of “To Be or Not to Be” works well and builds on the humor of actors trying to swindle the Nazi regime. While it doesn’t stand out amongst some of the other pictures that poke fun at Nazi Germany, it certainly gives you a show (at least for older audiences). For the most part, I was entertained and enjoyed the humor they injected, and could see other people feeling the same. Sure, some conflicts are not as heavily dealt with as others (the love triangle between the Bronskis and Lt. Sobinski kind of fades away), but for the most part “To Be or Not to Be” works. It accomplished what it set out to do, and makes for a nice serious imprint left by Brooks. FINAL SCORE: 77%= Juicy Popcorn
Here is the trailer: