WEIRDLAND: To be or Not To Be (starring Carole Lombard): New Criterion Release

Thursday, August 15, 2013

To be or Not To Be (starring Carole Lombard): New Criterion Release

Carole Lombard — To Be or Not to Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942)

Carole Lombard’s final film called on the actress to marshal her considerable talents to depict the only character in a story about role playing who is always portraying herself. In To Be or Not to Be, Ernst Lubitsch’s early entry in what would become an enduring genre—the send-up of Nazism that uses comedy to lampoon its excesses but also underscore its threat—Lombard plays Maria Tura, stage star in Warsaw on the eve of Germany’s invasion of Poland. The company she and her actor husband Joseph (Jack Benny) headline find themselves in the production of their lives, as they impersonate Nazi officers and sympathizers, first in order to keep a list of underground operatives from falling into enemy hands, then to make their escape to England.

While Joseph plays various military officers and a professor, Maria is deployed as herself—glamorous actress charged with manipulating various smitten men. As we learn early in the film, though, this is business as usual for Maria, who has made a habit of entering into dalliances with younger men. According to the recurring gag that gives the film its title, during performances of Hamlet, in which Joseph plays the lead and Maria is Ophelia, the “to be or not to be” soliloquy signals her lover to leave his seat and come to her dressing room.

Carole Lombard & Robert Stack on set of “To Be or Not To Be”

Her first meeting with suitor Lieutenant Sobinski—played with naïveté and swagger by a very young Robert Stack—demonstrates Maria’s (and Lombard’s) virtuosity. When asked to tell her about himself, the star-struck Sobinski describes his airplane, an extended double entendre to which he remains oblivious, but which Maria engages with increasing interest, Lombard demonstrating her ability to imbue characters with frank sexuality without resorting to bawdiness or vulgarity. ~Michael C. Nelson Source:

As nervy as it is hilarious, this screwball masterpiece from Ernst Lubitsch stars Jack Benny and, in her final screen appearance, Carole Lombard as husband-and-wife thespians in Nazi-occupied Warsaw who become caught up in a dangerous spy plot. To Be or Not to Be is a Hollywood film of the boldest black humor, which went into production soon after the U.S. entered World War II. Lubitsch manages to brilliantly balance political satire, romance, slapstick, and urgent wartime suspense in a comic high-wire act that has never been equaled.

New, restored 2K digital film transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
New audio commentary featuring film historian David Kalat
Pinkus’s Shoe Palace, a 1916 German silent short directed by and starring Ernst Lubitsch, with a new piano score by Donald Sosin
Lubitsch le patron, a 2010 French documentary on the director’s career
Two episodes of The Screen Guild Theater, a radio anthology series: Variety (1940), starring Jack Benny, Claudette Colbert, and Lubitsch, and To Be or Not to Be (1942), an adaptation of the film, starring William Powell, Diana Lewis, and Sig Ruman
PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien and a 1942 New York Times op-ed by Lubitsch

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