The Essential Movie Library #51: To Be or Not to Be (1942)

German-born filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch crafted films out of sheer wit and audacity.
20

The “touch” was what everyone said filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch had, the most sublime example being prewar romantic-comedy/drama The Shop Around the Corner (Essential Movie Library #19), a perfect picture in which every interaction hinges exquisitely on the human heart at its most complicated. So the raucous, bull-in-a-china-shop irreverence of black World War II-satire To Be or Not to Be—as America was just entering the conflict—was all the more shocking, what with the ongoing shtick about Nazi megalomania (“So they call me Concentration Camp Ehrhardt, do they?”) by Jack Benny as a megalomaniacal Nazi being impersonated by a megalomaniacal Shakespearean actor; the director seems to suggest there’s not much difference between the two. 

Understandably the public had a hard time laughing, given the pall cast by not only the recent bombing of Pearl Harbor but the plane-crash death of costar Carole Lombard, one of the most irresistible leading ladies in American movies. But few classics are as built—out of sheer wit and audacity—to survive their times as those by the Jewish, German-born Lubitsch, who may have believed the war was fought in part for the freedom to be this brilliantly inappropriate. 

Read them all:
The Essential Movie Library #50: The Battle of Algiers
The Essential Movie Library #49: Notorious
The Essential Movie Library #48: Wings of Desire
The Essential Movie Library #47: L’Avventura
The Essential Movie Library #46: Malcolm X
The Essential Movie Library #45: In the Mood for Love
The Essential Movie Library #44: Touch of Evil
The Essential Movie Library #43: Once Upon A Time in the West
The Essential Movie Library #42: Belle de Jour
The Essential Movie Library #41: Apocalypse Now
The Essential Movie Library #40: Out of the Past
The Essential Movie Library #39: Branded to Kill
The Essential Movie Library #38: The General
The Essential Movie Library #37: Lord of the Rings
The Essential Movie Library #36: Aguirre, the Wrath of God
The Essential Movie Library #35: Raging Bull
The Essential Movie Library #34: The Rules of the Game
The Essential Movie Library #33: Chinatown 
The Essential Movie Library #32: Stalker
The Essential Movie Library #31: Weekend
The Essential Movie Library #30: Some Like It Hot 
The Essential Movie Library #29: Red River
The Essential Movie Library #28: The Passenger
The Essential Movie Library #27: Singin’ in the Rain
The Essential Movie Library #26: Heat
The Essential Movie Library #25: L’Atalante
The Essential Movie Library #24: Sunrise
The Essential Movie Library #23: His Girl Friday
The Essential Movie Library #22: Black Narcissus
The Essential Movie Library #21: Blade Runner
The Essential Movie Library #20: Persona
The Essential Movie Library #19: The Shop Around the Corner
The Essential Movie Library #18: Lost Highway
The Essential Movie Library #17: Tokyo Story
The Essential Movie Library #16: 8 1/2

The Essential Movie Library #15: City Lights
The Essential Movie Library #14: Seven Samurai
The Essential Movie Library #13: Lawrence of Arabia
The Essential Movie Library #12: Citizen Kane
The Essential Movie Library #11: Jules and Jim
The Essential Movie Library #10: My Darling Clementine 
The Essential Movie Library #9: Double Indemnity 
The Essential Movie Library #8: That Obscure Object of Desire 
The Essential Movie Library #7: 2001: A Space Odyssey 
The Essential Movie Library #6: Casablanca
The Essential Movie Library #5: The Lady Eve
The Essential Movie Library #4: The Third Man 
The Essential Movie Library #3: The Passion of Joan of Arc 
The Essential Movie Library #2: Vertigo 
The Essential Movie Library #1: The Godfather Trilogy

Facebook Comments