To Be or Not to Be
The Criterion Collection
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As nervy as it is hilarious, this screwball masterpiece from Ernst Lubitsch (Trouble in Paradise) stars Jack Benny (The Jack Benny Program) and, in her final screen appearance, Carole Lombard (My Man Godfrey) as husband-and-wife thespians in Nazi-occupied Warsaw who become caught up in a dangerous spy plot. TO BE OR NOT TO BE is a Hollywood film of the boldest black humor, which went into production soon after the U.S. entered World War II. Lubitsch manages to brilliantly balance political satire, romance, slapstick, and urgent wartime suspense in a comic high-wire act that has never been equaled.
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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!
As well, an excellent essay is included about the film, the original trailer, a French documentary about Lubitsch (only OK) and other goodies. Thanks Criterion.