To Be or Not to Be (1942)


Critic Consensus: A complex and timely satire with as much darkness as slapstick, Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not To Be delicately balances humor and ethics.


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Movie Info

Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be is a black comedy about a Polish theater company--led by Joseph and Maria Tura (Jack Benny and Carole Lombard)--that turns to espionage after being shut down by the invading Nazis.


Jack Benny
as Joseph Tura
Carole Lombard
as Maria Tura
Robert Stack
as Lt. Stanislav Sobinski
Felix Bressart
as Greenberg
Stanley Ridges
as Prof. Alexander Siletsky
Sig Rumann
as Col. Ehrhardt
Tom Dugan
as Bronski
Peter Caldwell
as Wilhelm Kunze
Otto Reichow
as Copilot
Miles Mander
as Maj. Cunningham
George Lynn
as Actor Playing Adjutant
Henry Victor
as Capt. Schultz
Maude Eburne
as Anna, the Maid
Ernö Verebes
as Stage Manager
Halliwell Hobbes
as Gen. Armstrong
Frank Reicher
as Polish Official
Wolfgang Zilzer
as Man in Bookstore
Olaf Hytten
as Polonius in Warsaw
Charles Irwin
as Reporter
Edgar Licho
as Prompter
Rudolph Anders
as Gestapo Sergeant
Maurice Murphy
as R.A.F. Flyer
Gene Rizzi
as R.A.F. Flyer
Paul Barrett
as R.A.F. Flyer
John Kellogg
as R.A.F. Flyer
Sven Hugo Borg
as German soldier
Alec Craig
as Scottish Farmer
James Finlayson
as Scottish Farmer
James Gillette
as Polish R.A.F. pilot
John Meredith
as English wireless operator
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News & Interviews for To Be or Not to Be

Critic Reviews for To Be or Not to Be

All Critics (42) | Top Critics (7)

It isn't, I am sorry to say, Lubitsch's most intriguing comedy, nor is it the best of Jack Benny vehicles, but it will do until another buggy comes along.

Jan 18, 2018 | Full Review…

To Be is a very funny comedy, salted to taste with melodrama and satire.

Aug 20, 2008 | Full Review…
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

Lubitsch's guidance provides a tense dramatic pace with events developed deftly and logically throughout.

Aug 20, 2008 | Full Review…
Top Critic

It's certainly one of the finest comedies ever to come out of Paramount.

Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…
Time Out
Top Critic

To say it is callous and macabre is understating the case.

May 20, 2003 | Full Review…

One of the most profound, emotionally complex comedies ever made, covering a range of tones from satire to slapstick to shocking black humor.

Jan 1, 2000 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for To Be or Not to Be

It takes a brilliant filmmaker to find the perfect tone for something as insane as a slapstick satire involving Nazis at the height of World War II, and Lubitsch not only hits the mark with a fabulous cast (Jack Benny is priceless) but creates a film that is truly hilarious.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer


Many comedies giftwrap the jokes so that the poor rubes (which'd be us) know that that is what they're hearing and/or seeing (think of Mel Brooks or a pie in the face or Vines), but not so here. The Lubitsch touch involves leaving the humor for one to discover - or not - and therein the charm. Benny, f'instance, is totally unbelievable as the leading man, or as a leading man whatsoever, but that works for him here as a insecure ham actor constantly seeking approval. Lombard (braless mostly) shimmers in her last effort gracefully. A delight, and better than Lubitsch's other classics in my opinion.

Kevin M. Williams
Kevin M. Williams

Super Reviewer

Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds lovingly ripped dozens of pages straight from the books of cinema history. From "actors" playing Nazis to trick the Gestapo to a climactic theater "Nazi Night" including a surprise visit from the Fuhrer, Tarantino was perhaps influenced by few more than Ernst Lubitsch's zany satire To Be Or Not To Be. Set in 1940's Warsaw during the German occupation, a raucous theater troupe, led by the arrogant "great, great actor" Joseph Turan (Jack Benny), take on the Gestapo in the name of the Polish Resistance. Variably a farce and a film of vital importance, this 1942 classic took whip-smart shots at Nazi servitude and Jewish sacrifice even before they were known to the American public. (The war would last for three more years.) In 2011 To Be Or Not To Be could be seen as a mockery or a gem. In any case it's a seminal comedy and, like Casablanca, a saavy look at World War II when its outcome was still indeterminable.

Bob O'Reilly
Bob O'Reilly

Super Reviewer


This movie is hilarious, it has a great cast and a good director, and the story is interesting. It's even funnier than Brooks' 80s remake. I highly recommend this movie.

Aj V
Aj V

Super Reviewer

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