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To Be or Not to Be, Ernst Lubitsch (1942)

I thought I’d seen every Lubitsch movie in English; how could I have missed this?! An absolutely sublime comedy. A troupe of grade-B Polish stage actors in Warsaw during the Nazi occupation rise to various outlandish occasions, pushing their acting skills to the limit to foil the Gestapo. Sort of a blend of I Love Lucy and The Third Man. It’s hugely bizarre to find yourself chuckling at Jack Benny‘s concentration camp jokes and then remember that as this movie was being made the real concentration camps in Poland were in full operation. Hugely bizarre like if a Saudi expatriate director in Hollywood made a screwball comedy about Osama bin-Laden in 2002 starring Jim Carrey bizarre. I’m not the only one who thought so; according to the gentle old goat commentator on Turner Classic Movies, the movie flopped at the box office, since no one, in those early days of the war, wanted to see a comedy about Hitler. It didn’t help either that the lovely Carole Lombard–and her mother!–had died in an airplane crash just weeks before the film opened, while on a tour to sell war bonds. Lombard was just 33. This was her last film. It is a beauty.

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