Troupe Poland

The original To Be or Not to Be released in 1942. That made the anti-Nazi farce particularly hearty. This ‘80s remake stared down the Berlin Wall. That’s not quite the same.

Exterior political conditions aside, the Mel Brooks touch brings the material to (then) modern standards. Resistance stories never age; they always have need. Here, it’s a Polish theater troupe enraging Nazi incompetents. Imagining a world where even these sheepish, and at times selfish actors can overcome the regime is inspiring.

At the time, To Be or Not to Be was the only film to depict the pink triangles that designated gays undesirable, like the stars branded Jews. Granted, it takes an exaggerated, stereotypical performance from James Haake to make the point, but it’s still rarely spoken history.

To a detriment, the production looks cheap and worn. If the intent was to translate the stage to the screen, that’s the only context where it works; To Be or Not to Be carries a play aesthetic. Sets appear like afterthoughts.

To Be or Not to Be carries a play aesthetic. Sets appear like afterthoughts

On those sets though is a chipper, comedic winner. Every Nazi is an imbecile, generating the same heat as the original, only in retrospect. When infiltrating the regime, obvious rebel blunders go unnoticed by high command. “He’s world famous in Poland,” says Anna Bronski (Anne Bancroft) about her husband. Dressed as Hitler, Frederick Bronski (Mel Brooks) responds to “Heil Hitler” shouts with “Heil myself!”

The ignition for this rebellion is censorship. Bronski’s crew puts on an anti-German show for the Polish audience, shutdown days before Germany began bombing runs. It’s a wake-up call, where after Bronski forbids his crew to listen to radio broadcasts (“No politics in theater!” he says, oblivious to his own routine), they soon help Jews escape through the Poland underground.

To Be or Not to Be is undeniably lean. The routines mirror a cartoon, and with the German regime toppled, this is more a cause to put Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks together on screen rather than rile a population.

Acknowledging the commercial aspirations, Mel Brooks does don the mustache to play a disguised Hitler. That premise alone generates a laugh, with the Germans unable to suss out the Jewish man impersonating their leader. For a dramatic moment, a kidnapped Jew makes an impassioned plea, asking real Nazis to explain why this is happening. Those thematic beats tend to imbalance themselves (that speech is made to Brooks dressed as Hitler), but still carry weight.

Video

Shout licenses the previous Fox Blu-ray for inclusion in their Anne Bancroft Collection. They change nothing. To Be or Not to Be needed a helping hand, as this dire presentation comes from a different time. Likely, this is a master meant for SD display. Filtering lightly scrubs grain, leaving a mild, waxy look, especially in the mid-range. Any grain still left appears busy, not film-like, with some smearing.

Certain scenes (Bancroft’s notably) use old Hollywood technique, blooming the image to suggest an elegance. In proper form, that’s great. After the digital tinkering here, not as much. The screen becomes awash in imprecise images.

Adding to the mess, color flattens. Dry hues lack power. That transfers to contrast too, black levels weakened to a non-point. Whatever depth the film stock held, that’s now lost until a new master.

Audio

DTS-HD 5.1 strains the dialog, tinny for the full runtime. Like the video, this does not sound prepared for modern home theaters.

Brief stereo flourishes create marginal space. The major sequence is the Poland bombing, adding light bass and passable soundstage use. In the finale, a plane takes off and travels around. Otherwise, the score fills each speaker the most. At least with the music, clarity holds together.

Extras

Same disc, same extras as before.

Brooks and Bancroft: A Perfect Pair is a 15-minute making-of as surviving cast and crew reminisce about the project. How Serious Can Mel Brooks Really Get? is a short three-minute promo from the ‘80s for the film. Likewise, three interview sections (Brooks, Bancroft, and Charles Durning) are pulled from that same source.

An isolated score is uncompressed (DTS-HD), and a trivia track can run along with the film.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

To Be or Not to Be
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
4

Movie

While made in a less tumultuous world than the 1942 original, To Be or Not to Be is saved by its humor and universal message.

Sending
User Review
0 (0 votes)

The 15 unaltered images below represent the Blu-ray. For an additional nine To Be or Not to Be screenshots, early access to all screens (plus the 100,000+ already in our library), 100 exclusive 4K UHD reviews, and more, support us on Patreon.