Monday, June 12, 2017

To Be or Not to Be

There are many wonderful things about To Be or Not to Be which was recently revived as part of the current Ernst Lubitsch series at Film Forum. Firstly there’s Jack Benny playing the Hamlet of a great Polish actor, a great comic creation named Joseph Tura. And then there’s the famous interruption of  Hamlet’s soliloquy when a British flyer (Robert Stack) attempts to intercept Tura’s wife, Maria (Carole Lombard) in her dressing room. Lombard displays a beauty for which it's almost impossible to establish referents; the choreography of her allure constitutes another aspect of the wonderfulness of the movie. “All the world’s a stage” is the beginning of Jaques famous speech in As You Like It but it constitutes the essence of Lubitsh’s whole project. There’s one moment of reality at the very beginning when the movie released in l942 paints a picture of a thriving Warsaw only days before the Nazi Soviet invasion in September of l939. From then on like a walking defense mechanism To Be or Not to Be becomes a self-conscious succession of stage sets and impersonations in which existence is temporarily relieved of the pain of reality. A theater is turned into a Gestapo headquarters, a Nazi counter intelligence operative named Siletsky (Stanley Ridges) himself is impersonated and the local theater company escapes Poland by disguising themselves as the Fuhrer and his entourage. Throughout To Be or Not to Be, a narcissistic actor's concern about his wife’s infidelity is the comic constant and it embodies the essence of the humor which is to juxtapose triviality with tragedy. "Springtime for Hitler" is another example of a similar farcical impulse and as you watch the Lubitsch classic you marvel at the director’s ability to create laughter amidst horror.

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