To Be or Not To Be (From The Lips of Those Who Knew)

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Screenwriter Samson Raphaelson turned down the project because as he later explained “I didn’t have it in me to make gags about the Nazis in 1941.”

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Benny agreed to allow Carole Lombard top billing after she pointed out that “You already have all the lines.”

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Writing in The New York Times March 29, 1942, writer-producer-director Ernst Lubitsch explained that he “was tired of the two established, recognized recipes: drama with comedy relief and comedy with dramatic relief. I had made up my mind to make a picture with no attempt to relieve anybody of anything at any time.”

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In a 1973 interview Jack Benny said, “It was always impossible for comedians like me or Bob Hope to get a good director for a movie.  That’s why we made lousy movies – and here was Ernst Lubitsch for God’s sake… Who cares what the script is?”

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Benny always thought of Lubitsch as “the greatest comedy director that ever lived.”

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Ernst Lubitsch once said to Jack Benny, “You think you are a comedian. You are not even a clown. You are fooling the public for 30 years. You are fooling even yourself. A clown – he is a performer what is doing funny things. A comedian – he is a performer what is saying funny things. But you, Jack, you are an actor, you are an actor playing the part of a comedian and this you are doing very well. But do not worry, I keep your secret to myself.”

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New York Times critic Bosley Crowther stated that it’s “hard to imagine how any one can take, without batting an eye, a shattering air raid upon Warsaw right after a sequence of farce or the spectacle of Mr. Benny playing a comedy scene with a Gestapo corpse. Mr. Lubitsch had an odd sense of humor—and a tangled script—when he made this film.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer agreed, writing that the film is “a callous, tasteless effort to find fun in the bombing of Warsaw.”

 

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My Favorite Lines

“Heil myself!”

“I saw him on the stage when I was in Warsaw once before the war… What he did to Shakespeare we are doing now to Poland.”

“They call me Concentration Camp Ehrhardt.”

“Schultz!”

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  • What’s your favorite line from To Be or Not To Be?
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