Monday, December 12, 2011

To Be or Not to Be (1942)

Husband and wife stage actors Joseph and Maria Tura (Jack Benny and Carole Lombard) are in Warsaw when a young pilot (Robert Stack) falls in love with Maria. She tells him to visit her dressing room when her husband starts his soliloquy. You know the one. Very famous.

Anyhow, when the Nazi's invade, Lt. Sobinski flies to England to help with the war effort there. Professor Siletsky, working for military intelligence, lets slip that he will be going undercover to Warsaw, Sobinski asks him to deliver the message "To Be or Not to Be" to Maria. When it becomes clear that Siletsky has never heard of the great Maria Tura, our young Lieutenant becomes convinced he is a double agent. He flies to Warsaw ahead of him to warn the underground. The theatre company uses their theatrical skills to thwart the Nazis.

It was fairly brave of Hollywood to release a movie, early in US involvement (filmed before, actually), that showed the plight of civilians caught up in the crossfire. Heroic Americans Doing Everything Right was de rigueur when they strayed from fluffball musicals. Still, they weren't brave enough to use the word Jew. They implied the Hebrew heritage, but never said it.

This is a comedy, folks. In fact, my 11 year old declared it the funniest of dad's crappy old movies, high praise indeed. It's an interesting blend of grave seriousness and screwball comedy, and done so well that they augment each other rather than detract. Jack Benny, whom I've never seen before, was hilarious. I remember back in the day people trying to explain who Jack was by impersonating him. "Oh, he acted gay", I'd say. Seriously, look at a Benny impersonation and not think that! Anyhow, he was great and the chemistry with Poor Carole was pitch perfect. She would die before the movie was released.

And of course, Lionel Atwill pops up unexpectedly yet again! I didn't notice his name in the credits, but instead recognized him dressed as a Nazi. It was a small role. The movie encouraged me to see the Mel Brooks remake, which wasn't bad. But, sorry Mel, it doesn't hold a candle to the original. AMRU 4. By the way, Brooks isn't afraid to use the word Jew ...
"Maria Tura: It's becoming ridiculous the way you grab attention. Whenever I start to tell a story, you finish it. If I go on a diet, you lose the weight. If I have a cold, you cough. And if we should ever have a baby, I'm not so sure I'd be the mother.
Josef Tura: I'm satisfied to be the father."

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