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


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.”


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


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.”


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?”


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


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.”


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.”



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

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