Saturday, November 20, 2010

To Be or Not To Be (1983 version)

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I had watched the original 1942 version of To Be or Not To Be, starring Jack Benny and Carol Lombard. Today I watched the 1983 remake with Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft.

First I would like to say that they are both good movies and worth watching. Although I might go so far as to call the original "great" rather than just "good."

The essential plot remains the same in both movies and the storyline remains basically unchanged. Some of the characters' names were changed in the remake; I don't know why but possibly it's because they sounded more Polish than some of the names in the original. That's only a wild guess on my part, however, and probably wrong.

One important new character was introduced in the remake: the homosexual "dresser" Sasha, played by James Haake. As the "dresser" he is responsible for the clothing and makeup of Anna Bronski (Anne Bancroft) and he is also her good friend. At one point near the movie's end he is arrested by Nazis because he is gay and his rescue becomes part of the remade storyline.

The comedy in the remake is broader and has the trademark stamp of Mel Brooks--it's just the kind of movie he makes. Sometimes the comedy even verges on the slapstick (when Brooks stomps on his prompter's hands, for example).

In my opinion, the original movie made better use of the suspense created by the conflict between the theater troupe and the Nazis; occasionally you almost forgot you were watching a comedy until suddenly another joke (almost) sneaked in. This gave both the suspense and the comedy greater impact. Like the difference between a pin-point shot with a paintball versus slathering a wall with a broad-stroked brush. The original's humor was more pointed and aimed; the Brooks version applied more or less equally throughout, and as a result, the suspenseful scenes lost some of their intensity.

I would easily recommend watching both, but personally, I think the original is better.

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