#61 To Be Or Not To Be

Watched: November 27 2016

Director: Ernst Lubitsch

Starring: Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, Robert Stack, Stanley Ridges

Year: 1942

Runtime: 1h 39min

Note: same at Cat People and Road to Morocco. Starting to have abandonment issues.



During World War II, Joseph (Benny) and Maria Tura (Lombard) are the lead actors in a Polish theatre troupe in Warsaw. While Joseph is onstage, however, his wife has an unfortunate tendency to flirt with young men in her dressing room. Before the German occupation of Poland, these young men included lieutenant Sobinski (Stack), who fled to join the RAF once Poland was occupied.

Maria’s affair hurts Joseph in several ways. First because of her unfaithfulness, second because her lover keeps leaving the theatre during his most important soliloquy – “To be or not to be”


In England, Sobinski starts to suspect professor Siletsky (Ridges) who’s returning to Warsaw, of being a spy for Germany. Once the higher-ups learn that the professor is going to Poland with the names and addresses of all the relatives of the Polish flyboys, they send Sobinski to intercept him and the information to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.

No man with a beard as glorious as this could ever be a spy?!?


Maria, Joseph, and eventually the entire troupe are dragged into the plot to secure the information and after Siletsky is accidentally killed, Joseph has to impersonate the dead spy in meetings with the (somewhat incompetent) Nazi leaders. With hilarious consequences.

To Maria’s acting credit, she improvises like a champ upon realising that the man she’s been flirting with for info is now played by her husband


Although we’ve both heard of this classic comedy before, we had yet to watch it. Despite Sister the Oldest having at one point watched pretty much everything related to Hamlet ever made, for a University course, this one had slipped through the net. So it was about time.

Seriously – I know the entire soliloquy. Yet have never once been paid to recite it.


To Be or Not to Be is hilarious and impressive, made even more so considering it was made in 1942, with the war still going strong though the full extent of the atrocities of Nazi Germany were not yet public knowledge. Making fun of Hitler and the Nazis in general was a brave move at the time, but it is not hard to discern the motivation of Jewish German-born director Lubitsch. Despite being a comedy, and a great one at that, the film naturally has very serious undertones and the threat of the Nazi regime is palpable throughout. Definitely worth watching!

Aw, silly Hitler!


What we learned: a tendency to dragging out scenes and stealing the spotlight makes professional actors unsuited for undercover work.

Next time: I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

#37 Twentieth Century

Watched: September 9 2016

Director: Howard Hawks

Starring: John Barrymore, Carole Lombard

Year: 1934

Runtime: 1h 31min



Lingerie model Mildred Plotka (Lombard) has been discovered by theatre producer/director Oscar Jaffe (Barrymore) who wants to make her a star, despite the protests of his coproducers and assistants. He renames her Lily Garland, manages to “mine her performance for gold” and their play is a huge success, making her an overnight sensation.

“I’m so glad you saw the talent in me and in no way hired me for my looks or the allure of me being a lingerie model!”


Fast forward three plays and while their working relationship is still productive and successful, his manipulative behaviour has all but driven her away. When he hires a private detective to watch her every move, she finally has enough and runs away to Hollywood where she becomes a film star.

Still a better love story than Twilight, as the old internet adage goes.


After her departure, Jaffe struggles to produce another success, fails miserably, and is eventually wanted by the law for dodging debtors. While evading the police, he boards the Twentieth Century Limited, a train where Garland is also a passenger. When Jaffe learns of her presence, he starts plotting how to get her back under his thumb.

It goes about as well as you’d expect


Despite both main characters being narcissistic, manipulative bastards, they’re strangely charming and they really do deserve each other. Barrymore’s Jaffe is hilarious and fun in his flamboyancy and in the way he always thinks in terms of staging, and Lombard’s Garland is wonderfully divaesque. With great gags (“Baptist!”) and entertaining supporting characters in the increasingly drunk cohorts, this is a great watch with a bottle of wine and in a fabulous dress on a Saturday night. Or in any other setting, really. We’re not the bosses of you.

May they live unhappily ever after!


What we learned: the old south does not yodel. Also, we never thought we’d sink so low as to be actors.

Next time: A Night at the Opera (1935)