"What a Shylock you would have been." ~A compliment in TO BE OR NOT TO BE.
"All the world's a stage." A troupe of Polish actors knows this is a famous quote from William Shakespeare's As You Like It. This troupe will be thrust into a deeper, darker realization of Shakespeare's line when it winds up in a theatre of war. This 1942 comedy, directed by Ernst Lubitsch, makes me laugh out loud and there's one scene so beautifully acted in a tense situation so cleverly written that it puts tears in my eyes. We meet this troupe in Warsaw in the summer of 1939. Warsaw is still at peace.
I love Greenberg. He's a stock actor, a regular guy who is in the profession for the love of the art. He's not obsessed with becoming a star. He loves acting. He loves fellow actors. He loves the classics. He loves comedy. As Greenberg says, "A laugh is nothing to be sneezed at." To a company member who's always too theatrical and over the top in his performances, Greenberg says "What you are, I wouldn't eat." His best friend in the company, Bronski, has been cast as Hitler in the satirical "Gestapo."
Greenberg is "cast" to do Shylock for the worst audience imaginable. The theater is packed with critics who could kill his performance. Literally. Greenberg and company are in a theater full of Nazis. Also attending that particular performance is The Füehrer.
Shakespeare is referenced at least three times in the Lubitsch original with his Hamlet, Julius Caesar and The Merchant of Venice. A mint print of To Be or Not To Be is now available thanks to the Criterion Collection. Check this one out. The first 20 minutes alone have more laughs, wit, originality and energy than some 2-hour modern comedies I've paid money to see. Today, young actresses who want to do screen comedy should study Carole Lombard. She was a master at it. I love Lubitsch's To Be or Not To Be.
I bet Shakespeare would've loved it too. Thank you, Criterion.