The theatre company led by the GREAT Jozef Tura (Jack Benny) is rehearsing a new play: Gestapo, a mockery of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. And in the evening, they perform Hamlet, where the same Tura tries to be the young Danish prince. Every time he starts his famous soliloquy, Stanislav Sobinsky (Robert Stack), a young aviator walks out... To meet Maria Tura (Carole Lombard), his wife !
Meanwhile, the war breaks out, and the company has to kill a traitor. Once the man is dead, someone has to take his place to meet the Gestapo chief, Erhardt (Sig Ruman). Guess who will take his place? Yes, the grrrreat Tura himself!
Then, we have a series of quid pro quo and fool's games, while the Nazis organize their deadly activities.
Can we laugh at everything? Lubitsch confirms that we can. And it was a very difficult thing to do at that time : when the movie is presented in February 1942, it's been three months since the Americans declared war to
At that time,
Here, the two facts contributed to its success: the up-to-date context and the tragic death of Carole Lombard... In a plane crash: "what can happen in a plane?" was her last words in the movie before they were taken off.
Therefore, To be or not to be has become instantly a very strong propaganda film with its topic and its message: "the Resistance will remain and hold on against the Nazis".
But this is Lubitsch, so everything seems very light: very little blood is spilled, a few realistic elements, and a very large amount of comedy. Even in the most tense moments, a little something can evacuate it and bring us laughter.
The situation comedy is the basis of the movie. The situation gets weirder and weirder, the characters are less and less at ease as the film goes on. We start with a little cheating between husband and wife (which is not very important): a comedian meets a young man while her husband performs Hamlet's soliloquy, a fake "secret" code ("to be or not to be"), and we end up with the intervention of Hitler himself!
Moreover, the Nazis are very ridiculous, and above all Erhardt and Schultz (Henry Victor), his subordinate!
The actors chosen to play in this film are very relevant. They create this comical mood which enlightens the film, and especially Jack Benny. Tura is a poor actor and a jealous husband, but nevertheless, he manages to perform the role of his life while defending his country. Carole Lombard is a wonderful actress, but here, Benny is stupendous. He is the main character of the film.
Last reason why this film is great and very funny, the quotes:
"What he did to Shakespeare we are doing now to
"So they call me Concentration Camp Ehrhardt?" (Jozef Tura, then Erhardt)
"What a husband doesn't know won't hurt his wife." (Anna)
"Shall we drink to a blitzkrieg?
- I prefer a slow encirclement." (Professor Silesky & Maria Tura)
And, of course:
"to be, or not to be"!