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To Be or Not to Be (1942)

aka To Be or Not to Be

Directed By: 
Details: 99 mins · English, German


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Small Maria Tura
Small Joseph Tura
Small Leutnant Stanislav Sobinski
Small Greenberg
Small Rawitch
Small Professor Alexander Siletsky
Small SS-Gruppenführer Ehrhardt
No_movie_poster Bronski
Small Dobosh, Regisseur
No_movie_poster Sturmführer Schultz
No_movie_poster Anna, Garderobiere
Small Producer Dobosh
Small Major Cunningham
Small Gen. Armstrong
No_movie_poster Actor-Adjutant
No_movie_poster Anna


Small Alexander Korda Producer
No_movie_poster Dorothy Spencer Editing
No_movie_poster Edwin Justus Mayer Author
Small Ernst Lubitsch Director
Small Ernst Lubitsch Production
Small Ernst Lubitsch Story Contributor
Small Melchior Lengyel Author
Small Melchior Lengyel Story Contributor
Small Rudolph Maté Director of Photography
No_movie_poster Werner R. Heymann Original Music Composer


The film chronicles the adventures of a Polish theater company before and during Nazi occupation, especially those of the resident ham, Josef Tura, and his wife, Maria. The film opens with the seemingly impossible appearance of Adolf Hitler in Warsaw before the 1939 invasion. We discover this is a local actor, Bronski, who is playing Hitler in a new work satirizing the Nazis. During rehearsals, Bronski's resemblance to Hitler was called into question, so he took to the streets to prove himself. His effort fails when a young girl asks for the autograph of "Mr. Bronski."

The action then shifts to later that night, when the theater company is performing Shakespeare's Hamlet, with Tura in the title role. Bronski commiserates with his friend and colleague, Greenberg, about always being the ones to "carry a spear," instead of having starring roles. Greenberg reveals it has always been his dream to perform Shylock, especially the famous "Hath not a Jew eyes?..." speech.

Meanwhile, Maria is inspecting a bouquet of flowers she received from a handsome young pilot named Lt. Stanislav Sobinski. She arranges to meet him, telling Sobinski to come to her dressing room when Tura begins his "To be or not to be..." speech, so they can be sure of privacy. The young man walks out (very obviously) when Tura begins his monologue — causing the highly-strung actor great distress. Sobinski and Maria begin an affair but soon after Germany declares war on Poland and Sobinski leaves to join the fight.

A montage and voice-over show us Hitler conquering Poland, and tell us that the Polish division of the British Royal Air Force is fighting to free its mother country. We cut to this very division, where Lt. Sobinski and other young pilots are singing with an apparent Polish resistance leader named Prof. Siletsky. Siletsky hints he will return to Warsaw soon, but Sobinski is suspicious when he gives Siletsky a message for Maria Tura and he doesn't know who the famous actress is.

Sobinski's superiors send him to Warsaw to warn the resistance. He manages to reach Maria, who passes the message on in his stead. Immediately after, she is stopped by two Nazi soldiers, who have been ordered by Siletsky to bring her to his hotel. Siletsky delivers Sobinski's message and invites Maria to dinner, hoping to recruit her as a spy for the Nazis. She pretends to be interested and goes home "to change her clothes." Just before she arrives at her apartment, Tura returns and Maria, Tura and Stanislav end up in a three-way conversation in which Maria and Stanislav try to figure out what to do (kill Siletsky, they conclude), and Tura tries to figure out what on Earth is going on. In the end, Tura proclaims that he will kill Siletsky.

Later that evening, Mrs. Tura returns to the professor's room and pretends to be attracted to him. Just as they kiss, there is a knock at the door. It is a Nazi officer (whom we recognize as one of the members of the acting company). He informs the professor that he is wanted at Gestapo headquarters, but actually escorts him to the theater, which has been hastily disguised with props and costumes from the play.

Tura pretends to be Col. Ehrhardt of the Gestapo, and Siletsky gives him the report containing the names and addresses of the families of the Polish pilots. He also reveals that Sobinski gave him a message for Maria and that the line "to be or not to be" was the signal for their rendezvous. Tura reacts in an insanely jealous way and declares he will have Maria arrested. Noting this overreaction, Siletsky quickly figures out that he has been duped, pulls a gun on Tura and tries to escape, but is shot and killed by Sobinski on the stage of the theater. Tura returns to the hotel disguised as Siletsky in a fake beard and glasses, to destroy the information about the Polish resistance that Siletsky has in his trunk. Unfortunately, he's met at the hotel by the real Col. Ehrhardt's adjutant, Capt. Schultz, and taken to meet Ehrhardt himself. Luckily, Tura manages to pass himself off as Siletsky and learns during their meeting that Hitler himself will visit Poland the next day.

The next day, the real Siletsky's body is discovered in the theater. Ehrhardt sends for Maria to tell her, but she is unable to warn Tura in time, and he arranges another meeting with Ehrhardt, again posing as Siletsky. When Tura arrives, Ehrhardt sends him into a room with Siletsky's dead body in it, hoping to frighten him into a confession. Ad libbing like a pro, however, Tura shaves off Siletsky's beard and then attaches a spare fake beard that he was carrying in his pocket. He then calls Ehrhardt into the room and manipulates him into pulling Siletsky's now-fake beard off. This seems to prove that the real Siletsky was actually the imposter, but just as Tura is about to make his escape, the other actors (sent by Maria and again in Nazi costume) storm into Ehrhardt's office, yank off Tura's false beard and pretend to drag him away to prison. This gets Tura out of Gestapo headquarters, but now he cannot leave the country on the plane Ehrhardt had arranged for him, and it's only a matter of time before the actors' ruse is discovered.

Now the actors make their boldest gambit of all. The Nazis put on a show at the theater to welcome Hitler, and Sobinski and the actors sneak in dressed as Nazis. Prominent among them is Bronski, initially without his Hitler mustache from the play. The actors hide in the powder rooms until Hitler arrives and takes his seat, and then, as the Nazis are singing the German national anthem inside, Greenberg suddenly appears from the ladies' room and charges toward Hitler's box. This distracts the Führer's guards long enough for Bronski, now wearing a Hitler mustache, to emerge unnoticed from the men's room and pretend to have come out of Hitler's box surrounded by his "entourage."

Playing the head of Hitler's men, Tura demands to know what Greenberg wants from the Führer, and Greenberg finally gets his chance to deliver Shylock's famous speech, infusing it with all his love for Poland and his hatred of the Nazis that have subjugated it. He ends with a ringing "if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?!" and Tura orders his "officers" to take Greenberg away. He also recommends that Bronski/Hitler leave Poland immediately, and all the actors march out, get in Hitler's car and drive away.

Back at her apartment, Maria is waiting for the actors to pick her up. They all intend to leave on Hitler's plane, but Col. Ehrhardt shows up and tries to seduce her. Ehrhardt is utterly floored, however, when the door opens and Bronski walks in disguised as Hitler. Equally shocked, Bronski turns and walks out in silence, but Ehrhardt immediately thinks that Maria is having an affair with Hitler and he has just been caught trying to steal the Führer's girl. It's the perfect opportunity for Maria, who dashes after Bronski calling, "Mein Führer, Mein Führer!"

All the actors take off in the plane. They easily dispose of the real Nazi pilots — Bronski, still dressed as Hitler, simply orders them to jump out of the plane (without parachutes from who knows how many feet up); the mindlessly obedient pilots instantly leap to their deaths. Sobinski flies the plane to Scotland, where Bronski causes a little surprise when he parachutes into a farmer's bale of hay in his Hitler costume and makeup. The actors are soon revealed as heroes. Asked what reward he'd like for his service to the Allies, Tura hems and haws in a show of false modesty, but Maria quickly answers in his stead, "he wants to play Hamlet."

In the movie's final scene, Tura is once again on stage as Hamlet and reaches the moment of "To be or not to be." He eyeballs Sobinski in the audience as he begins the speech, but both of them are struck dumb when a new young man gets up and heads backstage.