Archive for November 16th, 2012

by Jon Warner

If I had to name the one Ernst Lubitsch film that I simply cannot get enough of, it would be this one. Now he is probably more well-known for his musical comedies with Maurice Chevalier, or his work with Garbo, or more than likely his pre-code classic Trouble in Paradise. But I love To Be or Not To Be as it’s not only a magnificently paced comedy with great performances by two terrific leads, but it’s also a really interesting farce, lampooning Hitler and the Nazis right smack dab during the midst of WWII. The film is really the last of it’s kind during this era. The Three Stooges were the first to lampoon Hitler in their short film, You Nazty Spy, which premiered on January 19th, 1940. Charlie Chaplin followed this with his classic The Great Dictator, which opened on October 15th, 1940, including the famous scene where Charlie as Adenoid Hynkel plays with the giant globe in his office. On March 6, 1942, Lubitsch’s film premiered to critics and audiences that did not appreciate it. It was the last Nazi spoof comedy of the WWII era that I can find reference to. I can certainly understand how those at the time might have found it really difficult to laugh at such proceedings involving Hitler and the Nazis. Such subject matter has always come under fire, especially when involving comedic treatment. Everything from Hogan’s Heroes, The Producers, Life is Beautiful……even Tarantino’s recent Inglorious Basterds which was a tongue-in-cheek look at Jewish revenge and revisionist WWII history. It’s not hard to believe that such subject matter will always be controversial. Oh but what funny controversy is THIS film!

Lubitsch’s masterpiece, written with glorious panache by Edwin Justice Mayer from an original story by Melchior Lengyel, is that terrific combination of script and actors. Jack Benny and Carole Lombard star as Joseph and Maria Tura, husband and wife actors who belong to the same acting troupe in Warsaw, Poland. They are rehearsing for a spoof play, satirizing Hitler and the Nazis during the day and also performing Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the evenings. Maria begins to see a young fighter pilot named Lieutenant Sobinksi (Robert Stack), who is a fan of hers who comes to see the play every night. She tells him to visit her dressing room as soon as her husband Joseph starts into his “To be or not to be…” soliloquy. They have a terrific exchange: (more…)

Read Full Post »

by Allan Fish

(UK 1979 315m) DVD1/2

Who is Gerald?

p  Jonathan Powell  d  John Irvin  w  Arthur Hopcraft  novel  John Le Carré  ph  Tony Pierce-Roberts  ed  Chris Wimble  m  Geoffrey Burgon  art  Austen Spriggs

Alec Guinness (George Smiley), Bernard Hepton (Toby Esterhase), Michael Jayston (Peter Guillam), Terence Rigby (Roy Bland), Ian Richardson (Bill Haydon), Hywel Bennett (Ricki Tarr), Anthony Bate (Sir Oliver Lacon), Michael Aldridge (Percy Alleline), Alexander Knox (Control), Ian Bannen (Jim Prideaux), George Sewell (Mendel), Sîan Phillips (Ann Smiley), Patrick Stewart (Karla), John Standing (Sam Collins), Beryl Reid (Connie Sachs), Nigel Stock (Roddy Martindale), Warren Clarke (Alwyn), Joss Ackland (Jerry Westerby),

The world of John le Carré’s spy sagas always was a little starchy.  There had been a good version of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold in 1965.  In the end, however, it was that self-same starchiness that prevented it from quite scaling the heights.  Perhaps his plots, as intricate and delicate as a snowflake, required a longer, slower medium to do them justice.  Enter then, fourteen years later, this BBC adaptation of the first of the George Smiley novels.  It wasn’t the first time Smiley had been depicted on screen – Rupert Davies had briefly played him in the aforementioned Martin Ritt film.  Yet to everyone who saw it, there will always be only one George Smiley.

            Through various elaborate smoke-screen and red herring plots leading up blind alleys, the core remains this; somewhere in the British Secret Service, known by those on the inside as ‘the circus’, there is a mole selling out information, and thus operatives’ lives, to the Soviets.  The ailing head of the Service, known only as Control, has narrowed the list of suspects down to five, and he sends in one of his best scalp-hunters to Czechoslovakia in search of information which may ultimately lead to the mole’s identity being revealed.  Unfortunately, the operative is expected by the Soviets and is captured and assumed dead.  Soon after, Control dies of a heart attack and it’s left to George Smiley to be invited back into the inner sanctum to seek out the mole. (more…)

Read Full Post »