Ernst Lubitsch

To Be or Not to Be

To Be or Not to Be

As nervy as it is hilarious, this screwball masterpiece from Ernst Lubitsch stars Jack Benny and, in her final screen appearance, Carole Lombard as husband-and-wife thespians in Nazi-occupied Warsaw who become caught up in a dangerous spy plot. To Be or Not to Be is a Hollywood film of the boldest black humor, which went into production right before the U.S. entered World War II. Lubitsch manages to brilliantly balance political satire, romance, slapstick, and wartime suspense in a comic high-wire act that has never been equaled.

Film Info

  • Ernst Lubitsch
  • United States
  • 1942
  • 99 minutes
  • Black & White
  • 1.37:1
  • English
  • Spine #670

Special Features

  • Restored 2K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Audio commentary from 2013 featuring film historian David Kalat
  • Pinkus’s Shoe Palace, a 1916 German silent short directed by and starring Ernst Lubitsch, with a piano score by Donald Sosin
  • Lubitsch le patron, a 2010 French documentary on the director’s career
  • Two episodes of The Screen Guild Theater, a radio anthology series: Variety (1940), starring Jack Benny, Claudette Colbert, and Lubitsch, and To Be or Not to Be (1942), an adaptation of the film, starring William Powell, Diana Lewis, and Sig Ruman
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien and (Blu-ray only) a 1942 New York Times op-ed by Lubitsch

Cover by Caitlin Kuhwald

Purchase Options

Special Features

  • Restored 2K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Audio commentary from 2013 featuring film historian David Kalat
  • Pinkus’s Shoe Palace, a 1916 German silent short directed by and starring Ernst Lubitsch, with a piano score by Donald Sosin
  • Lubitsch le patron, a 2010 French documentary on the director’s career
  • Two episodes of The Screen Guild Theater, a radio anthology series: Variety (1940), starring Jack Benny, Claudette Colbert, and Lubitsch, and To Be or Not to Be (1942), an adaptation of the film, starring William Powell, Diana Lewis, and Sig Ruman
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien and (Blu-ray only) a 1942 New York Times op-ed by Lubitsch

Cover by Caitlin Kuhwald

To Be or Not to Be
Cast
Carole Lombard
Maria Tura
Jack Benny
Joseph Tura
Robert Stack
Lieutenant Sobinski
Felix Bressart
Greenberg
Lionel Atwill
Rawitch
Stanley Ridges
Professor Siletsky
Sig Ruman
Colonel Ehrhardt
Tom Dugan
Bronski
Credits
Director
Ernst Lubitsch
Produced by
Ernst Lubitsch
Original story
Melchior Lengyel
Screenplay
Edwin Justus Mayer
Screenplay
Ernst Lubitsch (uncredited)
Music
Werner R. Heymann
Cinematographer
Rudolph Maté
Editor
Dorothy Spencer
Production designer
Vincent Korda

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Ernst Lubitsch’s World War II–era high-wire act is a profound take on the absurdity cruelty of civilization and a perfect black comedy to boot.

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Explore

Ernst Lubitsch

Producer, Director

It’s difficult to put into words exactly what is meant by “the Lubitsch touch.” It alludes to the director’s delicate hand, effervescent humor, and economy with words and images. The ineffable style the term attempts to capture was with Lubitsch from his cinematic beginnings in Berlin to his early days in the American studio system and his final years as a Hollywood stalwart. Born January 28, 1892, in Berlin, this clothing manufacturer’s son left the family firm for a life in show business. After starting out as a performer in Max Reinhardt’s fabled theater company, Lubitsch went on to star in silent slapsticks for Berlin’s Bioscop film studio (he became well-known as the comic character Meyer), eventually writing and directing his own movies and becoming part of the legendary UFA studio. The international success of some of those films, such as Carmen (1918) and Madame du Barry (1919), led American film superstar Mary Pickford to invite him to Hollywood. On the basis of movies like The Marriage Circle (1924) and Lady Windermere’s Fan (1925), Lubitsch earned a reputation in America as a hit-maker, and unlike many of his peers, he took to the transition to sound like a duck to water, pioneering the narrative movie musical with such Maurice Chevalier vehicles as The Love Parade (1929) and The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), in which he indulged his fondness for Viennese operettas. An adept of sparkling dialogue and naughty innuendo, Lubitsch flourished particularly in the pre-Hays-code Hollywood era—his continental romantic comedies and fanciful period pieces were flush with sexual repartee; such glittering confections as Trouble in Paradise (1932), Design for Living (1933), and The Merry Widow (1934) were perfect escapes for the beleaguered audiences of the Great Depression. So great was Lubitsch’s success that in 1935 he was named head of production at Paramount, though he held that position for only one year. He would continue to craft more studio smashes, however, for MGM and 20th Century-Fox, many of which are still beloved today, including Ninotchka (1939), To Be or Not to Be (1942), and Heaven Can Wait (1943). Early in 1947, shortly before his death from a heart attack, Lubitsch was awarded a lifetime achievement Oscar, recognizing his “twenty-five-year contribution to motion pictures.”