It was pure pleasure, in the waning days of the LACMA weekend classic film series, as curator Ian Birnie trotted out yet another sublime film pairing, this time a comedy duo: the first film, Preston Sturges’ social commentary/classic, “Sullivan’s Travels,” topped by Ernst Lubitsch’s insane, zany, perfectly scripted, outrageous and brilliant “To Be or Not to Be.”
Starring the great Jack Benny and the precious Carole Lombard, who died horribly in an airplane crash two months after the film’s completion, “To Be …” is the funniest movie I’ve ever seen in my life, full stop.
Anyone who passed Friday evening at the funky-friendly Bing Theater will explode in laughter at the sight of the guy at right. Sig Ruman, who cut his comic teeth working with the Marx Brothers, plays a hard-striving Nazi functionary who grows increasingly flummoxed as a group of wily Polish actors outfox him and his Fuhrer (“Heil, me!”)
Linking these two movies are indelible threads, delicious connections for the audience. Both films:
- were made by master directors within a few years of each other, 1941-42.
- careen wildly, but credibly, between slapstick, biting satire and social commentary.
- feature art within art: “Sullivan” acerbically reflects on the film industry, as “To Be…” lovingly portrays the theater world.
- use brilliant writing to take on humongous, almost unapproachable, issues — in “Sullivan,” the festering cycles of the American underclass, and in “To Be …” the threat of Nazi totalitarianism, and its absurdities.
In the coup de grace, in “Sullivan,” Veronica Lake plays a striving Hollywood actress who yearns to be introduced to Lubitsch.
Ian — what a masterful duo. Thank you, thank you.
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- LACMA film series majestic in July. Go!