“So they call me ‘Concentration Camp Ehrhardt’?”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Response to Peary’s Review:
In Cult Movies 2, Peary states that “Cult movies are often born in controversy”, and describes in greater detail the reception this film had in 1942, just “three years after Germany invaded Poland” and “three months after the United States entered World War II”. He notes that Bosley Crowther of the New York Times was especially offended by the film; Crowther wrote, “To say [the film] is callous and macabre is understating the case”. However, Peary points out that “it’s interesting to note that critics were lenient to those World War II comedies that made no attempt to impress upon viewers the grim realities of Nazi aggression and occupation in Europe, while they jumped on Lubitsch’s film for daring to be both a comedy and topical”; in truth, “the opposite should have been the case”. Adding greatly to challenges with the film’s reception was the fact that viewers were devastated by Lombard’s death in a plane crash on her way back home to Hollywood after selling war bonds; the film was “impossible to promote”.
Speaking of Lombard, Peary names her Best Actress of the Year in his Alternate Oscars (sharing the award with Ginger Rogers in The Major and the Minor), noting that “Lombard considered her performance in To Be or Not to Be the best of her career”, and he agrees. He writes, “She has many moments in which she reveals why she was the thirties’ most celebrated comedienne”, and adds that he “particularly like[s] her affected mannerisms and voice when she tells Benny that it’s of no consequence that he finally asked the director to bill her above him in a play, and her look when he says that he knew she’d feel that way so the billing will stay the same”. He writes, “Also memorable is her sexual-innuendo-filled flirting with Stack’s young bomber pilot”: her “eyes reveal she is lost in fantasies when he tells her, ‘I can drop three tons of dynamite in two minutes’.” However, “Lombard’s Maria switches from being dazzlingly comical to deadly serious, and Lombard reveals how much she had grown as a dramatic actress in the last few years.” Lombard, Benny, and indeed the entire cast is in top form here; this movie is well worth a look by all film fanatics.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)