That is the question

I’ve probably blogged about it at some point in the past, but one of my favorite movies, “To Be Or Not To Be,” starring Jack Benny and Carole Lombard, airs Sunday evening on TCM.
This is a classic, directed by Ernst Lubitsch, who specialized in sophisticated comedy. Jack Benny plays a character who’s close to, but also a little different from, the eponymous character he played on radio and TV. Here, he and Lombard are husband-and-wife ham actors in a Polish troupe during World War II. They love each other, but Benny’s character is vain and competitive and Lombard’s character is not above entertaining the chaste (so far!) affections of a heroic young pilot (Robert Stack, looking very young indeed) backstage while her husband is on stage performing the famous monologue from “Hamlet.” Benny is insulted as an actor when he sees someone in the audience get up and leave every night as soon as he starts the speech. He has no idea that the speech is Stack’s cue to go backstage and meet Lombard!
Benny, Lombard and their troupe are shut down by the Nazi invasion but then are recruited for some espionage derring-do. They must somehow prevent a beloved but secretly-traitorous professor from turning over a list of Polish resistance members to the Nazis. Benny eventually has to impersonate the professor, and Lombard must seduce a Nazi officer the professor, both with hilarious results.
The film was remade in the 1980s by Mel Brooks, with Brooks and his real-life wife Anne Bancroft in the starring roles. That version is funny as well, but nothing can top the original. It’s well worth your time.
The movie airs at 5:15 p.m. Sunday (6:15 for you Easterners).

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