To Be or Not to Be (1983)

PG | 107 mins | Comedy | 16 December 1983

Director:

Alan Johnson

Producer:

Mel Brooks

Cinematographer:

Gerald Hirschfeld

Editor:

Alan Balsam

Production Designer:

Terence Marsh

Production Company:

Brooksfilms
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HISTORY

The film opens with the following voice-over narration: "Europe, 1936: Nazi troops annex the Rhineland without a shot being fired. 1938: The Anschluss. Nazi troops annex Austria, again, not a shot is fired. 1939: Nazi tanks and troops move into the Sudetenland, and in a matter of days, occupy all of Czechoslovakia. No shots are fired. August 1939: Nazi troops mass on the western border of Poland. Europe stands precariously on the brink of World War II. But in Warsaw, despite the threat of imminent invasion, the Polish people forget their troubles at the Bronski Theatre."
       On 22 Dec 1975, DV and HR announced plans by actor-filmmaker Mel Brooks and his wife, actress Anne Bancroft, to play the leading roles in a musical remake of the 1942 comedy, To Be or Not To Be (see entry). The film was to be produced by William Allyn and David Lumney’s Allyn/Lumney Productions, in association with Crossbow Productions, Inc., and released by Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., with Melvin Frank as writer, director, and possible co-producer. Eight months later, the 10 Aug 1976 DV reported that James Kirkwood would provide the screenplay, with no further mention of Melvin Frank. The project remained in limbo for four years until the 19 Sep 1980 DV stated that Brooks and Bancroft intended the film as their next project. According to a news item in the 18 May 1981 New York magazine, the picture was to mark the first screenplay written by playwright Thomas Meehan. One year later, Brooks received a completed screenplay and expected to ... More Less

The film opens with the following voice-over narration: "Europe, 1936: Nazi troops annex the Rhineland without a shot being fired. 1938: The Anschluss. Nazi troops annex Austria, again, not a shot is fired. 1939: Nazi tanks and troops move into the Sudetenland, and in a matter of days, occupy all of Czechoslovakia. No shots are fired. August 1939: Nazi troops mass on the western border of Poland. Europe stands precariously on the brink of World War II. But in Warsaw, despite the threat of imminent invasion, the Polish people forget their troubles at the Bronski Theatre."
       On 22 Dec 1975, DV and HR announced plans by actor-filmmaker Mel Brooks and his wife, actress Anne Bancroft, to play the leading roles in a musical remake of the 1942 comedy, To Be or Not To Be (see entry). The film was to be produced by William Allyn and David Lumney’s Allyn/Lumney Productions, in association with Crossbow Productions, Inc., and released by Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., with Melvin Frank as writer, director, and possible co-producer. Eight months later, the 10 Aug 1976 DV reported that James Kirkwood would provide the screenplay, with no further mention of Melvin Frank. The project remained in limbo for four years until the 19 Sep 1980 DV stated that Brooks and Bancroft intended the film as their next project. According to a news item in the 18 May 1981 New York magazine, the picture was to mark the first screenplay written by playwright Thomas Meehan. One year later, Brooks received a completed screenplay and expected to begin production at American Zoetrope Studios in Hollywood, CA, where Brooks headquartered his production company, Brooksfilms Ltd., as noted in the 3 May 1982 DV.
       On 22 Nov 1982, DV reported that Allyn and Lumney filed a lawsuit for “copyright infringement, breach of contract, fraud, and interference with contractual relationships” against Brooks, Brooksfilms, Crossbow Productions, and Twentieth Century-Fox. The plaintiffs claimed “exclusive rights to the copyrighted work,” citing an agreement between the parties, signed in Apr 1976, naming the plaintiffs as producers, and requiring the defendants to consult them before proceeding “with major elements of the project.” The suit accused the defendants of preventing Allyn and Lumney from performing their production duties, including the hiring of screenwriters, prompting the team to revoke the agreement on 6 May 1982. Rather than accept the defendants’ offer to pay the producers’ agreed-upon salary, in exchange for disassociating themselves from the project, Allyn and Lumney sued for compensation of more than $5 million, and an additional $5 million in punitive damages. The outcome of the lawsuit has not been determined. Allyn and Lumney receive a "production suggested by" screen credit.
       The 24 Jan 1983 HR announced the start of principal photography that day, at Twentieth Century-Fox Studios. According to production notes in AMPAS library files, Brooks considered To Be or Not To Be “the least anarchistic” of his comedies, which he attributed to the fact-based plotline. Although the production was to originally feature a number of musical interludes, several were deleted for being “intrusive,” while the remaining few “carry along the story.” The film marked the first collaboration between husband and wife Brooks and Bancroft in leading roles, and the first comedy feature in which Brooks starred but was neither writer nor director. Brooks told the 14 Feb 1983 DV that he preferred to direct films he wrote, although he reportedly influenced the screenplay. He predicted that the upcoming television “mini-series,” The Winds of War, would improve the picture’s box-office prospects by raising awareness of World War II history among young people. Brooks estimated the budget at $9 million, adding that he would not be receiving a salary for his performance. The picture was the directorial debut of Alan Johnson, a choreographer who worked on several of Brooks’ earlier productions.
       Projectionists Local 504 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) staged a demonstration outside an 8 Nov 1983 screening of the film for delegates to the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), as reported in the 9 Nov 1983 Var. The screening was held in Anaheim, CA, at the Cinedome multiplex theater, whose parent company, Syufy Enterprises, was “engaged in a longstanding dispute” with the union concerning the company’s use of automated projection booths and its effect on “employment of union operators.” The demonstrators carried signs stating their grievances with Syufy, but did not otherwise interfere with the event.
       To Be or Not To Be opened 16 Dec 1983 to mixed reviews. According to the 22 Feb 1984 Var, Brooks embarked on a promotional tour of Europe, which included France, Italy, Sweden and England. The 7 Mar 1984 Var reported a successful screening in Hamburg, Germany, where the film was released as Sein Oder Nichtsein. In attendance was actor Wolfgang Voelz, who supplied the German language looping for Brooks’ character, “Frederick Bronski.” More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
22 Dec 1975.
---
Daily Variety
10 Aug 1976.
---
Daily Variety
19 Sep 1980.
---
Daily Variety
3 May 1982.
---
Daily Variety
22 Nov 1982.
---
Daily Variety
7 Jan 1983.
---
Daily Variety
14 Feb 1983.
---
Daily Variety
18 Feb 1983
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Dec 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 Jan 1983.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Dec 1983
p. 1, 7.
Los Angeles Times
24 Dec 1975.
---
Los Angeles Times
18 Sep 1983.
---
Los Angeles Times
16 Dec 1983
p. 22.
New York
18 May 1981.
---
New York Times
16 Dec 1983
p. 10.
Variety
24 Nov 1982.
---
Variety
9 Nov 1983.
---
Variety
14 Dec 1983
p. 16.
Variety
22 Feb 1984.
---
Variety
7 Mar 1984.
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
Brooksfilms Presents
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
DGA trainee
PRODUCERS
Prod
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Key grip
Still photog
Dolly grip
Best boy
Best boy
Best boy
Best boy
Video playback op
Lightflex system by
2d asst cam
Best boy
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Negative cutting
Apprentice ed
SET DECORATORS
Set des
Prop master
Const coord
Const foreman
Swing gang
Asst prop master
Asst prop master
Asst prop master
Propmaker foreman
COSTUMES
Cost des
Womens cost supv
Mens cost supv
Men's costumer
Women's costumer
MUSIC
Orch
"Sweet Georgia Brown" and "Ladies" orch by
Mus ed
Mus scoring mixer
SOUND
Prod sd mixer
Rerec mixer
Rerec mixer
Rerec mixer
Supv sd ed
Boom op
Cable man
Audio playback op
VISUAL EFFECTS
Opticals by
Title des
Title illustrations
Spec eff
DANCE
Asst choreog to Mr. Johnson
MAKEUP
Make-up artist
Hair stylist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod supv
Casting
Scr supv
Unit pub
Prod coord
Prod controller
Asst to Mr. Brooks
Asst to Mr. Brooks
Asst to Mr. Johnson
Asst to Mr. Jeffrey
Prod asst
Prod asst
Transportation coord
Craft service
Polish dial coach
Polish translation "Sweet Georgia Brown"
Mutki's trainer
Prod suggested by
Prod suggested by
Prod accountant
Transportation capt
Driver
Craft service
Secy to casting dir
Asst auditor
Asst accountant
STAND INS
Stunt pilot
Stunt pilot
Stunt coord
Stuntman
Stuntman
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the film To Be or Not To Be written by Edwin Justus Mayer, story by Melchoir Lengyel and directed by Ernst Lubitsch (Romaine Film Corporation, 1942).
SONGS
"Ladies," music and lyrics by Mel Brooks and Ronny Graham
"A Little Peace," music and lyrics by Mel Brooks and Ronny Graham.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Sein Oder Nichtsein
Release Date:
16 December 1983
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 16 December 1983
Production Date:
began 24 January 1983
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
Copyright Date:
23 December 1983
Copyright Number:
PA203847
Physical Properties:
Sound
Recorded in Dolby Stereo™ in selected theaters®
Color
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex® Cameras by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
107
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
27046
SYNOPSIS

In 1939 Poland, Frederick and Anna Bronski perform at their theater in Warsaw as German troops gather on the country’s western border. During intermission, Anna retires to her dressing room, where Sasha Kinski, her dresser, presents her with a bouquet of yellow roses from Lieutenant Andre Sobinski, a handsome young aviator who is anxious to meet her. Later, government official Dr. Boyarski halts a musical sketch satirizing Adolf Hitler, fearing it may hasten a German invasion. When Frederick replaces the sketch with his solo piece, “Highlights from Hamlet, ” Anna sends a message to Andre, instructing him to come to her dressing room when her husband utters the words, “To be or not to be.” As the soliloquy begins, Andre conspicuously rises from his seat and makes his way to the dressing room. Unable to contain his outrage, Frederick surprises everyone by infusing his performance with uncharacteristic emotion. Anna enjoys Andre’s attention and invites him to return the next evening during Frederick’s soliloquy, which he does. However, their flirtation is interrupted by news of war with Germany, prompting Andre to go to his country’s defense. Company members gather in Anna’s dressing room, despondent over the news. Frederick assumes they share his grief over Andre’s interruption of his performance, until Anna informs him of the Nazi invasion. Three weeks later, Poland is a defeated nation, occupied by German troops. Andre and several of his fellow aviators escape Poland and continue to fight from England. They receive a visit from Professor Siletski, the voice of “Radio ... +


In 1939 Poland, Frederick and Anna Bronski perform at their theater in Warsaw as German troops gather on the country’s western border. During intermission, Anna retires to her dressing room, where Sasha Kinski, her dresser, presents her with a bouquet of yellow roses from Lieutenant Andre Sobinski, a handsome young aviator who is anxious to meet her. Later, government official Dr. Boyarski halts a musical sketch satirizing Adolf Hitler, fearing it may hasten a German invasion. When Frederick replaces the sketch with his solo piece, “Highlights from Hamlet, ” Anna sends a message to Andre, instructing him to come to her dressing room when her husband utters the words, “To be or not to be.” As the soliloquy begins, Andre conspicuously rises from his seat and makes his way to the dressing room. Unable to contain his outrage, Frederick surprises everyone by infusing his performance with uncharacteristic emotion. Anna enjoys Andre’s attention and invites him to return the next evening during Frederick’s soliloquy, which he does. However, their flirtation is interrupted by news of war with Germany, prompting Andre to go to his country’s defense. Company members gather in Anna’s dressing room, despondent over the news. Frederick assumes they share his grief over Andre’s interruption of his performance, until Anna informs him of the Nazi invasion. Three weeks later, Poland is a defeated nation, occupied by German troops. Andre and several of his fellow aviators escape Poland and continue to fight from England. They receive a visit from Professor Siletski, the voice of “Radio Free Poland,” and ask him to contact their friends and relatives, some of whom are members of the Polish Resistance. As Siletski compiles a list of names and addresses, Andre asks Siletski to deliver the message, “To be or not to be,” to the famous actress, Anna Bronski. The professor’s indifferent reaction to Anna’s name leads Andre to suspect him of being a Nazi spy. When Andre learns that Siletski has left for Warsaw, he returns to his country to retrieve the list and kill the professor. Meanwhile, German soldiers begin the deportation of Polish Jews, Gypsies, and homosexuals to concentration camps, prompting Gruba, the Bronskis’ wardrobe mistress, to hide her Jewish cousin, Rifka, in the theater cellar. Andre arrives at the theater in search of Anna, and Gruba directs him to Sasha’s apartment, where the Bronskis are forced to live after Colonel Erhardt of the Gestapo seized their home for his headquarters. Andre finds Anna alone in the apartment and informs her that Siletski is a traitor. While Andre rests from his journey, Anna is summoned to Siletski’s hotel room. The professor questions her about the content of Andre’s message, and when he is satisfied that she is not a spy, invites her to spend the evening with him. She agrees, but asks to return to the apartment to change her clothes. Meanwhile, Frederick enters the apartment and is furious at finding Andre. Anna returns with the news of her invitation from Siletski, and Andre advises her to keep the appointment to prevent the professor from delivering the list to Erhardt. Once she has left, Frederick, Andre, and several members of the company put on German uniforms and decorate the theater office to resemble Gestapo headquarters. Actors Dobish and Ratkowski, posing as Nazi officers, escort Siletski to the office to meet with Frederick, who is disguised as Col. Erhardt. The professor hands the list to Frederick, informing him of a duplicate copy at the hotel. He adds that Anna is waiting in his hotel room, mentioning “To be or not to be” as her “love code” with Andre. Frederick turns his back to hide his emotion from Siletski, who notices the words, “Property of Bronski Theatre,” stenciled on the actor’s chair. The professor draws his pistol and escapes into the theater, where he is shot to death by Andre. Frederick enters the hotel disguised as Siletski and finds Anna in the company of Captain Schultz, aide to Col. Erhardt. The couple requests a moment of privacy, during which they destroy the duplicate list, and Frederick forgives Anna for her purported affair with Andre. Frederick is brought to Erhardt’s office and gives a convincing performance as Siletski. The next day, Sasha is arrested by the Gestapo, German soldiers discover Siletski’s body, and Erhardt orders a command performance honoring Adolph Hitler at the Bronski Theatre. Posing as Siletski, Frederick telephones the colonel, hoping to secure Sasha’s release. However, Erhardt is aware of Siletski’s murder and orders the body delivered to his office prior to Frederick’s arrival. When the actor is presented with the body, he convinces Erhardt that the professor is an impostor, and obtains Sasha’s release. Fearing for Frederick’s safety, a group of actors, disguised as German officers, arrest him, and leave Erhardt in a state of confusion. At the theater, Andre plans the troupe’s escape to England following the command performance. Gruba reveals a large group of Jewish refugees hiding in the cellar and convinces Andre to bring them along. That night, as the show is underway, the refugees and actors are disguised as clowns and paraded through the theater to a truck parked outside. An actor named Lupinsky creates a distraction by threatening to assassinate Hitler. He is arrested by fellow actors dressed as Nazi officers, who close the show and escort Frederick, disguised as Hitler, to the dictator’s limousine. The truckload of actors and refugees don German uniforms as they follow the limousine to the airport, where Hitler’s private airplane awaits. An actor named Ravitch, calling himself “General von Seidelmann,” relieves the security detail and begins boarding the airplane. However, the Germans notice clowns among counterfeit soldiers and open fire, causing a stray bullet to disable the plane’s compass. As the plane becomes airborne, it severs a telephone wire, preventing the Germans from notifying their comrades. After several hours, the plane is low on fuel and Andre is forced to land, unsure if they have reached their destination. Frederick offers to investigate and enters an English pub, shocking the patrons with his Hitler disguise. Later, General Hobbs commends the Bronskis on their service, and grants Frederick the opportunity to perform “Highlights from Hamlet. ” During his soliloquy, a young British officer leaves his seat for Anna’s dressing room. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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