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To Be Or Not To Be (January 15, 2008)

To Be Or Not To Be was produced 6 November to 24 December 1941, and released in March, 1942.

Although reviews for the film were mostly favorable, reviewers were critical of the farcical manner in which the Nazis were handled in the film. Motion Picture Herald noted that “this treats humorously of the Nazis at a time when the war news is not funny,” while others variously noted that it is “more grim than hilarious” and “the tragic reality of Warsaw’s situation is no laughing matter.” Bosley Crowther of the New York Times noted that “To say it is callous and macabre is understating the case – Mr. Lubitsch had an odd sense of humor – and a tangled script – when he made this film.” Lubitsch replied in a rebuttal to Crowther’s review that “I had made up my mind to make a picture with no attempt to relieve anybody from anything at the time; dramatic when the situation demands it, satire and comedy whenever it is called for. One might call it a tragical farce or a farcical tragedy – I do not care and neither do the audiences.” Again, responding to a negative Philadelphia Inquirer review, Lubitsch wrote, “the comments under the shots of the devastated Warsaw speak for themselves and cannot leave any doubt in the spectator’s mind what my point of view and attitude is towards those acts of horror. What I have satirized in this picture are the Nazis and their ridiculous ideology.” He also defended his portrait of the Poles under occupation, noting that he portrayed them as courageous people.

From today’s vantage point, without the contemporary concerns of a country going to war, this last film of Carole Lombard’s appears to be a wonderful comedy. It might be Jack Benny’s best performance on film, and there is a plethora of character actors supporting the comedy’s plot twists. A lovely movie – To Be Or Not To Be.