Welcome to The Best Movies I’ve Never Seen! This is the part of the blog where I work my way through 100 films I’ve never seen that are generally considered to be great. You’re invited to watch along with me if you can find a copy or find it streaming. So grab some popcorn and let’s get started!
To Be or Not to Be
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Quick synopsis… This 1942 comedy manages to eke out barrels of laughs from a contentious time in history, World War II. Joseph Tura (Jack Benny) leads a ragtag band of actors in Poland who come to the aid of an American soldier (Robert Stack) who needs help carrying out his work in the Resistance efforts. But it turns out that Tura’s wife (Carole Lombard) is having an affair with the military man, which severely undercuts Tura’s sympathies for the soldier.
Robert Stack is so young in this movie. Of course, all I ever really knew him from was Unsolved Mysteries back in the ’80s and ’90s. I can still hear him say, “Join us next week… Perhaps you can help solve a mystery.”
This must have been a pretty ballsy movie to make in 1942 with the war still raging on. Things start out just prior to the Nazi invasion of Poland, focusing on a theater troupe in Warsaw. Jack Benny and Carole Lombard play actors Josef and Maria Tura. Stack plays Polish aviator Stanislav Sobinski, who has a seriously inappropriate crush on Maria, in spite of her marital status.
But before he can convince her to leave her husband and life as an actress, Germany invades and Stanislav leaves to fight with the Polish division of Britan’s Royal Air Force. At this point, Sobinski and his men trust a Professor Siletsky with messages to be taken to their loved ones in Warsaw, since Siletsky is the leader of the Polish Resistance and is heading back home. But Sobinski becomes suspicious of the professor when he doesn’t recognize the famous Maria Tura’s name when he sends a message for her.
This can turn out very badly for the resistance since Siletsky now has the names and locations of many of the soldiers’ family members. Sobinski flies back to warn Maria, but she has already been brought to Siletsky by German soldiers with the hopes of recruiting her as a spy. Josef comes home to find Sobinski in his bed just before his wife returns home with news of Siletsky’s attempt to recruit her. But Josef doesn’t want Maria putting herself in danger and decides that he’ll meet Siletsky at Gestapo headquarters and kill him himself.
Maria goes through with her dinner with Siletsky and convinces him that he’s convinced her to join the Nazis. While she’s with the professor, he receives word from an actor dressed as a Nazi soldier that Colonel Ehrhardt is moving up their meeting to tonight. Siletsky arrives at Gestapo Headquarters (the theater) and meets with Josef, posing as Ehrhardt.
Things are going well until Siletsky reveals Sobinski’s secret message to Maria, sending Josef into a rage which causes him to reveal himself. As one can expect, things escalate from there. But you won’t read about that here, because it’s worth seeing for yourself, rather than getting all the spoilers from me.
To Be or Not to Be is currently available to watch on HBO Max as part of the Criterion Collection. It’s categorized as a comedy, and there are certainly its fair share of funny moments and lines, but I would call it more a drama than anything else. Especially with the love triangle and wartime hijinks.
A remake starring Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft was made in 1983. After seeing this original version, I’m curious about the 1983 version. After seeing To Be or Not to Be, it ranks at 709 out of 2,263 on my Flickchart list.
Have you ever seen To Be or Not to Be? Have you seen the remake? If you’ve seen either version, let me know your thoughts down in the comments! Next week’s movie may be a no show, as it’s a Turkish film that I’ve had difficulty finding anywhere. Wish me luck!