September 7, 2013

"To Be or Not to Be."

RLC emails to say that the great old Jack Benny/Carole Lombard movie (directed by Ernst Lubitsch) — which we loved in the 1970s — is out in a Criterion Collection edition. He notes the 97% positive rating by the critics collected at Rotten Tomatoes, and I see that the 3% negativity is accounted for entirely by the one review that comes from 1942, when the movie was released. It's Bosley Crowther in the NYT:
Perhaps there are plenty of persons who can overlook the locale, who can still laugh at Nazi generals with pop-eyes and bungle-some wits. Perhaps they can fancy Jack Benny, disguised be-hind goggles and beard, figuratively tweaking the noses of the best Gestapo sleuths.
Carole Lombard is, Crowther tells us, "very beautiful and comically adroit." Twice, in this short review, he informs us that this is her last movie. He writes the strange phrase "the feelings which one might imagine her presence would impose are never sensed." She's beautiful and dead, so he thought he was going to have feelings, but he's forced to see her there with that big old ham, the "radio comedian," Jack Benny:
Too often does he pout or grow indignant or pull a double-take. Of course, the script en-courages the old Benny legend of "ham." Once a German officer comments, laughing loudy, "What he did to Shakespeare we are doing now to Poland." That gives you a couple of ideas about this film.
How dare Jack Benny get the last of the beautiful and adroit Carole Lombard!

14 comments:

Mark G said...

Mel Brooks' 1983 re-make is one of my favorites. Anne Bancroft was brilliant in the Carol Lombard role. Can someone who's seen both versions comment on the comparison?

elkh1 said...

It was one of the greatest movies I've ever watched. Alas, there's no more Carole, no more Jack... But we always have home grown "Hitler".

roadgeek said...

I've seen both, and the Mel Brooks version was superior. With the Benny/Lombard version the humor seemed a little more subtle; with the Brooks version there was no subtlety, which worked well with the Nazi theme.

Benny was still a genius, however. My wife and I are steadily working our way through all the available episodes of his TV show, and most of them are gems. Not only was he funny, but he had a knack for surrounding himself with very talented people. Dennis Day had a singing talent that could best be described as an acquired taste, but he was a delight to watch as he bantered with Benny. His sense of comedic timing was nearly as well developed as that of Benny.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Haven't seen the Brooks-Bancroft (they were married in real life, by the way); it gets mixed reviews online, with Bancroft generally praised. The 1942 original was supposedly ripped off right and left by Tarantino in Inglorious Basterds (which I also loved).

MrCharlie2 said...

I think I have seen both, but I only really remember the Jack Benny version. Saw it approx 45 years ago in a (gut) film class, and loved it.

It makes sense that Mel Brooks would remake it: in hindsight the original has the feel of a Mel Brooks movie. I should watch it again.

Ann Althouse said...

"pull a double-take"

No one speaks of "pulling" faces today.

Ann Althouse said...

Do we still speak of "pulling" jokes?

Ann Althouse said...

We do speak of "pulling" things out of one's ass...

(I'm interested in the evolution of the word "pulling.")

C Stanley said...

The Brits still say "pulling faces", don't they?

Ron said...

I love how in the Mel Brooks version, everyone starts the film (which is set in Warsaw)speaking Polish! Then, the Omniscient Voiceover shows up to tell them all to speak English! The actors all look up and around and then smile and sigh and resume in English...

Dale Light said...

I recently watched "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" again. It's even more delightful than I remembered! Checked it out on Rotten Tomatoes. It had a 98% rating -- only one bad review. It was Bosley Crowther of course.

Carol said...

I've tried to watch the original several times and just can't get through it. It's a quiet boring movie, especially compared to the other Benny flicks of the time, and the Bob Hope and Red Skelton comedies.

Darleen said...

How dare Jack Benny get the last of the beautiful and adroit Carole Lombard!

Actually that would have been her husband, Clark Gable, who never really got over her tragic death.

bandmeeting said...

I saw that on Hulu over a year ago. Excellent movie. I don't buy the hype that people just didn't know what to think about it because it was a comedy with/about Hitler.