To Be or Not To Be, 1942

The United States entered WWII in December of 1941. In 1942, Japan captured Manila in the Philippines and invaded Burma, Singapore, and the Solomon Islands. The first US troops arrived in Great Britain. American women joined the work force, filling eight out of ten jobs formerly filled by men. Carole Lombard joined the war efforts by going home to Indiana to participate in a war bond rally in January of 1942. Her plane crashed, killing all aboard.

The Los Angeles premiere of To Be or Not to Be was on February 13, 1942. This comedy, directed by Ernst Lubitsch, was released when few people had much to laugh about. Over the past 70 years, it has more than made up for its slow start.

This is the story of a troupe of Polish actors, including Joseph Tura played by Jack Benny and his wife Maria Tura played by Carole Lombard, who use their skills to fool the real Nazi soldiers during the invasion of Warsaw. The title refers to Shakespeare’s "Hamlet" soliloquy which is used in a key part of the film. Another actor in the troupe wants to play Shylock from another Shakespeare play, "The Merchant of Venice". Part of the fun is seeing actors practicing their talents in tense situations in order to survive.

Carole Lombard also acted in Nothing Sacred with Frederic March in 1937. Sig Ruman was a doctor in Nothing Sacred and Col. Ehrhardt in To Be or Not to Be.

Robert Stack’s work as Polish airman Lt. Sobinski in this film is one of his very few roles in a comedy. He was also terrific in his role as Rex Kramer in Airplane!, a comedy from 1980.

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