During World War II, Mel Brooks served as a Corporal in the U.S. Army in France, where part of his duties included defusing land-mines before the infantry moved into the area. Brooks fought in the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944. Charles Durning, who plays the Nazi S.S. commander, Colonel Erhardt, was also a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, and was present at the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Buchenwald.
The first Hollywood studio film to explicitly refer to the inclusion of gay men in the groups condemned to the Nazi death camps. The use of fabric patches by the Nazis to identify "undesirables" other than Jews is a historical fact. Pink and red triangles (depending on the region of Europe) were used to identify sexual deviants, predominantly homosexuals.
A street sign in the film reads "Ulica Kubelski," or "Kubelski Street" in Polish. Jack Benny, whose real name was Benjamin Kubelsky, starred in the original To Be or Not to Be (1942).
In an interview, Mel Brooks told the following story: "During the filming of a particular group scene, things were not going swimmingly, to say the least. Everyone seemed to be taking turns flubbing lines, laughing and joking, and Anne (Anne Bancroft) was getting a wee bit perturbed. Finally, she stood up and said, 'Let me remind all of you. I'm sleeping with the producer" (Brooks). Then she said, 'Okay, let's take it from the top!" Everyone just lost it, composure went out the window!"
Estelle Reiner, who plays Gruba the wardrobe lady, is the wife of Mel Brooks's best friend, Carl Reiner, and the mother of Rob Reiner.
Mel Brooks tells a character named Sondheim to "Send in the clowns!" Broadway Composer Stephen Sondheim wrote the song "Send in the Clowns" for his musical "A Little Night Music".
There are several instances in this movie remake, where dialogue is taken verbatim from To Be or Not to Be (1942).
Max Brooks, the only child of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, appears as "Rifka's son," one of the Jewish refugees, marking his only appearance in one of his father's movies. As an adult, Max Brooks wrote the World War Z (2013) zombie series, which inspired the movie starring Brad Pitt.
Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft were married from 1964 until Bancroft's death in 2005. This was the only movie in which they starred together, and appeared as husband and wife. However, Anne Bancroft made a cameo appearance as herself in Silent Movie (1976), in which she danced a tango with Brooks, and also appeared as a gypsy woman in Brooks' Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995). Also, Bancroft acted in The Elephant Man (1980) and starred in 84 Charing Cross Road (1987), two movies that were produced by Brooks.
Colonel Earhardt's joke is about Hitler becoming a "pickle". In German, "pickel" means "pimple" or "zit".
The novelty rap song "To Be or Not to Be (The Hitler Rap)" is not actually heard in the movie, but it does feature on this movie's soundtrack. The song was a music video tie-in for the movie, and was also release as a 45 rpm single on vinyl. The song peaked at the number twelve spot on the UK Singles Chart during February 1984, and in the same year at number three on the Australian Singles Chart (Kent Music Report). The song was banned from being broadcast on television and radio in Germany, making it a highly controversial and politically sensitive single in that country. This was due to is treatment of Nazi involvement in World War II.
The opening song-and-dance number "Sweet Georgia Brown" featuring Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft was a comic rehash in Polish of the old "Ginger and Fred" Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers song-and-dance number. The routine maintains the tradition of his movies featuring a wacky song-and-dance number, even though he is neither writer nor director of this film, but producer.
Tim Matheson played Lieutenant Andrei Sobinski in this film, while his 1941 (1979) co-star Robert Stack played him in To Be or Not to Be (1942).
Directorial debut of Alan Johnson, who was best known for working as a choreographer, including on several of Mel Brooks's films, starting with the infamous 'Springrime for Hitler' number in The Producers (1967).
A made-for-television show An Audience with Mel Brooks (1983) starring Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft was released as a promotional tie-in with this film.
Before this remake was made, Mel Brooks, a Jewish-American comedian, had been famous for, amongst other things, for making fun of Adolf Hitler, Nazis, and Nazi Germany. His earlier film The Producers (1967) parodied them in a play called "Springtime for Hitler", which was that movie's working title as well. In this movie, Brooks' voice can be heard singing the line "Don't be stupid/Be a schmarty/Come and join the Nazi Party" during the "Springtime for Hitler" number. For the Broadway musical version, he repeats this task, with the live actor lip-synching to a recording of Brooks' voice. The Producers (1967) was also the inspiration for the title of U2's album, "Achtung Baby".
Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning appeared in The Hindenburg (1975). They later appeared as a husband and wife in Home for the Holidays (1995).
In this remake of To Be or Not to Be (1942), all of the main character names had at least some minor change from the original film. Mel Brooks plays the Jack Benny role with a character name change from Joseph Tura to Frederick Bronski; Anne Bancroft plays the Carole Lombard role, also with a character name change from Maria Tura to Anna Bronski; Charles Durning plays Colonel Erhardt which was the Sig Ruman role of Colonel Ehrhardt, but now with a slight change in spelling; Tim Matheson plays the Robert Stack part, the character's first name being changed, from Lieutenant Stanislav Sobinski to Lieutenant André Sobinski; and José Ferrer takes the part played by Stanley Ridges, the character name remaining the same, except for a slight change in spelling again, from Professor Siletsky to Professor Siletski.
Familiar Line: the phrase "Heil myself" was also a song lyric in the stage and film versions of "The Producers" also written by Mel Brooks.
This movie's title, as with the earlier version To Be or Not to Be (1942), is taken from a line in William Shakespeare's "Hamlet", written around the year 1600. The "To be or not to be" line is one of the most famous quotations in literature, taken from Hamlet's soliloquy. As both versions of this film involve a Polish theatrical troupe, this is therefore explains the relevance of the line as a film title. The speech it appears in: "To be or not to be - that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune: Or to take arms against a sea of troubles. And by opposing end them. To die--to sleep, No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to: 'tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep; To sleep, perchance to dream--ay, there's the rub: For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause--there's the respect That makes calamity of so long life. For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, Th'oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely, The pangs of dispriz'd love, the law's delay, The insolence of office, and the spurns That patient merit of th'unworthy takes, When he himself might his quietus make With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear, To grunt and sweat under a weary life, But that the dread of something after death, The undiscovere'd country, from whose bourn No traveller returns, puzzles the will, And makes us rather bear those ills we have Than fly to others that we know not of? Thus conscience does make cowards of us all, And thus the native hue of resolution Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought, And enterprises of great pitch and moment With this regard their currents turn awry And lose the name of action."