To Be or Not to Be
In Sullivan’s Travel’s Joel McCrea tries to impress down-on-her-luck starlet Veronica Lake by promising to introduce her to ‘Lubitsch’, a name synonymous with power and artistry in 30s and 40s Hollywood. Following on a string of pre-war comedies that emphasized sexual innuendo and witty sophistication over ‘gags’, To Be or Not to Be came as a shock to audiences: Lubitsch’s audacious mix of farce, thriller and biting sarcasm was condemned for its “tasteless” humor and quickly disappeared from screens. Set in occupied Warsaw in 1939, the story concerns a Shakespearean troupe, headed by sexy Maria Tura (Lombard) and her ham actor husband Joseph (Benny), who become Nazi impersonators in a daring ruse to foil a political assassination. As the wall between play acting and reality crumbles, Lubitsch directs his performers through a dizzying array of entrances, exits, and costume changes, while unleashing a string of blistering one-liners, none more controversial than that of Sig Ruman’s backslapping Nazi commandant who says to Benny: “What you did to Shakespeare, we are now doing to Poland.” Critic James Harvey observed that To Be is “Lubitsch’s most modernist film (and) one of the least cynical comedies ever made… Evil is clearly named, but it is also brought closer to familiar feelings and situations than audiences expected.” Included in a 1997 series on American anti-Nazi films and in a Carol Lombard retrospective in 2003, the film was one of the best attended in last summer’s popular 16-film Lubitsch retrospective.
Bing Theater | Included in double-bill, $5 admission for this film only | Tickets: 323 857-6010 or purchase online.