To Be or Not to Be opens in 1939 on the eve of war, with a Warsaw theater troupe rehearsing a satire called Gestapo, which has been ordered shut down by the government, for fear of offending Hitler. The troupe's stars are Maria and Joseph Tura - a self-absorbed flirt and a preening ham who wouldn't know acting if it smacked him in the face - who couldn't be less interested in the outside world, until it comes crashing in. Maria (Carole Lombard, all smoky elegance) is carrying on an affair with handsome pilot Stanislav Sobinski (Robert Stack, shockingly fresh-faced and clear-voiced), while Joseph (a nimbly verbal Jack Benny) seems almost more perturbed by the fact that Sobinski walks out on his Hamlet soliloquy every night than the fact that he's doing so to meet backstage with Maria.
Continue reading: To Be Or Not To Be (1942) Review
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Putting his lead foot first, director Ernst Lubitsch saddles his story with a script that never properly uses its complete potential. Henry feels that as part of his interview process, he must go through the story of his life, which would have generally been a decent idea, except that he led a pretty uninspiring one. Growing up in the mid-to-late 19th century, Henry is swaddled in privilege from the get-go. The scion of a wealthy family residing in a Fifth Avenue mansion, he becomes a general ne'er do well at quite a young age, something which the film (or at least his recounting) tries to blame on the effects of the women in his life (mother = too controlling, French maid = too permissive). By the time Ameche appears again as his younger self in the 1890s, his playboy ways have just been (supposedly) swept away by his having fallen in love with a beautiful woman whose name he doesn't know. Problem is, when he finally finds out the identity of the woman - Martha Strabel (Gene Tierney), of the Kansas City Strabels, who made their fortune in the meatpacking business - it turns out she's already betrothed to his stiff and deadly dull cousin Albert (Allyn Joslyn). Being of thin moral fiber anyway, Henry elopes with her. His carousing appears hard to put behind him, however, and 10 years later, Martha is ready for a divorce.
Continue reading: Heaven Can Wait (1943) Review
Garbo plays Ninotchka, a Soviet envoy sent to Paris to sell jewels that belonged to a former Russian duchess now turned Parisian socialite (Ina Claire). Melvyn Douglas is a count who becomes infatuated with Ninotchka and tries to divert her away from her duty to the Party. It's not Casablanca -- but it's not just another frothy romantic comedy either, thanks to Garbo's performance and the clever screenplay by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett (who also co-wrote the legendary Sunset Boulevard and The Lost Weekend).
Continue reading: Ninotchka Review