To Be or Not to Be (1942 film)

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To Be or Not to Be is a 1942 American comedy directed by Ernst Lubitsch, about a troupe of actors in Nazi-occupied Warsaw who use their abilities at disguise and acting to fool the occupying troops. It was adapted by Lubitsch (uncredited) and Edwin Justus Mayer from the story by Melchior Lengyel. The film stars Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, Robert Stack, Felix Bressart, Lionel Atwill, Stanley Ridges and Sig Ruman. The film was released two months after actress Carole Lombard was killed in an airplane crash.

The title is a reference to the famous "To be, or not to be" soliloquy in William Shakespeare's Hamlet.



The movie chronicles the adventures of a Polish theater company before and during Nazi occupation, especially those of the resident ham, Josef Tura and his wife, Maria. The film opens with the seemingly impossible appearance of Adolf Hitler in Warsaw before the 1939 invasion. We discover this is a local actor, Bronski, who is playing Hitler in a new work satirizing the Nazis. During rehearsals, Bronski's resemblance to Hitler was called into question, so he took to the streets to prove himself. His effort fails when a young girl asks for the autograph of "Mr. Bronski."

The action then shifts to later that night, when the theater company is performing Shakespeare's Hamlet, with Maria as Ophelia and Tura in the title role. Bronski commiserates with his friend and colleague, Greenberg, about always being the ones to "carry a spear," instead of having starring roles. Greenberg reveals it has always been his dream to perform Shylock, especially the famous "Hath not a Jew eyes?..." speech.

Meanwhile, Maria is inspecting a bouquet of flowers she received from a handsome young pilot named Lieutenant Stanislav Sobinski. She arranges to meet him, telling Sobinski to come to her dressing room when Tura begins his "To be or not to be..." speech, so they can be sure of privacy. The young man walks out (very obviously) when Tura begins his monologue — causing the highly-strung actor great distress. Sobinski and Maria begin an affair but soon after Germany declares war on Poland and Sobinski leaves to join the fight.

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