DVD Review: 'To Be' a dark but wonderful comedy

Ernst Lubitsch didn't make merely great movies; he made wonderful movies. His American comedies present a made-up world that show how the world should be. This even applies to his darkest comedy, the 1942 “To Be or Not to Be,” in which the members of a Polish theater company must put aside their monumental egos and insecurities to fool the occupying Nazis. Jack Benny (in handily his best film role) and Carole Lombard (in her last role) play Josef and Maria Tura, the Lunt and Fontanne of Warsaw. Robert Stack is a flier who almost comes between them; Sig Ruman is the Nazi officer whose frequent refrain — “Zo dey call me Conzentration Camp Ehrhardt” — is funnier than imaginable.

Criterion's Blu-ray is another fine transfer of a recently restored black-and-white movie. There is a new commentary track from scholar David Kalat, whose delivery and voice are superior to most. Also included is a cursory hourlong documentary, “Lubitsch le Patron,” from 2010, in French with English subtitles. Lubitsch started as an actor in Germany, became his own writer and director, and dropped the acting several years before the transition to sound. Criterion includes a typical example of the German comedies he wrote, directed, and starred in, the 45-minute “Pinkus's Shoe Palace.” Of some amusement are two radio comedies, one a half-hour reduction of the film.

"To Be or Not to Be" (Criterion, Blu-ray, $39.95; DVD, 2 discs, $29.95)


ANDY KLEINis the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).

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