Day Two: To Be or Not to Be (Ernst Lubitsch, USA, 1942)
Day 2: To Be or Not to Be. On another day it might have been another Lubitsch, which I love just as much — Trouble in Paradise, The Shop Around the Corner, Heaven Can Wait. Today I’m in a ‘let’s sneer at Nazis’-mood, thus the choice. And does anyone, Chaplin included, satirise them better? ‘Jump!’ ‘Heil Hitler’ as the Nazi throws himself off the plane. I know some of the lines by heart: ‘Hitler was a vegetarian but he was known to swallow whole countries’: ‘I wouldn’t sneeze at a laugh’, ‘that artists could be so inartistic!’ etc; then there’s Lombard beautifully dressed by Travis Banton: ‘what do you think of this for the concentration camp scene? Imagine me being flayed and whipped in this *lovely* dress’. She’s beautiful and her line readings are most extraordinarily inventive. ‘They call me concentration camp Erdhardt!’, ‘Schulz!’, so many funny moments. Sig Ruman’s playing of Erdhart is a comic masterpiece on its own. Plus there’s Jack Benny; and of course Lubitsch, finding humour and humanity in the darkest, most stranglingly bureaucratic of worlds, attempting to delight with the bleakest of material….and succeeding.
Very good book on a great actress, still under-rated star, and key figure in the ‘pre-code’ era. The book is as good on her life as on her career. Her relationships with her mother, sister and child figure prominently and are woven throughout the narrative along with her numerous marriages and affairs. The plays, films and performances are well discussed and one also gets the nitty gritty dollars and cents information I at least am keen on.
The book is interesting on all her key films (The Smiling Lieutenant, Trouble in Paradise, Design for Living, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Story of Temple Drake, Becky Sharpe, These Three;). It also gives a very good account of how difficult she was to work with, on the making of The Sisters, Old Acquaintance and the onset shenanigans with Bette Davis that ensued on those films. If Ryan Murphy wants to do a prequel to Feud this would provide very good material. Her reputation for being difficult affected her ability to get work in Hollywood but luckily she always had a stage career to return to in moments were she wasn’t getting what she wanted from Hollywood.
The book is fascinating on her extensive love life: Fritz Lang, Anatole Litvak, Robert Montgomery, and many others. The famous incident with Litvak and Paulette Goddard gets a full airing and Ellenberger also discusses and dismisses the rumours of Hopkins’ lesbian tendencies, locating the sources of the rumours and indicating how and why those rumours might have been propagated.
As an added bonus, one also gets a rich and full account of Hopkins’ career in the theatre. I recommend.