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  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  • French: Dolby Digital Stereo
  • German: Dolby Digital Stereo
  • Italian: Dolby Digital Stereo
    French, Italian, Dutch, English - Hearing Impaired, German - Hearing Impaired
  • Theatrical trailer

To Be Or Not To Be

20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 103 mins . PG . PAL


To Be Or Not To Be is rather a quirky film from 1983. Starring Mel Brooks (though not directed by him) you should almost expect a parody crammed with slapstick, corny one-liners, contextually inaccurate and politically incorrect jokes and ludicrous sight gags; but you’d be mostly wrong. There is a great deal of serious material covered, mostly in a sensitive manner, but yes, there are some laughs, and one or two terribly corny gags, however this is by no means the riotous 'piss-take' style that Brooks is loved for a-la History of the World Part 1, Robin Hood - Men in Tights or Spaceballs.

The film opens with the German Army marching unopposed in Poland in 1939. Brooks stars as Frederick Bronski, the world-famous (in Poland, anyway) actor, along with his actor wife, Anna Bronski (Anne Bancroft), who run their own successful theatre and stage show. It's so successful that Anna is quite the fancy of many a man, including a strapping young army officer, Lt Andre Sobinski (Tim Matheson).

After the troupe is ordered by local leaders to drop the Nazi parody sketch from their show, Bronski seizes the chance to wow the crowds with his best Hamlet. Anna, aware of the strapping, young army officer’s affection, arranges to meet him in her dressing room while her husband is delivering his “To be, or not to be…” soliloquy. This, of course, gives the film its title.

As the Nazis move in, Jews are arrested and the theatre becomes home to several as they hide from the Germans. Sobinski flees Poland and unwittingly hands over a list of names of Polish Resistance fighters to a double agent (Jose Ferrer), namedropping Anna Bronski into the bargain. Realising the implications, he smuggles himself back into Poland to retrieve the list before it is delivered to the Gestapo.

He enlists the help of the Anna Bronski, who hides him until he can intercept the double agent. Frederick Bronski becomes unwittingly involved, and using his dubious acting skills, impersonates a Gestapo officer in an attempt to get the list from the double agent. When he learns of a duplicate list stashed in the double agent's room, he also has to impersonate the double agent, and the whole affair becomes a spider web of near misses, suspicions, close calls and murder. As the need for success increases, so do the dangers, but all willingly place themselves in the thick of the danger in the name of freedom.

"...that is the question."

Any film about Nazi occupations is going to mean a dark side, and To Be Or Not To Be certainly has one. There is the obviously dark such as the persecution of the Jews and homosexuals, treason and the very hardships of living in repression. There are also more personal issues of infidelity and mistrust, and all while under the threat of imprisonment or even death for working so blatantly to disrupt the Nazi war machine. Anyone who claims this film is hysterical has largely missed the point.

Mel Brooks is often at his manic best in this film, and the supporting cast is solid. Even in the moments that are pure comedy, especially the impersonation scenes, there is a dark threat that failure will have disastrous consequences.


This is a great transfer of a film that's 20 years old. It is an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is 16:9 enhanced. The image is as sharp and as defined as you could expect of a film of this vintage. Colours are mostly glorious and strong, only occasionally muted, but in a film with a dark content, this is probably deliberate. There are no issues with noise or bleeding and blacks are mostly great. Shadow detail is fine.

There is the slightest evidence of mild grain, but this should trouble no one. There are no significant film artefacts to speak of and we are left with a very clean transfer indeed. There are not even any instances of shimmer, and no layer change.


The only English language track is in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, which is mostly adequate. It is a little quiet and slightly flat sounding, but a nudge of the volume control will largely take care of that. There are no problems with audio synch, and as it is a stereo track there is no centre or surround speaker action, nor anything for the subwoofer to work with.

Sounds are not overly separated or panned, but what separation exists is most evident in the few musical numbers. Low-level sounds are acceptable, though hardly impressive.

The foreign language options, all Dolby Digital 2.0, are French, German, Italian and Spanish. A quick listen indicates they all sound much of a muchness.


Apart from the theatrical trailer there are no extras included. It runs a little over three minutes and includes some footage filmed just for the trailer. It is quite a dirty print, but adequately and accurately represents the feature.


Mel Brooks fans will be happy with this effort, though an extra or two might have been nice; Mel Brooks’ To Be Or Not To Be (The Hitler Rap) video clip springs to mind. Be aware that it is not a part of the film, nor ever was, so don’t go buying this just to see Hitler breakdancing, as you will be disappointed. The video is great, the audio acceptable, the film itself is enjoyable, and there is enough here to warrant a recommendation.

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      And I quote...
    "Mel Brooks at his manic best, in a rather serious setting - Nazi-occupied Warsaw. "
    - Terry Kemp
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
    • TV:
          TEAC CT-F803 80cm Super Flat Screen
    • Receiver:
          Pioneer VSX-D409
    • Speakers:
    • Centre Speaker:
    • Surrounds:
    • Subwoofer:
          Sherwood SP 210W
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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