“To Be or Not to Be” 80 Years Later


Mollie O’Donnell

Ernst Lubitsch’s black comedy still makes audiences laugh 80 years after its release.

In a time when the United States was at war with Nazi Germany, “To Be or Not to Be” was one of the first films to satirize and make fun of the Nazi party ideologies.

German-born filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch is known for his sophisticated comedies of manners with films like “Design for Living,” “Ninotchka,” and “The Shop Around the Corner.” These films gave him a reputation of being Hollywood’s most elegant director while adding his “Lubitsch touch” to his films.

Lubitsch decided to satirize the Nazi party and their ridiculous ideology as well as satirizing actors who always remain actors regardless of their situation. He came up with the idea about an acting troupe in Poland before the German invasion who disguised themselves as gestapo officers in order to protect the Polish Underground movement.

The film stars Jack Benny and Carole Lombard as acting couple Joseph and Maria Tura. Both Benny and Lombard give a great performance as well as perfect comedic timing and they were helped with a great and large supporting cast. The film features fast paced witty comedy and great suspense as if it were from a Hitchcock film.

When released, “To Be or Not to Be” wasn’t a hit right off the bat considering that they were making fun of a threat to the allied forces. Many critics thought that the film was a tasteless way to find fun during the war.

Although the film did not get good reception when it initially released, “To Be or Not to Be” is considered by critics and filmmakers as one of the greatest comedies of all time. It is also considered one of Lubitsch’s best pictures and one of Benny’s and Lombard’s best performances. “To Be or Not to Be” remains a favorite for classic movie fans and cinephiles many years later.