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To Be or Not to Be (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
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This black farce cast Benny, who never gave a more hilarious performance [Imagine him playing Hamlet and you'll get the idea.], and Lombard as a theatrical couple living in occupied Poland. With the help of a young Polish flier (Robert Stack) and their acting company, the pair is able to neutralize a Nazi spy, and then narrowly escape to England.
A simple plot, true, but it's how these performers go about accomplishing their task that has kept audiences laughing these many years...even when most movies about the Nazis were no longer funny.
This, incidentally, was Lombard's final movie.
Extras in this 2-disc set include audio commentary by film historian David Kalat, PINKUS' SHOW PALACE, a 1916 German silent short, directed by and starring Lubitsch, a 2010 French documentary on the director's career, plus two episodes of the radio anthology, "The Screen Guild Theatre": VARIETY with Jack Benny, Claudette Colbert and Lubitsch, and an adaptation of TO BE OR NOT TO BE with William Powell, Diana Lewis and Sig Ruman. The package also contains a Criterion booklet with an essay by critic Geoffrey O'Brien and a 1942 New York Times op-ed by Lubitsch.
© Michael B. Druxman
similarly, on radio in the '30s and '40s, Benny more than anyone else laid the groundwork for what would be known as the sitcom, and his series has been rewarded with a title of Greatest Old-Time Radio Comedy that still stands to this day.
radio (and, to a lesser extent, television) was Jack's true forte. his work in movies was nowhere hear as fullfulling. of the nearly 30 films he starred in, he would personally recommend only three, and was completely satisfied with only one of those.
as you might imagine from the title, Benny plays an actor. this neatly dovetails with one of his radio running-gags: a paragon of pomposity, Benny's radio counterpart considered himself a better actor than he in fact was, and he'd always get sulky when Acadamy Awards time rolled around.
the mastperiece of director Ernst Lubitch, this 1942 release tells the story of a Polish theatrical troupe who fight back when the Nazis invade in 1939. not that they defeat the Nazis, mind you. even if it could be rendered believeable that mere actors had manage to topple Der Furer himself, he'd of just turned up in the newspaper again the next morning. (this would've been particularly surreal given that the film was set three years in the past.) so they content themselves with foiling a plot to destroy the Polish Resistance, then getting the hell out of Nazi territory.Read more ›
Interesting notes: The film was Carole Lombard's last, and was released 2 months after she died in a plane crash.
Sig Ruman, who plays Col. Ehrhardt, would go on to play the original "Sgt. Schultz" in Billy Wiler's STALAG 17.
Look for an early role by Robert "Elliot Ness" Stack as the Polish pilot who has a crush on Carole Lombard's character.
It's funny, because if you've ever watched the Jack Benny show, every now and then somebody will remark on a film he made - THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT - as "THE ONE" film he made, and never lived it down. I realize it was played for comedic effect, but he certainly had nothing to be ashamed of his Tour-de- force role in this excellent film!
A film produced by a Jewish director (Ernst Lubitsch) making fun of Nazi's in 1941 was a risk on a variety of levels, and although it met with much critical (and political) condemnation it stayed in the minds of all the right people, with Mel Brooks more comedic remake and later frequent tips of the hat by Quentin Tarantino/The Weinstein Company in Inglourious Basterds (Blu-ray + DVD). Being Jewish and making a pseudo comedy about Hitler carries a certain degree of satisfaction, but for Lubitsch it was personal. Indeed, Lubitsch's face had been used in an early Nazi propaganda film and Hitler used him as an example of supposed corrupt influences within Europe that needed to be stamped out.
Although we would probably call it a black comedy today, Lubitsch himself described TBONTB as a "tragical farce or a farcial tragedy". The film is certainly funny in parts, excellent really, but frequently enough in an understated manner that for me at least seemed more drama than comedy. That is not a criticism by any means, but for anyone thinking this will be a "Mel Brooks" type of funny it simply won't be. It is pretty unique, which is pretty rare indeed. If you like intelligent comedy that relies on context and wordplay you won't be disappointed.
Carole Lombard and Jack Benny are superb and on top of their game here, and the film transfer is excellent. Even if you have never heard of Lubitsch but are Benny or Lombard fans you will like this movie.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
What can I say? One of my favorite movies. Jack Benny at his best, same for Carole Lombard. A great cast of studio regulars. Nicely rendered into HD. In B&W as I recall.Published 5 months ago by Vicki DM
This original version is the best with outstanding performances by Jack Benny and his supporting cast. A funny/sad story of the Nazi brutality and those who fought back.Published 12 months ago by Rodamu
Not many like this where it gets funnier every time you watch it. In situations as I mention here, that is a sign of a well written script. Read morePublished 13 months ago by The Purple Heart
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