Today, I’m participating to a very creative and nice blogathon: the “And…Scene! Blogathon hosted by Sister Celluloid. This blogathon is the occasion for us, movie bloggers, to review, not an entire movie, but one precise movie scene, a scene we love, a scene we find interesting, a scene we can watch over and over, etc. I like that, because you may have notice that, in my movie reviews, I often talk about my favourite scenes of the film. Of course, choosing only one scene for this blogathon was not something easy, because there are so many movie scenes that I love! I have a playlist on iTube with some of my favourite movie moments (many from Bringing Up Baby!) so that was a good way to start my choice. I finally decided to go with the opening scene of To Be or Not to Be. It’s a scene I have, indeed, pleasure to watch over and over.
To Be or Not to Be is a comedy directed by Ernst Lubitsch is 1942 and starring Jack Benny and Carole Lombard in her last film before her tragic death. Of course, when we think of Carole Lombard, we think of comedy movie. Even if I haven’t seen a ton of her films, I’ve always felt that she was the Queen of Comedy. To Be or Not to Be takes place in Warsaw (Poland) at the beginning of the World War II. A troupe of stage actors is staging a play about Hitler. When the Germany invades Poland, the troupe will use its talent to save the Polish resistance.
During the opening scene, a narrator introduced us to the city of Warsaw by presenting different theatres. The country is still in peace and life seems quite normal for the citizens, but suddenly everybody stops what they are doing, they can’t believe what they are seeing: Adolf Hitler is walking alone on the street. How can that be possible? Then, with a flashback, we understand what happened. In the headquarters of the Gestapo, two nazi officers are reciving a little boy whose father had said funny things about Hitler. They gave him a little tank (just a toy) so it’s father will stop saying funny things about Hitler. But, very soon, we’ll discover that these are just the comedians repeating for the play about Hitler! That happens when Hitler (Mr. Bronski) makes his first entrance on stage and says “Heil Myself.” Then, the producer, Mr Dobosh, gets mad and asks him to respect the script. All the actors seems now that they have to give their point of view about the situation or the play in general. It’s a real chaos. Then, Mr. Dobosh realized Mr. Bronski is not quite convincing as Hitler. Insulted, Mr. Bronski tells him that he knows he looks like Hitler and will go on the street with his costume to see people’s reactions. So, that’s how “Hitler” got to walk alone in the streets of Warsaw. Of course, Mr. Bronski’s little comedy ends up when a little girl comes next to him and asks him “May I have your autograph Mr. Bronski?” And that’s the end of this part.
I will now invite you to watch this scene. Don’t worry, if you haven’t seen the film, there isn’t really spoilers as it is the beginning of the film.
What I like about this scene, it’s that it immediately makes me want to watch the rest of the film. It really is the perfect scene to grab your attention. Yes, this movie really begins in a strong way. It’s funny, it’s creative and it also has some great lines. Of course, this “Heil myself” gets me every time I heard it. I also like Carole Lombard’s entrance when she says to Mr. Dobosh “How do you like my dress?” in a very natural way while he is getting angry with Mr. Bronski who didn’t respect the script. The problem is that she’s supposed to play a prisoner in a concentration camp, but the dress she’s wearing is too fancy for that. Well, she thinks it will make a marvellous visual effect for the audience. This really is a typical “Carole Lombard’s moment”. Silly, but clever. One of my favourite lines in this part is also when Mr. Rawitch says “How dare you call me a ham?!” to Mr Greenberg who had just told him: “Mr. Rawitch, what you are I wouldn’t eat.” Of course, that’s completely absurd, but that’s what makes it so great.
What’s special about this film and this scene is its main themes: Hitler, the nazis, the war. Of course, we all know what awful things happened during this war, that Hitler and its Nazis were dreadful men and that it was not something to laugh at. Of course, To Be or Not to Be is a comedy, so that was, of course, a delicate thing to do. Well, the way Ernst Lubitsch directed it was pure brilliance and it gives us the right to laugh about it. Not about what Nazis did, I want to make myself clear about that, but about who they were and they’re ideology which was, of course, completely ridiculous.We also ought not to forget that this film was realized in 1942, so right during the war. At the time, people still didn’t know everything about Nazis’ and Hitler’s actions. Ernst Lubitsch said something quite interesting about this film and the main themes it involved:
“What I have satirized in this picture are the Nazis and their ridiculous ideology. I have also satirized the attitude of actors who always remain actors regardless how dangerous the situation might be, which I believe is a true observation. It can be argued if the tragedy of Poland realistically portrayed in To Be or Not to Be can be merged with satire. I believe it can be and so do the audience which I observed during a screening of To Be or Not to Be; but this is a matter of debate and everyone is entitled to his point of view…” (Ernst Lubitsch- IMDB)
So, he gave us the right to have our own point of view about this film. As a matter of fact, To Be or Not to Be will have to wait until 1960 to be projected on German screens. It’s one of these films that, we know, was not just something “innocent”. That makes me thing, the french title is interesting : Jeux Dangereux (that means “Dangerous Games”). It’s quite appropriated for the movie itself but also for what it involves. On my side, I think it’s one of the funniest and most intelligent and challenging film (and scene) ever made, but I think it can’t be strong enough to let us forget the horrendous things that happened during the World War II.
It was, of course, an honour to participate to this blogathon. I think it was a tremendous idea and it gave us many opportunities as there are so many great movie scenes to review. Of course, I invite you to read the other entries. You can simply click there: “And… Scene!” Blogathon.
See you soon with The Classic Movie History Project!