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CAROLE LOMBARD WITH JACK BENNY IN 'TO BE OR NOT TO BE'

Title: TO BE OR NOT TO BE Year: 1942
Ernst Lubitsch takes a complicated plot and with an easygoing acting style of the performers under tightly-wound direction, headed by Jack Benny and Carole Lombard, it flows from beginning to end as the ups and downs, curves, twists and turns provide both subtle humor and edgy suspense, centering on a group of stage actors in Poland before and during the Nazi takeover on the boot-heels of World War II...

They must trick their antagonists into thinking Benny... who plays a hammy actor (exactly the opposite of himself)... is a scientist who's a traitor to the good guys and... well it really doesn't matter because TO BE OR NOT TO BE has to be seen and concentrated on for the plot to make clear and interesting (as well as intriguing) sense...

Movie Score: ****1/2
More or less a con artist caper movie, and unlike the Mel Brooks remake, the Germans, while not brilliant, are  genuinely imposing to instill enough danger for all the verbal laps to matter beyond hitting punchlines at the right moment...

Although everything does rely on the actors-within-the-movie hitting their own marks for the ruse to work, hence the title taken after a pivotal line from William Shakespeare's Hamlet that, if spoken by a novice stage performer, can hinder the entire show...

The fun's watching Benny trying to outdo his character's own lack of talent (scenes with German actor Sig Ruman work splendidly, as with Tom Dugan, who plays a fictional Hitler) while Lombard is the real trickster, weaving in and out of both the bad guys and a handsome young lieutenant Robert Stack (whose role is played by Tim Matheson in the Brooks remake, and both starred in another WWII comedy involving romance in a bomber plane, Steven Spielberg''s 1941): If anyone on board has the most work, it's Lombard... in what's sadly, tragically, her last picture.
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