Ernst Lubitch's To Be Or Not To Be (1943) has to be the most genuinely bizarre political satire from Hollywood's golden age. It stars Jack Benny and Carol Lombard as Joseph and Maria Tura - a married couple and stage performers living in occupied Poland during WWII.
Determined to alter the course of the war, the two stars helm a troupe of ham actors in a dead pan comic assault on the Nazis. When a spy emerges who has damaging information to the Polish resistance, Joseph and Maria decide to prevent the information from reaching the Reich. Benny's brilliant lampoon of Hamlet's soliloquy "to be or not to be" is at the crux of his disastrous rendezvous between Maria and Lt. Stanislav Sobinski (Robert Stack).
Stan gets the hots for Maria - a passion not reciprocated. Hence, when Stan is dispatched for war, he cruelly implicates Maria with Professor Siletsky (Stanley Ridges), the real spy who has a secret plan to destroy the Warsaw resistance. Controversial to say the very least, To Be Or Not to Be opened to thunderous acclaim and was later remade, but to limited effect as a 1983 farce starring Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft.
Warner Home Video’s DVD is middle of the road. The B&W image has been mastered from reasonably clean film elements. Contrast levels are adequate, though at times weak. There's a hint of edge enhancement and some shimmering, but nothing that will distract.
Fine details are sometimes nicely realized but darker scenes suffer from inconsistent quality. Film grain is moderate. Age related artifacts are present throughout. The audio is mono but adequate. An archival news reel and short subject are the only extras included. *Please note: due to a rights issue this title is NOT available in Canada.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)