Jack Benny, Nazi Fighter and Lombard Lover

In the 1942 film To Be or Not to Be, Jack Benny and Carole Lombard play a husband and wife who are stars of a Warsaw theater company right before Germany’s invasion of Poland. They hide as Warsaw is bombed, interact with the resistance and impersonate Nazis during a show with Hitler in attendance.

Taking advantage of Benny’s comedic talents, the film portrays the threat of the Nazis as both menace and farce, which was so controversial at the time that Benny’s own father walked out of the movie upon seeing his son wearing a Nazi uniform. The senior Benny was later cajoled into watching the film, liking it so much he viewed it 46 times.

The passage of time has led to the film’s reappraisal and it is now considered one of the best films of director Ernst Lubitch and stars Benny and Lombard.

While making the film, Jack Benny found self-deprecating humor in his wife Mary Livingstone’s reaction to himself being Lombard’s leading man:

[T]here’s one thing I can say for Mary — she’s not the least bit jealous. She was out at the Korda studio watching me do a very passionate love scene with Carole Lombard the other day, and when I kissed Carole Mary just laughed and laughed. Clark Gable was standing there and he laughed too. I’m glad that Mary and Clark aren’t narrow-minded.

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