To Be Or Not To Be (Korda; United Artists) is the late Carole Lombard's last picture. Like Son of the Sheik (Rudolph Valentino), Steamboat 'Round the Bend (Will Rogers) and Saratoga (Jean Harlow), it was posthumously released. Fortunately for all concerned, To Be is a very funny comedy, salted to taste with melodrama and satire.
In Ninotchka, Director Ernst Lubitsch deliciously kidded the vagaries of the Soviets; in To Be he succeeds-as Hollywood had not yet done-in deftly ridiculing Hitler and his Nazis. His story is an actor's-eye-view of the Nazi occupation of Poland. As the Alfred Lunt & Lynn Fontanne of Warsaw's Polski troupe, the Turas (Jack Benny and Miss Lombard) are a brittle couple. Their favorite soliloquy is Hamlet's To be, or not to be. . . . He likes to deliver it because it flatters his ego, at length; she likes it because it gives her time to entertain her male admirers backstage.
The temperamental Turas fit perfectly into the stock company's plot to keep information from the Gestapo that would wreck the Polish underground movement. She dallies with the informer (Stanley Ridges), who dies melodramiably onstage as his killers raise the curtain on their bombed and abandoned theater; he undertakes the role of his life by impersonating the dead spy. He is doing well when his vanity pricks him to ask the Gestapo head his opinion of Tura, the pre-war actor. Growls the Gestapoman: "What he did to Shakespeare, we are now doing to Poland."
What the Polski company does to the Gestapo is first-rate entertainment- thanks to a score of good performances by the cast, fresh dialogue and plot (authored by Lubitsch and Melchior Lengyel) and the sure, saucy, suspenseful Lubitsch direction. Miss Lombard's natural, likable, vibrant performance is up to her standard. Mr. Benny, who plays his role straight, doesn't need his prop stogies to be funny.
Slick sequence : escaping to England in Hitler's private transport plane, which they have impersonated their way into, the Polish actors invite Hitler's pilots to leave the controls and come into the cabin for a word with the phony Führer. They heil the impersonator and intone: "Yes, mein Führer." Pointing to the open cabin door, he commands: "Jump!" Without hesitation or parachutes, they jump.
The Invaders (Columbia) is a Made-in-England propaganda film so crowded with talent that it can afford to use such notables as Leslie Howard, Raymond Massey and Laurence Olivier as bit players. Eighteen months in the making, it is more skillful as cinema than as propaganda.
Six survivors of the crew of the U-37, a Nazi submarine sunk by air bombs in Canadian waters, run a marathon across Canada (Hudson Bay to Alberta). One (Eric Portman) goes the distance; the others are killed or captured along the way. The survivor becomes, prematurely, the darling of the Nazi radio ("one Nazi against 11,000,000 Canadians"); a lone Canadian Army private (Mr. Massey), fed up with guarding the Chippawa Canal, polishes the Nazi off in democratic fashion (fists) before he can reach the sanctuary of U.S. soil.