Thursday, August 13, 2020

Carole Lombard and Jack Benny in Ernst Lubitsch’s “To Be or Not to Be”

To Be or Not to Be (1942) is a comedy directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Carole Lombard and Jack Benny

The film is set in Warsaw, Poland, before the 1939 Nazi invasion. Josef Tura (Jack Benny) and his stunningly beautiful wife Maria Tura (Carole Lombard) head a theater company that at the beginning of the film is rehearsing a play called Gestapo, a production making fun of the Nazis.

Table reading for To Be or Not to Be with director Ernst Lubitsch (top left), Carole Lombard, and Jack Benny. Lombard told her friends that this was the happiest film set she had ever worked on.

While Josef Tura is performing Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Poland is invaded and things change for the acting company which is now being watched closely by the Nazis. Can a troop filled with ham actors help the Polish resistance? Can they help bring down Hitler and the Nazis?

Ernst Lubitsch (1892 – 1947) was a German-born film director who became famous for his sophisticated comedies during the pre-code era. Silent film star Mary Pickford lured Lubitsch to Hollywood in 1922. He directed Pickford in Rosita, which was a huge, hit and cemented his reputation in Hollywood. Lubitsch’s films were so unique that they were described as having the “Lubitsch touch.” Some of Lubitsch’s classic films include Trouble in Paradise (1932), Design for Living (1933), Ninotchka (1939), The Shop Around the Corner (1940), Heaven Can Wait (1943), and Cluny Brown (1946). Lubitsch was awarded an Honorary Academy Award for his work in film.

Carole Lombard and Jack Benny
Carole Lombard (1908 – 1942) was an American actress, well regarded for her many screwball comedy film roles. During the late 1930s, she was the highest-paid star in Hollywood. Lombard got her start in silent films as a child and set her mind on making movie acting her career. She was one of Mack Sennett’s bathing beauties, appearing in 15 of his comedy shorts before moving on to feature films. Her breakout performance came in 1934’s Twentieth Century co-starring John Barrymore. After that film, Lombard’s career soared. She starred in many successful comedies including Hands Across the Table (1935), My Man Godfrey (1936), which brought her a Best Actress Academy Award nomination, Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941), and To Be or Not to Be (1942), her final film.

Jack Benny (1894 – 1974) was an American comedian who was a star on radio, film, and television. He was known for his comic timing and delivery, often with long pauses and facial expressions. He had the ability to make audiences laugh without uttering a single word. When he did utter his signature “Well,” it almost always brought the house down. Benny’s film career never matched that of his radio success, but he did star in several memorable films including Broadway Melody of 1936, Charley’s Aunt (1941), and George Washington Slept Here (1942). Benny was delighted to have had the opportunity to work under Lubitsch’s direction, someone the comedian greatly admired.

Robert Stack and Carole Lombard
The supporting cast of To Be or Not to Be is very strong. In includes a young Robert Stack, Feliz Bressart, Lionel Atwill, Sig Ruman, Tom Dugan, Charles Halton, Maude Eburne, and Miles Mander.

To Be or Not to Be Trivia:

  • It was nominated for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, Werner R. Heymann
  • Because Carole Lombard died in a plane crash after the film was completed, the line her character utters, “What can happen in a plane?” was cut in post-production.
  • Jack Benny’s father left the movie theater when he saw his son wearing a Nazi uniform in the film.
  • Miriam Hopkins was the original choice to play Maria Tura. She dropped out when she realized that Benny got all of the laughs.
  • Benny told his friends that he considered this to be his best and only great film role.
  • In lieu of her usual fee of $125,000, Lombard took a percentage of the film’s profits plus $75,000. Upon her death, widower, Clark Gable, received $57,307, Lombard’s share of the film’s profits.


Watch the film on YouTube by clicking the link below. Be sure to use this link because there are several versions of this film on the channel; this one is of the best quality.



After you’ve watched the film, join us for a discussion on August 18. 2020, at 6:30 p.m Central Time on Zoom. An invitation with links can be found below.

Stephen Reginald is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Discussion of "To Be or Not to Be"
Time: Aug 18, 2020, 06:30 PM Central Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting

https://us04web.zoom.us/j/79809533453?pwd=RWNhM2N4RVNyVW8vQ0VKUTc2UlZWUT09

Meeting ID: 798 0953 3453
Passcode: hKy0FK


Questions for discussion:
1. What did you think of the film overall?
2. Did you find the satire of Nazis funny? Offensive?
3. What did you make of the relationship between Lombard and Benny’s characters? Were they believable as husband and wife? Actors?
4. Did anything about the film surprise you?
5. Was this a fitting film to be Lombard’s last?

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