|Rudolph Maté||…||(photographed by)|
To Be or Not to Be is a 1942 American comedy directed by Ernst Lubitsch, about a troupe of actors in Nazi-occupied Warsaw who use their abilities at disguise and acting to fool the occupying troops. It was adapted by Lubitsch (uncredited) and Edwin Justus Mayer from the story by Melchior Lengyel. The film stars Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, Robert Stack, Felix Bressart, Lionel Atwill, Stanley Ridges and Sig Ruman. The film was released two months after actress Carole Lombard was killed in an airplane crash.
Lubitsch had never considered anyone other than Jack Benny for the lead role in the film. He had even written the character with Benny in mind. Benny, thrilled that a director of Lubitsch’s caliber had been thinking of him while writing it, accepted the role immediately. Benny was in a predicament as, strangely enough, his success in the film version of Charley’s Aunt (1941) was not interesting anyone in hiring the actor for their films.
For Benny’s costar, the studio and Lubitsch decided on Miriam Hopkins, whose career had been faltering in recent years. The role was designed as a comeback for the veteran actress, but Hopkins and Benny did not get along well, and Hopkins left the production.
Lubitsch was left without a leading lady until Carole Lombard, hearing his predicament, asked to be considered. Lombard had never worked with the director and yearned to have an opportunity. Lubitsch agreed and Lombard was cast. The film also provided Lombard with an opportunity to work with friend Robert Stack, whom she had known since he was an awkward teenager. The film was shot at United Artists, which allowed Lombard to say that she had worked at every major studio in Hollywood.
The Nazis have never been mocked better
Author: gogoschka-1 from wherever good films play
20 December 2013
Comedies rarely stand the test of time – this one does: one of the funniest films I have ever seen.
When I was 16 (20 years ago, sigh…), this was re-released for a short time in a local art-house cinema, and my father insisted I go watching it with a friend. Well, teenagers don’t normally line up to see 50 year old black and white comedies, but – man, was I glad I did!
This is a pitch black comedy that feels as fresh today as it must have then; in fact, this must have been kind of a shock in 1942. There are no cheesy clean characters or cringe-worthy lines: this is a firework of fast, witty dialogue with an edge and the sexiest, cleverest (and most morally ambiguous) female protagonist I have ever seen in a film before the “New Hollywod” era.
Even the structure and the way the story evolves are very modern; there are flashbacks and twists and turns that might be very common in contemporary films but must have seemed almost “avant-garde” at the time.
The biggest fun, of course, is how Lubitsch takes the piss out of Hitler’s blind, fanatic followers. I don’t believe the Nazis have ever been mocked better than in this comedy masterpiece (and I only hope old Adolf has seen it, too). Mel Brooks’ remake is not bad, but the original is simply killer.