One of my favorite movies of all time is the Ernst Lubitsch 1942 film To Be Or Not To Be. This Dramedy starring Carole Lombard and Jack Benny concerns itself with an acting troupe in Poland during the Nazi invasion and the actions that Joseph (Benny) and Maria (Lombard) take to ensure that the member list for the Polish Resistance does not fall into the Nazi hands. To say anymore of the plot would spoil both the funny jokes in the movie as well as the genuinely twisty tale of suspense. Sadly this is the last picture Lombard would star in being that it was released a month after her tragic plane crash during her War Bond tour.
The critical reception to the film at the time of release was generally positive with some criticisms being levied at the film’s handling of the Nazis in a comedy released during the war. One particularly biting criticism of the film came in 1943 by Philadelphia Inquirer reviewer Mildred Martin who called the movie a “callous, tasteless effort to find fun in the bombing of Warsaw,” and insinuated that this might be due to Lubitsch’s Berlin heritage. Lubitsch in a letter to the paper said
“What I have satirized in this picture are the Nazis and their ridiculous ideology. I have also satirized the attitude or actors who always remain actors regardless of how dangerous the situation may be, which I believe is a true observation. It can be argued if the tragedy of Poland realistically portrayed as in To Be Or Not To Be can be merged with satire… but this is a matter of debate and everyone is entitled to his point of view, but it is certainly a far cry from the Berlin-born director who finds fun in the bombing of Warsaw.”
For my money the movie does a deft job of balancing the wackiness and the farce with the gravity of the situation and the vileness of the Nazi invaders