HOLLYWOOD'S GOLDEN AGE
(Post 21 of 50)
It has been many years since I've seen To Be or Not to Be, and after watching it again, I think it is rightly regarded as a classic. The story is about a company of Polish actors during the time of the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939. The plot is thick with intrigue, but most of all it's also a very funny film. The cast is headed by Jack Benny. Jack later became one of the biggest stars on television during the 50's, where he always made fun of his movie career. But he is great in the lead role and very funny. His delivery at times reminds me of Groucho Marx, who is about the only other person I could picture playing this role of the hammy actor. This is also the last role for Carole Lombard, who died in an airplane crash shortly after this movie was made. She was also great here and her death was a great loss to cinema. I also like the fact that this movie came out right in the middle of World War II. Something to be said for mocking Hitler when he was still a force to be reckoned with. Much credit should also be given to director Ernest Lubitsch and screenwriters Melchior Lengyel and Edwin Justus Mayer.
And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Sig Ruman. German born Ruman played a great comic foil in many films, including the classics A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races, Ninotchka and Stalag 17. In To Be or Not to Be, Sig is a Nazi that just can't seem to get his facts right and despite his best efforts always seems to be duped. A couple of his scenes with Benny are real classics. His Colonel Erhardt seems like it may have been used a model for the incompetent Colonel Klink in the 60's TV show Hogan's Heroes.
This could have been a very bad war propaganda movie or a really lame comedy, but with the genius Lübitch ar the rudder this was both hilariously funny and sensititive to the actual situation in Poland at the time. As Kubrick later found out, the best way tell a horrifying story is to make it funny.ReplyDelete
I was listening to an audiobook by Dick Cavett when the author mentions this film and says that if you haven't seen To Be or Not to Be, you need to stop listening to this audiobook and see it immediately! I can't disagree.ReplyDelete