To Be or Not to Be [1983]

No filmmaker seems to take such glee at poking fun of the Nazis as Mel Brooks. In To Be or Not to Be, a remake of a 1942 Jack Benny comedy, Brooks and an all-star ensemble cast have a splendid time working as a makeshift Polish underground in World War II, using as their cover their theatrical company. Brooks stars as Frederick Bronski, a legend-in-his-own-mind leading man, and Anne Bancroft, Brooks' real-life wife, is his glamorous--and amorous--spouse. It's a joy to see the two spar, snuggle, and softshoe together. Bancroft, in her early '50s, is so gorgeous and seductive it's perfectly believable that she's beguiling to men of all ages--from a hunky young flier played by Tim Matheson to a wizened Nazi collaborator played by Mel Ferrer. As one would expect in a Brooks film, there's lots of silliness, but the script is leavened with real drama and fleshed out by a superb cast, including Charles Durning as a semi-clueless Nazi official. There are witty blink-and-you'll-miss-them moments, too; early in the film, Bronski is barking orders to his theater staff, including one crew member who's named Sondheim, apparently solely so that later Bronski can bark, "Sondheim, send in the clowns!" Also not to miss is the production number "Naughty Nazis," in which Bronski, as a misunderstood Hitler, sings, "All I vant is peace... a little piece of Poland, a little piece of France...." No wonder he's "world famous in Poland"! Extras include a behind-the-scenes making-of featurette, and interviews with Brooks, Durning, and the lovely Bancroft, all the more bittersweet viewed after her 2005 death. --A.T. Hurley

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