To Be or Not to Be remains one example of a wartime propaganda film that retains its freshness and entertainment value outside its original historical context. Made during World War II by German expatriate Ernst Lubitsch, the film features anti-fascist themes that never overwhelm the characters, and it allows star Jack Benny to fashion a likeable performance that transcends the story's political content. Where many topical comedies veer into either serious drama or excessive sentimentality, To Be or Not to Be maintains its satiric edge without descending into self-parody. The film works as a comedy, as a political thriller, as an anti-fascist satire, and as an allegorical parable. The dialogue contains sharp, ironic observations aimed at the absurdity of totalitarian dogma. While Nazis and Hitler were Lubitsch's specific targets, the film retains a more universal mockery of government oppression and the willingness of bureaucrats to accept their tasks without questioning them.
by Richard Gilliam review