Title: To Be or Not To Be
Release Date: February 19, 1942
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Production Company: Romaine Film Corp
On the eve of a Presidential inauguration that is under the shadow of a white supremacist insurrection us two weeks ago, it seems unfortunate that a movie that makes light of Nazis would come up next on my list. Except, once I started watching this movie I found it so compelling I let my misapprehensions go. Set in 1939, the movie depicts a theatre company in Warsaw who support the Underground by using disguises and get themselves in and out of trouble. Despite being a very funny comedy this film makes the threat of the Nazis all the more menacing.
In this earlier version Jack Benny and Carole Lombard portray the married stars of a Warsaw theatre company named Josef and Maria Tura. A very young Robert Stack (but his distinguishing voice is recognizable) plays the Polish airman Lt. Stanislav Sobinski who inadvertently gets them caught up in a Gestapo plot. Benny is absolutely hilarious as the arrogant and hammy actor playing a part in everything he does. Lombard, in her last role before dying in a plane crash, is equally majestic as the quick-witted Maria.
I remember seeing at least parts of the 1983 remake with Mel Brooks (and more frequently, the unfortunate “Hitler Rap” music video) as a kid, but didn’t remember much about the movie. I can see why it would appeal to Brooks though as it has some of his dark, satiric humor as well as the willingness to be seen as doing something in “bad taste.”