Elegantly Dressed Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas
Woody Allen has been eulogising Bergman, Scorsese crooning for Antonioni so now I’m nailing my colours to the mast for a filmmaker who brought joy to many a lousy rainy afternoon when I was a child. Between 1939 and 1942 (not that I was even thought of then, obviously), Ernst Lubitsch made three classic comedies that were virtually on continuous television rotation along with the Ma & Pa Kettle films and My Little Chickadee during school holidays when I was wee. Now that’s what I call a classical education!
My all time favourite Lubitsch film is the pinnacle of the classic trio, To Be or Not to Be (1942). You’re going to think – she would say that wouldn’t she, but honestly it’s so funny not even Mel Brooks could improve on it. His 1983 remake wasn’t a patch on the original. But he did redeem himself with The Producers – which owes a huge amount to the central conceit of this film which is that the Nazis are comic figures. More seriously, it’s difficult to reconcile the claims I’ve heard all my life about the world being totally unaware of the atrocities occurring in Nazi Germany with my very early understanding of what this mainstream entertainment was telling us. ‘So they call me Concentration Camp Ehrhardt?’ is the secondary running joke in this film, which is basically about the necessity to hide either Jews or Jewishness, on threat of death.