To Be or Not to Be (1983)
That is the movie!
It was said that I should do something comedic this week, so I scrounged around and found something that should get some laughs - A Mel Brooks movie. I mean, have you watched a Brooks comedy and at least not gotten one laugh out of it? I haven't. So, safe bet aside, let's see how this Nazi-filled romp through a theater turns out!
Germany is slowly taking over the world without firing a shot. It isn't long before they are at the boarder of Poland - but that's all political, and for a theater it's all about the theater. The world-famous (in Poland) theater company of our main characters is putting on a show, providing some good ease of mind to people - with a pretty anticipated showing of "Naughty Nazis", an act that pokes fun at the Nazis and their leader. The head honchos come in and shut down that particular act though - not wanting to give any reason for Germany to invade them - and the show ends up getting a bit rescheduled. While the husband is on stage, however, the wife decides to call back her secret admirer from the audience - knowing how well his "Highlights of Hitler" segment can run. The husband sees the man leave during the performance, and takes quite an offense to a person walking out while he's performing, but the show must go on. When it happens a second time, he gets even more riled up - but something bigger comes up after the show than that.
Germany has invaded! Warsaw is getting bombed! The wife's admirer needs to leave so he can man the bombers, and as it turns out there's a certain Voice of Poland who is actually a turn coat. He's clued in to the traitorous intentions when he claims to know nothing of the theater company and its Poland-famous actors after specifically stating he also was from Warsaw. He tips off his Superior Officers, and they task him with dropping in by parachute to stop the man and his list from ever reaching the Gestapo. Of course, he has is own personal reasons of wanting to make sure that list is gotten rid of - including the "secret" message to the actor's wife! Things can't go all that simple though, as Warsaw is now occupied by Germans, and the actors have been kicked out of their house so it can be claimed for German use.
This is when the almost spy-quality plot kicks in. The wife gets summoned in the night to the traitor's room for interrogation, only to find out her name's inclusion was an accident and actually less to do with the war and more a possible affair. The traitor takes advantage of the situation and "asks" the wife to dinner, and after overhearing a phone call between him and the head Gestapo of the area informs him she needs to change before hand. What comes next is an elaborate play between the husband, the wife, the admirer, and the Nazis as the theater side tries to recover and destroy the list without getting killed. Can they survive these hard times and accomplish the mission?
If you are familiar with Brooks movies, you'll already understand that they are quirky. They don't pull their punches as much as some other movies, and that could offend some with thinner skin - but the fact it doesn't pull it's punches helps set up some pretty enjoyable jokes. It can be crude, and they can be fourth-wall breaking ("The rest of the show won't be in Polish!"), but it doesn't stop it from being funny. I'd wager as far as jokes go most should find at least one they can laugh about - if not multiple. The fact that there is a plot going on in the background, that could be argued even has multiple layers, is a nice touch to give the comedy something to go off of and also help it be enjoyable even aside from the comedy.
Costumes here are one of the more elaborate bits - being a theater is a large part of it. There's a lot of dressing up and playing Nazi, as well as of course the actual German troops wearing what we all recognize rather easily. The sets are pretty elaborate at times - even if some of the much fancier, prettier sets might not be on screen for long. It comes together well, and there's enough diversity between the characters that you don't have a hard time telling anyone apart even with the assortment of costumes that are going on. Part of that is how easily individual most the characters are - through actions or even just how they sound.
Of course the actors all do a fine job, including Brooks himself. It's not always an award winning performance or anything, but it's enough to be enjoyable and keep it fun. There's a particular scene where the admirer get's up and leaves to meet the wife during the husband's Shakespeare recitation, and the reaction of the husband makes me feel very much that if a movie could react to people in the theater sometimes, it'd probably do that a lot more often than we might think. It also happens to have Lloyd as a Nazi soldier, whose interactions with his boss are amusing in their own right.
As expected, I got my laugh (or in actuality, a couple). It sometimes feels like they don't make movies like this anymore, but in a way I imagine they do and I just haven't managed to shuffle my way through the cheap cop-out comedies too focused on weenier jokes to notice them. It's smart at times, dumb at others, and doesn't care if someone get's offended or not. What it is is just plain fun. Check it out if you can find it - definitely so if you're already a Brooks fan.