Wednesday, December 9, 2009

To Be or Not To Be (1942)

Day 343 - 12/9/09 - Movie #343

BEFORE: I've seen the remake by Mel Brooks - damn, that would have been a great way to follow "1941" since both films starred Tim Matheson. But this is the original 1942 version starring Jack Benny, Carole Lombard, and Robert Stack (AHA! There's my connection, since Stack was also in "1941")

THE PLOT: During the Nazi occupation of Poland, an acting troupe becomes embroiled in a Polish soldier's efforts to track down a German spy.

AFTER: Once again, I've made the mistake (?) of watching a remade film before the original - what can I say, I'm a product of my times...for me, the definitive version of "King Kong" will always be the one with Jeff Bridges, Jessica Lange and Charles Grodin, where Kong climbs the World Trade Center instead of the Empire State Building.

Jack Benny is more subdued than Mel Brooks, though he has great reaction takes - he's like a fine-point pen to Brook's giant paint roller. The plot is essentially the same, and the funny lines are the same ("So they call me Concentration Camp Ehrhardt, eh?") but in the original film, the acting couple's names are Josef and Maria Tura, and one of the actors in their troupe is named Bronski. In the remake, Mel Brooks changed the couple's names to Frederick and Anna Bronski - realizing, of course, that Bronski is a much funnier name...

Plus there's Prof. Siletsky, Lt. Sobinksy and so on - it's like that bit in "Miracle at Morgan's Creek" where the girl can only remember that the soldier's name was "Ratzky-Watkzy". Comedy lesson for the day - words with "K" sounds in them are funny, kids.

I'm amazed that they got away with making fun of Nazis the way they did in this film - this was 2 decades before "The Producers", even. The Germans are portrayed here as a bunch of bumbling, easily fooled yes-men. Why, because that's funny too - but this was made in 1942, right in the middle of the war - so does it count as comedy, or propaganda?

And that's THREE films this week set in Poland at the start of WWII - for those of you scoring at home...which reminds me that I did dedicate this year's efforts to my grandfather, who was of Polish descent (but his parents left long before WWII).

RATING: 4 out of 10 parachutes

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