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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

To Be Or Not To Be (1983)



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Something bad is bound to happen when you remake an Ernst Lubitsch film. Playing the odds typically associated with remakes, it'll probably be bad, but even if it isn't, it will most assuredly lack that wonderful, irreproducible "Lubitsch touch" and suffer by comparison.

This latter case is the one that applies to this 1983 remake of To Be Or Not To Be, starring Mel Brooks in one of his rare roles for a film which he did not direct. This is certainly natural material for Brooks -- there's even a Nazi musical number that recalls "Springtime For Hitler" from Brooks' first and best film, The Producers. And he and the other cast members do a decent job with it. It's interesting how the original's storyline was kept pretty much intact, while its flavor was molded to fit Brooks' particular brand of comedy. On its own terms, this is a pretty good comedic effort.

But predictably, it doesn't come close to matching up to the original. The original played it straight, which somehow made the gags all the more funny. In this version, Mel Brooks hams it up too much, playing a character who sees the precarious sequence of disasters occurring around him as opportunities for comedy. Jack Benny, who played the role in the original film, made the character woeful and indignant, someone who wants things to go back to normal if only so people can get back to admiring his soliloquies on stage. Benny's performance rings truer and funnier.

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