To Be or Not to Be (1983)

Movie review by
Grace Montgomery, Common Sense Media
To Be or Not to Be (1983) Movie Poster Image
Enjoyable over-the-top comedy has mature themes.
  • PG
  • 1983
  • 107 minutes

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Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Although the film is a slapstick comedy, it beautifully captures the message that no one should be persecuted based on their religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or lifestyle. This is best illustrated when one of the characters delivers a version of Shylock's speech from Hamlet to "Hitler" (being impersonated by Mel Brooks): "Hath not a Jew eyes, hath not a Jew hands?"

Positive Role Models & Representations

Although some of the characters start out as somewhat poor role models, by the end they all show that there are more important things in life than your own self-interest. Frederick especially proves this by overcoming his dislike of Andre (with whom his wife wanted to have an affair) and working with him to outsmart the Nazis and save his friends and countrymen. 

Violence

There are several scenes that use old footage from WWII showing the destruction of war. One character is taken by the Gestapo and shown later with a bruised face. Two characters also shoot at each other and one is killed, though his death is behind the scenes and there's no blood or graphic violence shown. His body later shows up in multiple scenes, though it's used in a comedic way and isn't graphic.

Sex

No nudity or actual sex scenes are shown, but adult relationships, including adultery, are central to the plot. One of the main characters creates an elaborate plan to have an affair with a pilot, and they're shown kissing and embracing. There's also quite a bit of sexual innuendo around their planned affair. There's also a very stereotypical portrayal of homosexuality and some semi-racy dance costumes.

Language

While there's no swearing in the movie, Frederick does use a gay slur in the line "Without Jews, fags, and gypsies, there is no theater." A Nazi soldier also refers to a gay character as a "sissy."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that To Be or Not to Be is an over-the-top farce that makes light of usually dark themes like adultery, WWII, and Nazis. There's quite a bit of adult innuendo (though no real sexy stuff is shown), and some goofy violence that isn't very graphic. Although it's a silly comedy, there are some intense scenes and themes that make the film best for older tweens and up.

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Teen, 14 years old Written byMelBrooksFan June 1, 2016

Funny film lampoons Nazis

This is in my top five favorite Mel Brooks films for multiple reasons. First, I love that Mel Brooks and the late Anne Bancroft, who were married in real life,... Continue reading

What's the story?

To Be or Not to Be is a Mel Brooks' remake of the 1942 film of the same name. Polish theater stars (and married couple) Frederick (Mel Brooks) and Anna Bronski (Anne Bancroft) get tangled up in a secret plot to save members of the Polish underground. When Andre Sobinski (Tim Matherson), Anna's would-be-lover, asks for her help capturing a traitor, the couple risks their own lives to aid Andre and save their countrymen. Hitler is impersonated, dead bodies show up unexpectedly, and an entire theater troupe joins in to stop the Nazis and escape from Poland.

Is it any good?

If you're a fan of Mel Brooks' comedies or slapstick, you'll love To Be or Not to Be. Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks, who were actually married in real life, are brilliant as Anna and Frederick. And all of the actors seem to be having so much fun with their roles, you can't help but enjoy yourself, too. But what really makes it such a wonderful film are the unexpectedly poignant moments that balance out the humor. Kids may not have much interest, but teen cinema buffs will want to check it out.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the role of Hamlet in the movie. Why do you think the Shakespeare play plays such a central role in the movie? What themes in the play mirror the movie?

  • Why do you think Mel Brooks chose to remake the 1942 film? Do you think it was less relevant in the 1980s than it was in the 1940s?

Movie details

For kids who love comedies

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