To Be Or Not To Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942)Adam & Matty's takes (starts at 36:20)
I don't know if it's me getting more comfortable with Lubitsch's sensibilities or him actually getting better over time, but his 1940s films seem to speak to me a lot more than his 1930s ones, based on this very small sample anyway. Once again, the difference is that, though this is mostly a farce (with Nazis!), there is an emotional core here with this theater troup which really feels like the lovable ragtag band of misfits it's supposed to. Felix Bressart was already a key part of the ensemble in The Shop Around the Corner, conveying a sense of warmth that puts the sharper comedy (sharper here than in that film), and he plays that role again, though mostly in the background this time. There is an added poignancy however, because he is a Jewish actor (playing one too) in a film about the Nazis invading Poland, and Lubitsch manages to balance that much better than Chaplin in The Great Dictator I'd say, with Bressart's Shylock speech lending the film exactly the right amount of gravity to fit the situation.
And it does need that, because - even without knowing what we do now - laughing about the repetition of "So they call me Concentration Camp Ehrhard, eh?" is... tricky. Perhaps the way Lubitsch wraps the narrative in a few layers (insert comment about the language thing here) ; most notably with the play that opens the film and basically gets repeated in the film's actual narrative. It's all quite clever, and more importantly, it's all very funny, thanks to a very charming Jack Benny and a somewhat underutilized Carole Lombard. The whole ensemble is quite strong too, though Robert Stack is beyond wooden as the lesser part of the central romantic triangle which Lubitsch thankfully doesn't let overtake the film, letting it be a heist farce instead.
Adam & Matty mention the film being poorly received at the time, which I assume is related to the political situation it tackled. Watching it in 2017 it's fascinating to see Lubitsch, a German exile, make this film, which makes light of the Nazis but still does have things like, well, a line about concentration camps. It makes light of them without letting you forget that they are doing horrible things because they're, you know, nazis. I generally do think that laughing in the face of evil is not only acceptable but necessary, though it certainly is a tricky proposition, which makes To Be Or Not To Be all the more remarkable for succeeding. Come to think of it, it's what he tried to do with considerably less sucess (to me at least) in Ninotchka. I guess communists aren't as fun as nazis.8/10