The favorite film:
To Be or Not to Be, a 1942 wartime comedy directed by the great Ernst Lubitsch and adapted from a story by Melchior Lengyel
Josef Tura and his wife Maria are leading players in a theater company in Poland. Living in Warsaw just before the 1939 invasion of Poland, the troupe is putting on a play about Nazi Germany. But as war looms in Europe, the troupe puts its acting talents to good use, cooking up disguises and alternate identities in order to fool the occupying Nazi troops.
- Carole Lombard as Maria Tura
- Jack Benny as Joseph Tura
- Tom Dugan as Bronski, an actor in the Maria & Joseph’s troupe
- Robert Stack as Lieutenant Stanislav Sobinski, an airman who falls for Maria
- Felix Bressart as Greenberg, an actor in Maria & Joseph’s troupe who impersonates Hitler in the film’s opening
- Stanley Ridges as Professor Siletsky, a double agent
- Lionel Atwill as Rawitch, an actor in Maria & Joseph’s troupe
- The film was released only a few months after Lombard’s tragic death in an airplane crash.
- Lubitsch wrote the character of Joseph with Jack Benny in mind.
- Miriam Hopkins was originally pegged for the role of Maria, which was supposed to be a comeback role for her. After Hopkins dropped out, Lombard requested Lubitsch’s consideration of her for the role.
- The film was initially a flop, both with critics and with audiences. While Lombard’s performance was praised by most, the film as a whole and Benny’s performance were panned. However, it is now considered one of Lubitsch’s best satires, eventually earning spots on the National Film Registry and AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Laughs.
- William Powell and Diana Lewis starred in a radio production of the story in 1943.
- A remake of the film was released in 1983 with Anne Bancroft filling Lombard’s role. It has also been adapted for the stage and remade by Bollywood.
- Jack Benny’s father reportedly walked out of the film because seeing his son in a Nazi uniform made him so upset. It took heavy convincing from Jack that the film was a satire for his father to sit through the entire thing.
- The opening narration!
- “At the moment, life in Warsaw is going on as normally as ever. But suddenly something seems to have happened! Are those Poles seeing a ghost? Why does this car suddenly stop? Everybody seems to be staring in one direction! People seem to be frightened, some terrified, even flabbergasted! Can it be true? It must be true, no doubt! The man with the little mustache — Adolf Hitler.”
- “Heil myself!”
- Maria desperately trying to convince Joseph that she doesn’t know who sent her flowers, but that they’re probably just from a fan of the theater
- “It’s true, Ella. I don’t know who it is, but I’m positive who it might be.”
- Oooh, romantic drama! Maria’s got a man on the side!
- Lt. Sobinski’s serious admiration of Maria.
- “Don’t tell you’ve never heard of Maria Tura!”
- Aw yeah, awesome book store!
- Though the film is a satirical comedy it also contains elements of suspense now and again. With people in disguise and secret double agents sending the hounds out for Maria, how can there not be any suspense?
- Maria: “Oh, you want me to be a spy!”
Siletsky: “Oh, now, come, come, come, that’s rather a crude word.”
Maria: “You know, I once played a spy. It was a great success, I had wonderful notices. It was really an exciting part!”
- Maria pretending to buy into Siletsky’s plan, letting him try to woo her with champagne, even kissing him!
- The Maria/Siletsky “Heil Hitler” kiss kills me every time. Carole delivers that line in such an obviously exaggerated way, but Siletsky totally buys into it, thinking that his kiss is enough to make her become completely invested in Nazism.
- Siletsky: “It’s nothing alarming. It’s only Shakespeare!”
- Mr. Tura breaking his disguise by getting fussy about Maria’s affair with the young pilot, Sobinski
- The theater chase scene, and the dramatic reveal of Siletsky’s death by raising the curtain
- Joseph’s spot-on Siletsky impression
- Joseph: “Maria, be honest, be frank, I’ve got to know… did you tell that fella to walk out of my soliloquy?”
- Joseph (as Siletsky): “Well, I, uh… I have the key in my hand, all I have find is… the lock.”
- (My pen died at this point so you’ll have to forgive me for the lack of final notes. But I can assure you that I love the ending bits of the film just as much as I enjoy the rest of it. :P)