To be or not to be (1942)

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German title To be or not to be
Original title To be or not to be
To be or not to be 1942.jpg
Country of production United States
original language English
Publishing year 1942
length 93 minutes
Age rating FSK 12
Director Ernst Lubitsch
script Edwin Justus Mayer
production Ernst Lubitsch ,
Alexander Korda
music Werner Richard Heymann
camera Rudolph Maté
cut Dorothy Spencer

To be or not to be (also: to be or not to be - Heil Hamlet! ) Is an American film by Ernst Lubitsch from 1942. The tragicomedy was staged by Melchior Lengyel based on the text Poland is not lost yet and is about a Warsaw drama troupe, who wants to outsmart the German Nazi occupiers in various disguises. In the main roles Jack Benny and Carole Lombard play in their last role, she died shortly afterwards in a plane crash. While to be or not to be was controversial when it was released, it is now considered a brilliant comedy classic by film critics.


Warsaw , 1939 : Polish theater actors rehearse an anti-fascist comedy just before the outbreak of World War II . Since the Polish government does not want to come into conflict with the Hitler regime, the piece is removed from the repertoire and the Hamlet ensemble plays instead . During the monologue to be or not to be , the wife of the main character Joseph Tura, Maria Tura, has a rendezvous with the young pilot lieutenant Stanislaw Sobinski in her dressing room. To the horror of the self-enamored actor Tura, the young officer gets up from the auditorium during the monologue and walks out, which Tura naturally interprets as disrespect for his acting skills.

During one of the performances, World War II breaks out and Warsaw is bombed. Sobinski come to England and flies in a Polish squadron of the Royal Air Force . The Polish professor Siletsky is also employed by the Air Force and announces to the young Polish aviators that he will be traveling to occupied Warsaw on a secret mission. Sobinski asks him to deliver a message to his beloved Maria Tura, but he is puzzled that Siletsky does not even know the most famous actress in Poland, although he claims to have lived in Warsaw. He reports this to his superiors, and it becomes clear that Siletsky must be a double agent. Since Siletsky had received numerous addresses from Polish underground fighters, Sobinski was commissioned to fly to Warsaw as well. Siletsky has meanwhile arrived there and is staying at the Hotel Europejski . The professor tries to win Maria, known to him through Sobinski's message, as an agent for the National Socialists, who apparently lets the professor persuade her.

Siletsky is supposed to meet with the Gestapo chief, Gruppenführer Ehrhardt, to pass on the names of the underground fighters. In order to prevent this, the theater ensemble slips into the roles of the German occupiers with their experience from the anti-Nazi play that has been removed: the professor is brought by a false adjutant to the apparent group leader Erhardt, who is, however, Joseph Tura . First, Siletsky trusts the disguised Tura and gives him the addresses. However, when the professor tells an anecdote about the alleged love story between Maria and Sobinski, “Gruppenführer Erhardt” reveals himself to be Tura through his jealousy. Siletsky wants to flee, but Sobinski can shoot him. Joseph Tura now takes on the role of professor and tries to destroy a copy of the underground fighter addresses that is still in the hotel like the original before. In the hotel, however, Adjutant Schultz, the real adjutant of Gruppenführer Erhardt, appears and takes "Professor Siletsky" with him to the real Erhardt. In his disguise, Tura wins the trust of the incompetent Erhardt and learns that Adolf Hitler will visit Warsaw the next day. When the body of the real murdered Siletsky appears the next morning, Tura has to fear for his life for a short time - but in the end he uses a trick to convince Erhardt that he is the real Siletsky.

Still, it seems only a matter of time before the hoax is exposed, which would mean the death of the theater company. The actors and Sobinski make a new plan to leave Poland. At a theater performance in honor of the arriving Hitler, the theater actors and Sobinski dress up as Nazi officers. Due to a diversionary maneuver by the actor Greenberg, the other actors can come out of their hiding place, including actor Bronski, who appears as Hitler in front of the real Nazi soldiers and Greenberg - who denounces the Nazi regime with Shylock's speech from The Merchant of Venice - apparently as Arrest troublemakers. Because of the alleged "security risk" posed by people like Greenberg, Hitler (Bronski) and his officers (the other actors) want to leave Poland immediately. Meanwhile, Gruppenführer Erhardt tries to seduce Maria in her apartment until Bronski suddenly enters the apartment as Hitler to pick her up to flee by plane. The shocked Erhardt thinks Maria is Hitler's lover, and so she too can escape from Poland with the other actors.

The actors fly to Scotland in a German military aircraft - like Rudolf Hess in May 1941 - where they are celebrated as heroes. Tura now plays Hamlet in England, but during his to be or not to be monologue a young man from the audience stands up again, much to the horror of Tura and Sobinski.


Ernst Lubitsch before 1920 on a photograph by Alexander Binder

Ernst Lubitsch, a German Jew by birth, emigrated to the United States in 1922. In the face of the Second World War, he wrote To be or not to be from autumn 1941 together with the scriptwriters Melchior Lengyel and Edwin Justus Mayer . While Lubitsch and Lengyel mainly worked out the basic idea, Mayer was responsible for the dialogues. The author Samson Raphaelson , who had previously written several scripts for Lubitsch, refused to work together because - as Raphaelson explained in retrospect - he could not have joked about the National Socialists in 1941, i.e. at the height of their power. In addition to directing, Lubitsch also took on the production of the film, he shot at the United Artists film studio , which was largely outside the studio system with its powerful producers and was known for giving the directors a lot of freedom. Although the British producer Alexander Korda took over the overall overview of the production, Korda was friends with Lubitsch and largely gave him a free hand.

The shooting took place between November 6, 1941 and December 23, 1941, a relatively short period of time even then. This corresponded to Lubitsch's principle that the main part of the work had already been done with the script. The budget, on the other hand, was above average at 1.2 million US dollars.

For the cast, Lubitsch relied on largely prominent actors: the extremely popular radio comedian Jack Benny was his first choice for the part of Joseph Tura, although Benny otherwise only played a few film roles. Because of his limited experience as a film actor, Benny often appeared nervous and insecure on the film set, and Lubitsch often had to motivate him. For the role of Maria Tura, he initially wanted to engage Miriam Hopkins , with whom he had already successfully shot in the 1930s and whose career had stalled in the previous years. The chemistry between Benny and Hopkins wasn't right, however, and Hopkins wanted to see her role enlarged. She was replaced by Carole Lombard, who was then considered the leading comedian in Hollywood and had been friends with Sobinski actor Robert Stack for many years. Carole Lombard died in a plane crash on January 16, 1942, at the age of only 33 (see Transcontinental and Western Air Flight 3 ). To be or not to be was her last film and was only released for distribution after her death. Because of her plane death, Maria's sentence "What can happen on a plane?" Was cut out of the already finished film.

In addition to Felix Bressart as Greenberg, others who fled National Socialism also play in smaller roles, such as Helmut Dantine and Otto Reichow as co-pilots, Adolf Edgar Licho as prompter , Ernö Verebes as stage manager and Wolfgang Zilzer as the man in the bookstore. In a small supporting role towards the end of the film, the well-known Laurel and Hardy opponent James Finlayson also plays a Scottish farmer with a beard.


When publishing

When it was published, to be or not to be elicited divided reactions. Many critics found the film to be a funny, well-made comedy, but at the same time it was tasteless and belittling in view of the world situation. As Bosley Crowther , respected chief critic for the New York Times wrote , "To say it was hard-hearted and macabre is an understatement." The script is jumbled and Lubitsch apparently had a strange sense of humor when he made the film. Crowther explicitly praised Lombard, who had already passed away at the time of his review - "beautiful and with funny skills" - as well as some supporting actors, but found that Jack Benny would play himself a little too much. In conclusion, he said: “Too bad that a little more taste and unity were not brought into the tone of the film. As he is, you have the strange feeling that Mr. Lubitsch is Nero , who plays the violin for the fire in Rome. "

Lubitsch defended himself against similar criticisms in the New York Times of March 29, 1942: “I was fed up with the two established and recognized recipes: drama with exonerating comedic interludes and comedy with dramatic elements. At no point did I want to relieve anyone of anything: it should be dramatic when the situation calls for it, and satire and comedy where it is appropriate. You could call the film a tragic farce or a farce-like tragedy - I don't care and neither do the audience. ”Worldwide, the film grossed a total of 2.1 million US dollars and was therefore a minor success.

Today's reviews

Today the film is viewed positively by almost all critics , for example it has a positive rating of 97% at Rotten Tomatoes .

“After he satirized communism in Ninotschka [sic!], Lubitsch tried to kill the Nazis by ridiculing them here. After all, he has come so close to his goal that his joke is never disgraceful. (...) This film could only be made because back then in the USA the whole horrific reality was not yet known; but it speaks for the taste and artistic strength of Lubitsch that his film endures even with knowledge of this reality. "

- Dieter Krusche : Reclam's film guide

“From this material, which is half cuckold farce, half resistance drama and half (if there was a third half) theater clothes, the European émigré created the most perfect [sic!] Hollywood comedy ever, a mixture of frivolity and morality political wit and decadence. A film that reverses and mirrors all of its situations so often that the bottom is on top; a film that captured the real Hitler with a fake Hitler as aptly as it could never be - perhaps apart from Chaplin's Great Dictator . "

To Be or Not to Be is a masterpiece of sarcasm and seriousness at the same time. It is astonishing that not only Lubitsch [,] but all those involved in this film had not lost their belief in a time after Hitler and in humanity, their strength and their humor in the war year 1942 and in view of the atrocities of National Socialism known up to then . To be or not to be was also a powerful sign of hope and an appeal to the importance of humor in extremely difficult times and for a human future. "


“The film, which stylishly amalgamates the comedy with the horror, is still a useful way of accounting for the Führer cult and its accompanying phenomena. One of the best films by Ernst Lubitsch, who describes the henchmen of National Socialism as smeary actors as a caustic satire and honors the actors as tragicomic heroes. "

"The master of intelligent comedy also shows his typical handwriting here."

“Political thriller as a snappy, evil anti-Nazi satire. Classic films. (Rating: 3 ½ stars - exceptional). "

- Adolf Heinzlmeier and Berndt Schulz in the dictionary "Films on TV"


The film received an Oscar nomination for the score by Werner R. Heymann . In 1996 the film was included in the National Film Registry . In 2003, the Federal Agency for Civic Education, in cooperation with numerous filmmakers, created a film canon for work in schools and included this film in their list. The American Film Institute voted To Be or Not to Be # 49 for Best American Comedies of All Time in 2000.


The synchronization was created in 1960 for the cinema at Berliner Synchron GmbH . Klaus von Wahl directed the dubbing , the dialogue script was written by Fritz A. Koeniger .

role actor German dubbing voice
Maria Tura Carole Lombard Edith Schneider
Joseph Tura Jack Benny Holger Hagen
Lt. Stanislav Sobinski Robert Stack Jan Hendriks
Actor Grünberg Felix Bressart Alfred Balthoff
Actor Rawitch Lionel Atwill Arnold Marquis
Actor Bronski (Hitler actor) Tom Dugan Curt Ackermann
Mr. Dobosh, theater producer Charles Halton Hans Hessling
Professor Siletsky Stanley Ridges Siegfried Schürenberg
Group leader Erhardt Sig Ruman Werner Lieven
Adjutant Schultz Henry Victor Benno Hoffmann
Anna, housekeeper in the theater Maude Eburne Ursula War
Man in bookstore Wolfgang Zilzer Walter Bluhm


In 1983, a remake was made, also under the title To Be or Not to be with Mel Brooks as Frederick Bronski ( Joseph Tura ), Anne Bancroft in the role of Anna Bronski ( Maria Tura ) and José Ferrer as Professor Siletsky .

On October 14, 2008, a stage adaptation of the film by Nick Whitby premiered at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater, Broadway, in London. The German-language premiere took place in 2009 at the Deutsches Theater Berlin , the Austrian premiere was on March 15, 2012 at the Wiener Kammerspiele .

Jürgen Hofmann's stage adaptation was published under the title Poland is not lost yet . The Austrian premiere took place on February 27, 2003 in the Klagenfurt City Theater. The play was re-enacted under this title at numerous theaters in German-speaking countries.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Article at TCM
  2. Film Stories Blogspot
  3. Article at TCM
  4. ^ Bosley Crowthers review in the New York Times
  5. Business section in the Internet Movie Database
  6. Dieter Krusche: Reclam's film guide / collaborators: Jürgen Labenski and Josef Nagel. - 13. rework. Edition - Philipp Reclam, Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-15-010676-1 , p. 715.
  7. ^ Review by Hellmuth Karasek in the Spiegel
  8. ^
  9. ^ Lexicon of International Films . (CD-ROM edition.) Systhema, Munich 1997.
  10. ^ Berliner Zeitung , Berlin.
  11. ^ Adolf Heinzlmeier and Berndt Schulz in Lexicon "Films on TV" (extended new edition). Rasch and Röhring, Hamburg 1990, ISBN 3-89136-392-3 , p. 738.
  12. (No longer available online.) Archived from the original on February 28, 2014 ; Retrieved February 25, 2014 . Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /