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The Lubitsch comedy classic goes Blu on a beautiful new Criterion release....
Criterion / 99 Minutes / 1942 / Unrated / Street Date: August 27, 2013
Directed by expert farceur Ernst Lubitsch, To Be or Not To Be had the guts to be a WWII satire while the Great War was still going on. The film features a script that not only contains a handful of laugh out loud lines, but a complex, intelligent plot. It's a movie that deserves to be seen and admired. In her final screen appearance before her untimely death in a plane crash, Carole Lombard plays Maria Tura who, along with husband Joseph (Jack Benny), performs in a Polish theater troupe that mounts anti-Nazi plays.
The Germans force the troupe to stop publicly ridiculing Hitler and switch to straight Shakespeare. The company's involuntary production of Hamlet creates hilarious problems in Maria and Joseph's marriage when every night, without fail, a handsome young man rudely gets up and leaves the auditorium as Joseph performs the play's main soliloquy. The man is Polish aviator Stanislay Sobinski (a very young Robert Stack) and he's going to Maria's dressing room to express his undying love, which she reciprocates.
Things get complicated when Sobinski discovers that an Allied professor named Siletsky (Stanley Ridges) is actually a spy with plans to destroy the Warsaw resistance. Sobinski then teams with the Polish troupe to stop Siletsky from divulging crucial information to Nazi colonel Ehrhardt (Sig Rumann). This involves the troupe putting on the performance of its life, impersonating various German officials, including Hitler himself.
As the conceited Joseph Tura, Jack Benny is tremendous. Benny's hilariously pained look and pinched voice takes the edge off the controversy inherent in the material. Lombard matches him, using her own powers of beauty and intelligence. For those not familiar with To Be or Not To Be, the tone is a bit like a bland version (not meant as a disparagement) of Mel Brooks' The Producers. Not as silly, but just as farcical. Not as funny, but just as confident and fast moving. And don't forget, this is still a political black comedy that satirizes an enemy we were still fighting (in a war whose outcome with in doubt).