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Douglas Fairbanks Jr.,
In occupied Poland during WWII, a troupe of ham stage actors (led by Joseph Tura and his wife Maria) match wits with the Nazis. A spy has information which would be very damaging to the Polish resistance and they must prevent it's being delivered to the Germans. Written by
Ken Yousten <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I recall the first time I saw this movie how I was gripped by the humor, then by the intrigue about what came next, then by concern that Carol Lombard would be found out, and then back to the humor again. This film has considerable darting between its emotion-inducing scenes. That makes it all the more a great satire and comedy. Of course, I knew it was to be a comedy. What else could it be with Jack Benny and Carole Lombard? Still, a somewhat zany story, with great screen writing and equally great direction by Ernst Lubitsch, was able to hold sway over my viewing.
Then we add superb acting all around. Carol Lombard is excellent in her role as Maria Tura. Her humorous lines are very good, but as in many other films, her "straight man" role plays perfectly with Jack Benny's Joseph Tura. His are the exaggerated blown-up lines, side glances, smirks and assorted facial expressions that ignite our uproarious laughter. Since my first viewing, I now watch this film for the pure humor and satire, and I watch for the many little subtleties that I often miss in such clever films on first viewing. And, they're not all by the main stars.
The movie has several top-flight supporting actors of its day. They are the source of many of the laughs. Most are members of the Polish theater group. Felix Bressart plays Greenberg, Tom Dugan plays Bronski, Charles Halton plays Producer Dobosh, and Lionel Atwill plays Rawitch. Viewers knew for sure that the role of SS Col. Ehrhardt would not be too stern or serious with Sig Ruman in the role. Robert Stack is very good in his role as Polish pilot, Lt. Stanislav Sobinski, and Stanley Ridges does well in the straightest role of the film, as Professor Siletsky.
"To Be or Not to Be" is one of a very small number of films that are genuine satire. Of course, satire is comedy and humor. But it can also be dramatic, action-filled, pathos, empathy and mystery or intrigue. It is most often a combination of these. The comedy is often the release or relief from what the story would be without it. The genius of comedy- satire is its ability to make audiences laugh by its treatment of a subject that most often is not otherwise very funny. Satire can cover any and all aspects of life, but the very best and that with unquestionably wide appeal is political satire. That's what we have in "To Be or Not to Be."
This film is a must for any movie library. It may not be as funny to younger audiences who haven't yet studied the history of the World War II period. The film was made in 1941, before the U.S. entered the war. Because America was still neutral, this movie was considered too controversial so it was held back. It was finally scheduled for release in April, 1942, Then a sad event preceded its opening when Carol Lombard was killed in a plane crash in February. She was just 33 years old.
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