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To Be or Not to Be
Director: Ernst Lubitsch (Dir)
Release Date:   6 Mar 1942
Premiere Information:   Los Angeles premiere: 15 Feb 1942
Production Date:   6 Nov--24 Dec 1941
Duration (in mins):   98-100
Duration (in feet):   8,894
Duration (in reels):   5
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Cast:   Carole Lombard (Maria Tura)  
    Jack Benny (Joseph Tura)  
    Robert Stack (Lieut. Stanislav Sobinski)  
    Felix Bressart (Greenberg)  
    Lionel Atwill (Rawitch)  
    Stanley Ridges (Professor Siletsky)  
    Sig Ruman (Col. Ehrhardt)  
    Tom Dugan (Bronski)  
    Charles Halton (Producer Dobosh)  
    George Lynn (Actor-adjutant)  
    Henry Victor (Capt. Schultz)  
    Maude Eburne (Anna)  
    Halliwell Hobbes (Gen. Armstrong)  
    Miles Mander (Major Cunningham)  
    Armand Wright (Makeup man)  
    Erno Verebes (Stage manager)  
    Leslie Dennison (Captain)  
    Frank Reicher (Polish official)  
    Peter Caldwell (William Kunze)  
    Wolfgang Zilzer (Man in bookstore)  
    Olaf Hytten (Polonius in Warsaw)  
    Charles Irwin (Reporter)  
    Leland Hodgson (Reporter)  
    Alec Craig (Scottish farmer)  
    James Finlayson (Scottish farmer)  
    Edgar Licho (Prompter)  
    Robert O. Davis (Gestapo sergeant)  
    Roland Varno (Pilot)  
    Helmut Dantine (Co-pilot)  
    Otto Reichow (Co-pilot)  
    Maurice Murphy (Polish R.A.F. flyer)  
    Gene Rizzi (Polish R.A.F. flyer)  
    Paul Barrett (Polish R.A.F. flyer)  
    John Kellogg (Polish R.A.F. flyer)  

Summary: In Warsaw, Poland, during August, 1939, actors at the Theatre Polsky rehearse their new play Gestapo , about the Nazi regime in Germany. When a question arises over the authenticity of actor Bronski's portrayal of Adolph Hitler, Germany's führer, Bronski goes into the public square to gauge public reaction. Hitler's apparent arrival in town causes a commotion until a child asks for the actor's autograph. Later, the actors perform in their production of William Shakespeare's Hamlet and the performance of the featured player, Joseph Tura, is marred when military aviator Lieutenant Stanislav Sobinski, sitting in the second row, gets up at the beginning of Hamlet's soliloquy and walks out. Unknown to Joseph, Stanislav has arranged to meet Joseph's beautiful wife, Maria, a popular actress, in her dressing room. Stanislav is an ardent fan of Maria and has fallen in love with her by reading every article and interview about her. Maria is flattered by Stanislav's attention and agrees to a flight in his bomber. When the Polish government prevents producer Dobosh from putting on Gestapo because the content might offend Hitler, the theater troupe reluctantly complies and continues with Hamlet . Maria also continues her clandestine meetings with Stanislav, and Joseph's overblown ego becomes bruised by the aviator's repeated departure from the second row during his soliloquy. Life has changed completely by the Spring of 1940, after Germany invades Poland without warning and the country is plunged into war. Stanislav is now a member of the Polish bomber pilot squadron for the Royal Air Force in England. As German troops overtake a devastated Warsaw, Nazi Colonel Ehrhardt places severe restrictions on the local citizens. Meanwhile, in England, Polish bomber pilots become excited when they learn that fellow countryman, Professor Siletsky, is returning to Warsaw on a secret mission. They give him the addresses of their families after he offers to communicate with them, and Stanislav gives him a secret code to give to Maria, which reads: "To be or not to be." Stanislav becomes suspicious of Siletsky because he is ignorant of the nationally known actress, and reports him to Military Intelligence. Further suspicions that Siletsky is a Nazi spy prompt British Military Intelligence to send Stanislav to Warsaw, so that he can preempt Siletsky's report to the Nazis on the Polish underground. Despite enemy fire, Stanislav parachutes safely into Poland, but is unable to reach the pre-arranged communication point at a bookstore, so he sends Maria, whom he has located once again, in his place. Siletsky has arrived early, however, and sends for Maria himself, ostensibly to give her Stanislav's message. Instead, Siletsky tries to seduce Maria into becoming a Nazi spy, and she puts him off temporarily by returning to her apartment for a change of clothes that are more suitable for a seduction. Joseph, in the meantime, has discovered his second row walk-out in his bedroom slippers, and demands an explanation, but Maria brushes Stanislav's presence aside to discuss the more important issue: making sure that Siletsky does not give his report to his superior officers. The actors formulate a plan in which Joseph impersonates Colonel Ehrhardt in order to obtain Siletsky's report. When Siletsky becomes suspicious because of Joseph's bad acting, however, he tries to escape. After a chase through the theatre, Stanislav shoots the traitor. Concerned about an additional copy of the report that Siletsky had in his trunk, Joseph goes to Siletsky's room at Gestapo headquarters and impersonates Siletsky. He is immediately taken away for a meeting with Colonel Ehrhardt by Ehrhardt's second-in-command, Captain Schultz, and continues to impersonate Siletsky by giving Ehrhardt a vague report on the Polish underground. The slow-witted Ehrhardt is satisfied with Joseph's report and arranges for him to leave the country, but when Joseph asks to take Maria along, as a novice Nazi spy, Ehrhardt insists on interviewing her. The Nazis find the real Siletsky dead at the theater, and when Joseph returns to Ehrhardt following Maria's visit, he is left alone in a room with Siletsky's body. Joseph cleverly shaves the real Siletsky's beard and attaches a false beard, thereby outwitting Ehrhardt, who tries to force Joseph into admitting he is an impostor. The ruse works until ham actor Rawitch and the rest of the acting troupe arrive impersonating Gestapo officials and "arrest" Joseph after declaring that he is an impostor. Although his friends were only hoping to save his life, Joseph is outraged that they foiled his plans to leave the country, and they all fear they will be killed when the Nazis discover their treachery. With little remaining hope, the actors again don Nazi uniforms and that evening infiltrate the opera house, which is packed with Nazi officials. After Hitler arrives for the evening's performance, his special security force lines the hall. According to plan, Jewish actor Greenberg bursts from the bathroom, and is captured by the Nazis. This provides Greenberg with his long-awaited opportunity to perform a portion of "Shylock's" speech from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice . The rest of the performers then emerge from the bathroom and command the situation. Joseph, posing as Hitler's own security chief, arrests Greenberg and demands that the "führer," really Bronski in disguise, leave the theatre immediately for his own safety. The real Gestapo officers then blindly follow Bronski out of the theatre into official cars. As the cars pull away, the railroad station explodes, and the actors realize that the Polish Underground is alive and well, and has struck a major blow against the Nazi regime. Ehrhardt, meanwhile, has trapped Maria in her apartment with hopes of seducing her, until Bronski arrives to pick her up. Ehrhardt is shocked when Maria leaves with his führer, and tries to shoot himself. The actors fly out of Poland in Hitler's own plane, and the German pilots willingly execute their führer's command by jumping out of the plane without parachutes. The acting troupe then lands safely in Great Britain, and Joseph, declared a hero, satisfies a dream by playing "Hamlet" in Shakespeare's homeland. His performance is disrupted, however, when a handsome young officer walks out from the second row during his soliloquy. 

Production Company: Romaine Film Corp.  
Production Text: An Ernst Lubitsch Production
Distribution Company: United Artists Corp.  
Director: Ernst Lubitsch (Dir)
  William Tummel (Asst dir)
  William McGarry (Asst dir)
Producer: Alexander Korda (Pres)
  Ernst Lubitsch (Prod)
Writer: Melchior Lengyel (Orig story)
  Ernst Lubitsch (Orig story)
  Edwin Justus Mayer (Scr)
Photography: Rudolph Maté (Photog)
Art Direction: Vincent Korda (Prod des by)
  J. MacMillan Johnson (Assoc art dir)
Film Editor: Dorothy Spencer (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Julia Heron (Int dec)
  Jack Caffey (Props)
Costumes: Irene (Miss Lombard's cost)
Music: Werner R. Heymann (Mus score)
Sound: Frank Maher (Sd)
Special Effects: Lawrence Butler (Spec eff)
Make Up: Gordon Bau (Makeup artist)
Production Misc: Walter Mayo (Prod mgr)
  Richard Ordynski (Tech supv)
  Victor Sutker (Casting dir)
Country: United States

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Romaine Film Corp. 27/3/1942 dd/mm/yyyy LP11178

PCA NO: 7834
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording

 
Genre: Comedy-drama
Sub-Genre: World War II
 
Subjects (Major): Actors and actresses
  Impersonation and imposture
  Nazis
  Warsaw (Poland)
  Poland--History--Occupation, 1939-1945
  World War II
 
Subjects (Minor): Air pilots, Military
  Bombing, Aerial
  Egotists
  England
  Gestapo
  Great Britain. Air Force
  Hamlet (Play)
  Infidelity
  Jews
  Love affairs
  The Merchant of Venice (Play)
  Seduction
  Spies
  World War II--Resistance movements

Note: According to a HR news item, Miklos Rosza was originally assigned to compose the score. The text of "Greenberg's" quote from William Shakepeare's play The Merchant of Venice is as follows: "If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?" To Be or Not To Be marked Carole Lombard's final film. Shortly after production was completed, Lombard embarked on a War Bond tour and was killed in an airplane crash in Jan 1942. Many reviewers echoed the sentiment of the Var review, which noted: "It's an acting triumph for Miss Lombard, who delivers an effortless and highly effective performance that provides memorable finale to a brilliant screen career."
       Although reviews for the film were mostly favorable, reviewers were critical of the farcical manner in which the Nazis were handled in the film. MPH 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 NYT , 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 any 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."
       When a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter also criticized Lubitsch for his "callous, tasteless effort to find fun in the bombing of Warsaw," and insinuated that this might be due to Lubitsch's Berlin heritage, Lubitsch responded to her in a letter since reprinted in a modern source. He suggested that her insinuations were propagandist by nature, and based on "false facts." In the film, he noted, the bombing of Warsaw is shown "in all seriousness; the commentation under the shots of the devastated Warsaw speaks for itself 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." Also criticized for his portrayal of the Poles, Lubitsch noted that he portrayed the Poles as courageous people.
       Modern sources note that Lubitsch had originally cast Miriam Hopkins in the role of "Maria Tura," but when Hopkins displayed dissatisfaction with the role, Carole Lombard urged her to withdraw, and was subsequently cast in her stead. This apparently was the only film produced by Romaine Film Corp. According to modern sources, Walter Wanger was slated to produce this film. However, when Wanger's busy schedule intervened, Alexander Korda took over, and reportedly contributed $100,000 of his own money to this production. To Be or Not To Be was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music (Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture). In 1983, Brooksfilms produced a remake of To Be or Not To Be , directed by Alan Johnson, and starring Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   21 Feb 1942.   
Daily Variety   18 Feb 42   p. 3.
Film Daily   19 Feb 42   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Nov 41   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Dec 41   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Dec 41   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   9 Jan 42   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   19 Jan 42   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Feb 42   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   18 Feb 42   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Mar 1942.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   21 Feb 42   p. 526.
New York Herald Tribune   30 Nov 1941.   
New York Times   7 Mar 42   p. 13.
New York Times   29 Mar 1942.   
Variety   18 Feb 42   p. 8.

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