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To Be or Not to Be
To Be or Not to Be
Actors: Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, Robert Stack, Felix Bressart, Lionel Atwill
Directors: Ernst Lubitsch, J.C. Nugent
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Military & War
NR     2005     1hr 39min

A POLISH THEATRE TROUP IS PUT OUT OF BUSINESS BY THE NAZIS UNTILTHEY BECOME INVOLVED IN ESPIONAGE AND FIND THEIR SKILLS BEING PUT TO THE ULTIMATE TEST.

     
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Movie Details

Actors: Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, Robert Stack, Felix Bressart, Lionel Atwill
Directors: Ernst Lubitsch, J.C. Nugent
Creators: Ernst Lubitsch, J.C. Nugent, Edwin Justus Mayer, Melchior Lengyel, Ralph Spence
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Military & War
Sub-Genres: Comedy, Classics, Military & War
Studio: Warner Home Video
Format: DVD - Color - Closed-captioned,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 03/01/2005
Original Release Date: 03/06/1942
Theatrical Release Date: 03/06/1942
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 1hr 39min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 9
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French

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Movie Reviews

Carole Lombardo's final movie and Jack Benny's best
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 02/13/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

""To Be or Not to Be" has the distinction of being the last movie starring Carole Lombard before her tragic death in an airplane crash in 1942 and is also remembered as having Jack Benny's finest film performance. But beyond the qualities of the stars Ernst Lubitsch's film deserves to be singled out for its anti-Nazis position, a distinction shared with Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" and few other films. Keep in mind that the film was released on February 15, 1942, not only a month after Lombard's death but only two months after Pearl Harbor, which means it was in the works before the United States entered World War II. Lubitsch and Melchior Lengyel came up with the story, which was turned into a screenplay by Edwin Justus Mayer. The story of "To Be or Not to Be" is of a Polish theatrical company that is in Warsaw preparing to perform an anti-Nazi melodrama on the eve of World War II. In the leading roles are the husband and wife team of Maria (Lombard) and Joseph Tura (Benny), who are trained in Shakespeare. However, the production is canceled by the Polish government because they are afraid Germany will attack the country is a play critical of the Nazis goes on (you know how touchy Hitler can be). So the Turas put on "Hamlet" instead and while Joseph does Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy, Maria is visited backstage by Lieutenant Stanislav Sobinski (Robert Stack), a young pilot in the Polish Air Force. Then the war breaks out, Sobinski makes it to London to fight with the RAF, and the Turas remain in occupied Warsaw. While in London Sobinski meets with Professor Siletsky (Stanley Ridges), a Nazi agent posing as a Polish patriot, who gets the names of friends and relatives from the pilots. Sobinski becomes suspicious and is sent to Warsaw to recover the list from Siletsky before he gives it to the Nazis. In Warsaw Maria helps Sobinski, but then she is arrested by the Gestapo as Siletsky tries to get her to join the Third Reich. To rescue his wife Joseph and the other actors masquerade as Nazi soldiers and end up with one of them (Tom Duggan) dressing up as Hitler to help in the great escape. This is a comedy, but it is not a broad comedy in which the whole thing descends into slapstick, otherwise the overt attempts at anti-Nazi propaganda would not work. There is a similarity between "To Be or Not to Be" and the television situation comedy "Hogan's Heroes," in terms of presenting the Nazis as incompetent buffoons, personified by Sig Ruman as Colonel Ehrhardt. The difference is that Lubitsch still manages to work in the idea that the Nazis are also killer clowns. However, the biggest joke is that these actors, less than inspiring on the stage in Shakespeare, are so convincing playing Nazis. Meanwhile, Joseph cannot quite bring himself to belief that Maria is actually cheating on him. Keep in mind that when this film was made "concentration camps" did not mean what they mean today; the terms was used by the United States to describe the camps in which Japanese-Americans were interred during the war. But then when you see Jack Benny walk in as a Nazi you know this is a different time and place. The humor is pretty coarse for a film from the early Forties (e.g., Ehrhardt recalls Joseph's performance of "Hamlet" and declares, "What he did to Shakespeare we are doing to Poland"), but then keep in mind who is being made fun of here and you have to admire the bite that they put into some of these bits. Benny is pretty much perfect for this part and Lombard sparkles throughout. As is usually the case, the original is much better than the 1983 remake with the husband and wife team of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft."
A gem, Lombard at her most lovely and Benny at his funniest
Simon Davis | 06/12/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I'm so surprised that this classic is not revived more often or is not better known. It really is one of the most superb films turned out during the war years and is significant for a number of diverse reasons. One is that Carole Lombard, the stunning comedienne par excellence of the 30's and wife of Clark Gable was killed in a plane crash on a war bond selling tour soon after completing her role in it and secondly that Jack Benny, normally regarded as a radio personality, has the film role of a lifetime in this classic and has never been better.The film has so many wonderful moments and features that it is hard to know where to begin. Carole Lombard, one of my favourite actresses of the 1930's has never been better than in this role and it is a melancoly experience watching her so radiant, so beautiful and full of life in this her last film prior to her death. The role of Maria Tura is at once street smart, sexy and totally up to taking on the Nazi's in the script. This performance stands up there with all her classic performances in "Twentieth Century" "My Man Godfrey" "Hands Across The Tabe" "In Name Only" and "Vigil In The Night". Jack Benny, famous for his radio performances and later television work shines in the role of her husband Joseph Tura your typical egocentric actor who is known for putting the "ham" in Hamlet once and for all !!! The supporting cast is first rate with Robert Stack shining in one of his earliest roles as Lieut. Stanislav Sobinski, Maria's lover who always exits the front row of the theatre as Joseph Tura the hammest actor in all of Warsaw launches into his "To be or not to be........ speech and has his big moment ruined night after night!! The fact that Stack and the rest of the cast neither look or sound Polish in no way detracts from the magic of this film as we are sent on a rollicking satire about the Nazi takeover of Warsaw which of course was very topical at this time. Indeed the subject matter was considered very daring at this time and "To Be Or Not To Be" was one of the first films along with "The Mortal Storm" to attack Nazism at a time when the outcome of the war was still very uncertain.The film has the rare distinction of successfully combining humour with a strong depiction of the terror inflicted on countless people by the Nazis. It maintains its own personal dignity throughout and the credit for that must be laid at the feet of Ernst Lubitsch who here combines his own rich European experience with the crack - crack volleys of a fast moving Americam satire. The superb end result (which was not a big success upon release, but has been redeemed with the passing of time) has much to do with his confident and sure handling of potentially very risky material for that time.The wonderful humour of this piece comes from the great characterisations by all the cast and the storyline which has them as a Polish theatrical troupe which is pulled into working as resistance workers to aid a Polish Lieutenant find safety from the Nazis. What ensures is a hilarious series of events that is both clever and witty while succeeding in jogging our thoughts about man's inhumanity to man. If you are an admirer of the sure Lubitsch touch in film or are just a fan of sharp, fast moving satires with plenty of dark humour thrown in for good measure "To Be Or Not To Be" is not to be missed. For me I enjoy it as a fitting farewell performance for the beautiful Carole Lombard. It makes you wonder about all the great roles she would have undoubtedly played in the 1940's had she lived. Alas that's something we are doomed never to find out about. Enjoy this classic over a number of screenings as you will need that many to fully appreciate all the charm and wit of this great classic."
A CLASSIC, Voted to AFI 's Top 100 Years, 100 Laughs List
forrie | Nashua, NH United States | 03/06/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Ernst Lubitsch's 1942 version of "TO BE OR NOT TO BE", is the #1 BLACK COMEDY classic of all-time. Selected by the American Film Institute (AFI) in 2000 as one of the greatest films in the "TOP 100 Years, 100 Laughs" category. (Carole Lombard was also selected as one of the Top 25 Hollywood Female Legends. (AFI's 100 Years 100 Stars (1999)).NOTE: Black or Dark Comedy - are movies that can make us laugh but also instill an uneasy feeling. The laughter comes from subject matter that is offbeat & perhaps a little macabre.Summary: Director Ernst Lubitsch's Black Comedy is about a Polish troupe of actors headed by Joseph Tura (Jack Benny - hysterical (best known for radio & television)) & his wife Maria (Carole Lombard - talented & beautiful (this was her final picture. She died in an airplane crash 3 weeks after film completion. Returning home to her husband Clark Gable from a very successful "War Bond" drive.). They find their work & lives interrupted because of Nazi occupation during WWII. To protect the Polish underground the actors become involved in various schemes requiring them to impersonate Nazi Officials & soldiers confusing their operations. This creates a satirical (Dark Comedy) situation. The actors are able to expose a dangerous double agent, foil the Nazis & escape the country safely.A genius Director, fabulous cast "TO BE OR NOT TO BE (1942)" remains as one of the great films filled with; propaganda, farces, spies, thrills, melodrama, tragedy, even vaudeville wrapped all in one unforgetable package!!!!This VHS Video, 99 minutes in length, no extras, presented in Black & White, Full Screen format w/hi-fi sound. Excellent quality picture & sound.This is a timeless Black Comedy that everyone can enjoy & experience the war years of Hollywood & its invaluable contribution. "To Be Or Not To Be" that is the answer! Enjoy."
An utterly perfect comedy, but . . .
Robert Moore | Chicago, IL USA | 11/09/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I find it exasperating that so few of Ernst Lubitsch's films are currently available in either video or DVD. By any reckoning, he is one of the few absolute masters of the cinema (he even makes Andrew Sarris's list of Pantheon directors). A few of his best films (this one, HEAVEN CAN WAIT, NINOTCHKA) are in print, but several others are not, while lesser films like ANGEL, BLUEBEARD'S EIGHTH WIFE, and THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER are. (A very fine film that Lubitsch began but was finished by Frank Borzage because of Lubitsch's illness is also available, DESIRE, with Marlene Dietrich.) I have no complaint that these movies are available, but when superior films such as ONE HOUR WITH YOU, THE LOVE PARADE, and, my own personal favorite, TROUBLE IN PARADISE, are not, then something has gone wrong. I would also like to see MONTE CARLO, DESIGN FOR LIVING, and LADY WINDEMERE'S FAN rereleased. Ernst Lubitsch was the unrivaled master of the film comedy, no less than Hitchcock was master of the suspense thriller. Both managed to transcend their own chosen genres to make numerous screen classics. We deserve access to all of his films."