To Be or Not to Be (1942)

To Be or Not to Be (1942) movie poster

director Ernst Lubitsch
viewed: 01/14/2017

Since the election of Donald Trump, it’s seemed that the real world has become a satire. And so, satire seems moot. Though I am hoping that is a passing sensation, since parody and satire are important tools for dealing with reality, I’ve also been interested in how to approach an oncoming reality “born again with Fascist cravings” (to quote Jello Biafra out of context).

Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not To Be is one of the few Hollywood films to lampoon Nazi Germany before the U.S. entered World War II. Hollywood studios were often afraid of losing business in Europe to come out against Adolf Hitler so directly, so Lubitsch’s film, besides standing as a classic comedy itself, is also a valuable artifact of artistic protest.

As Polish actors enlisted to fool a spy and protect potential targets for Nazi inquests, Jack Benny and Carole Lombard are terrific, and while the film isn’t wall-to-wall laugh-out-loud humor, it is witty, daring, and very funny. It’s also a bit of a thriller too.

It seems unsurprising that Mel Brooks starred in a 1983 re-make of the film, the comedy is so Brooksian, it could have been a stylistic inspiration for much of his career.

I don’t mean to endow it with more reverence than it deserves. It is interesting to try to imagine what this film was like in early 1942, apparently considered to be in bad taste by some.

Inspiration for resistance.

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