Thursday, May 15, 2008
To Be or Not to Be
To Be or Not to Be; comedy, USA, 1942; D: Ernst Lubitsch, S: Jack Benny, Carole Lombard, Robert Stack, Stanley Bridges, Felix Bressart, Lionel Atwill
Warsaw, '39. Hitler is carelessly walking through the streets. But it's not Hitler, just a Polish actor who came out of the local theater in order to convince the director how he resembles the dictator so much that he will scare off passerbys. But the play gets forbidden and now only "Hamlet" is performed there, played by Joseph. Every time when he starts his monologue "To Be or Not to Be", soldier Stanislav disappears in order to seduce his wife Maria. But then World War II starts and Germans occupy the town, forcing Stanislav to flee to London. Yet he quickly returns in order to stop Professor Siletsky, a Nazi spy who wants to smuggle a list of Resistance workers. Joseph disguises himself as a Nazi and takes his list away. The Professor realizes the deceit, so they kill him. Joseph thus disguises himself as the Professor, so the actors are forced to save him from the Gestapo headquarters. Joseph and Maria, together with the actor playing Hitler manage to board a plane and save themselves in London.
Excellent comedy "To Be or Not to Be" with an ingeniously simple idea of disguise, is besides Chaplin's "Dictator" the biggest (and most actual) Hollywood commentary on the rigid Nazi regime back then, and on the rigid autocratic and military governments today. The whole film is masterfully directed by Ernst Lubitsch, equipped with his trademark "Lubitsch touch", wonderfully played by everyone involved, including the tragically perished actress Carole Lombard, while almost every single controversial moment is handled with unbelievable measure and wisdom. It all starts with the voice of the narrator, full of irony: "Lubinski, Kubinski...we are obviously in a Polish town. There's peace. Yet.", while the highlights start already with the scene of a actor playing Hitler, announcing: "I salute myself". The story obviously has sympathy for the Resistance workers who fight against their country being occupied by an aggressive empire, but the best twist is probably the scene where actor Joseph disguises himself as the Nazi Professor, not knowing that the Nazis already discovered the Professor is already dead: in order to spice up the situation, they put him in the same room with the corpse of the Professor (!), but he gets saved by his fellow actors who masked themselves as Nazi generals. Like a real satire, the movie doesn't mock a nation or specific people, but just their wrong beliefs and misguided policies, not managing to be completely hilarious as it wants to, even though already by reading the sole story can one get chuckles, and even has dramatic moments, inspiring a whole bunch of Nazi satires, most of which were simply half a century too late to have any sharpness as this one.