Filmsite Movie Review
To Be or Not to Be (1942)
Pages: (1) (2) (3) (4)

Plot Synopsis (continued)

To Be or Not to Be (1942)Shortly later, Tura - now disguised and impersonating the "Professor" with a fake beard, glasses, and cane - entered the hotel room in the Nazi headquarters in the city. Relieved to see him, Maria greeted "The Professor" (after realizing immediately that it was her husband) - and asked about the condition of both Siletsky and her husband with one loaded question:

Maria: And how is Professor Siletsky?
"The Professor": (literally and figuratively) Dead. Absolutely dead.

In the presence of Captain Schultz, "The Professor" (who claimed it was tiresome working with the Gestapo) praised Maria as the "most attractive lady in town." He explained why she was there - she was to deliver a "code message" to a young Polish flier ("a very good friend of the Turas, and particularly of Mrs. Tura"). He went on to underhandedly criticize Maria for unfaithfulness, while praising her husband (himself):

Mrs. Tura has nothing to hide from the Gestapo, but she has one tiny little secret. Ha, ha, ha. If her husband ever found out, he would murder her. By the way, he is that great, great Polish actor, Joseph Tura. You've probably heard of him?

Due to a real change in the Colonel's plans, "The Professor" was ordered to meet with the commander immediately. Before leaving with Schultz, "The Professor" and Maria retreated into the bedroom, unlocked Siletsky's trunk and prepared to burn all of his papers. "The Professor" was anxious about his dangerous mission to meet Ehrhardt, but was more confrontational about Maria's affair with Sobinski - until he was partially reassured of her love:

"The Professor": The scene is loaded with dynamite. One little slip and I'm a dead man. You know I'm never any good unless I have my peace of mind. Maria, be honest, be frank. I've got to know. Did you tell that fellow to walk out of my soliloquy?
Maria: Oh, sweetheart, darling, I love you. Don't you know that? Don't you feel it? If anything should happen to you -
"The Professor": You think I can do it?
Maria: Of course, you're a great actor. Nobody can play it but you. You can, and you will do it. Goodbye, darling.

At Gestapo Headquarters, Colonel Ehrhardt (Sig Rugman) was introduced - he was in the midst of a phone conversation, ruthlessly ordering the arrest of prisoners, even without proof. "The Professor" was introduced to the Colonel, and was able to keep up the deception, even parroting some of Siletsky's own phrases. He was informed that Hitler, the Fuhrer ("a very old friend"), was planning to visit Warsaw soon. "The Professor" congratulated the Colonel:

"The Professor": You know what they call you? 'Concentration Camp' Ehrhardt.
Colonel: Oh, they do, do they? So they call me 'Concentration Camp' Ehrhardt.

As the Colonel poured a glass of brandy for "The Professor," he recalled a funny story and quote about Hitler that he felt compelled to repeat:

They named a brandy after Napoleon. They made a herring out of Bismarck. And the Fuhrer's going to end up as a piece of cheese.

"The Professor" thought the joke was uncouth and inappropriate - "I don't believe Adolf Hitler will go down in history as a delicatessen," and then promised to never report him to the Fuhrer, as bargaining leverage.

Upon questioning by the Colonel about the underground movement, "The Professor" said he had the name of the leader of the Resistance -- Boguslaw Revanski. When called into the room to verify the name, Captain Schultz declared that Revanski had been recently-executed two days earlier. "The Professor" called it "sabotage" - accusing the Nazis of shooting the man without looking him over or questioning him, and the Colonel agreed - until he was reminded that he had signed the order of execution himself. The Colonel, as always, shifted the blame to his subordinates: "I can't rely on my own people anymore." "The Professor" provided a second name - Maximilian Pietrowski - another prisoner already executed, and then quipped:

Well, Colonel, all I can say is, you can't have your cake and shoot it, too. It can't be done. And if they hear about this in England, I'm sure they'll gladly give you the Victoria Cross.

And he then tried to sow discord between the slow-witted Colonel and Schultz: "I didn't like the way Captain Schultz shifted the responsibility back to you." He was able to convince the Colonel to reserve two seats (for novice female agent Mrs. Tura and himself) on a plane bound for Sweden on Thursday. The Colonel recalled that before the war, he had seen Mrs. Tura's husband ("that great, great Polish actor, Joseph Tura") act on the Warsaw stage - and remembered his acting talent:

Oh yes. As in matter of fact, I saw him on the stage when I was in Warsaw, once before the war....What he did to Shakespeare, we are doing now to Poland.

Colonel Ehrhardt's desk calendar showed the day: 1941, Tuesday, December 16. A 10:30 am appointment was for an interview with the prospective agent-spy "Maria Tura." [Note: The next appointment time slot at 10:45 am was with "Schindler."]

Maria - who had been recommended by Siletsky to be a counter-spy - spoke with Colonel Ehrhardt in his office, when she was informed of "bad news" - "Professor Siletsky is dead....Murdered." Ehrhardt went on to describe how Siletsky's corpse was discovered:

The Fuhrer has just arrived in Warsaw. The men are planning a great reception for him tonight. A kind of performance by the soldiers. So they opened the Theatre Polski. They tried to arrange some scenery. One of the props broke and out fell the body of Professor Siletsky.

The Colonel speculated that the murderer, who used a British service revolver, had earlier parachuted from a British plane. Maria realized he was referring to her Polish admirer Lt. Sobinski, and hid her upset reaction when the Colonel threatened: "So the only mystery left is, where is this man? And believe me, we are going to get him."

The Colonel did a double-take when "The Professor" phoned about being late for his appointment. Maria rushed back to the hotel to warn "The Professor" about the real Siletsky's murder, but he had already departed. She vainly searched for him in their apartment and at the resistance underground headquarters. She was worried that following the discovery of Siletsky's body, Joseph was bound to be blamed and killed.

[Off-screen, they devised a plan to safely rescue him during his appointment with the Colonel.]

"The Professor" arrived in Colonel Ehrhardt's office, where he was confronted by the Colonel, Captain Schultz, and others, including Captain Mueller and Lieutenant Brundt of the Special Investigation Squad (the "Hotfoot Department"). "The Professor" was ushered into the Colonel's 'living room' -- inside the room was the corpse of the real Professor Siletsky propped up in a chair. The Nazi officials waited outside, hoping for a quick confession by the suspected fake "Professor." Realizing he was trapped, Tura thought of a quick and clever ruse - with the Colonel's straight-edged razor (in the adjoining bathroom), he shaved off Siletsky's beard and attached a spare fake beard from his pocket to Siletsky's face. He then waited out the Germans who were impatiently standing outside ("He should have cracked by now"). The Colonel claimed that his patient method was preferable with intellectuals, instead of using physical torture:

Colonel: I would say with intellectuals, the mental approach is sometimes more effective and much quicker.
Officer: But if he shouldn't turn out to be an intellectual?
Colonel: Then we try a little physical culture.

Eventually, "The Professor" emerged from the living room, and called Ehrhardt and the other suspicious officers into the room. After a long discussion and the playing of a game of "detective," he was able to easily fool them. He tricked the Colonel into pulling Siletsky's now-fake beard off, proving that he was the 'real' Siletsky, and the corpse slumped in the chair was the imposter. Again, the Colonel shifted blame to Captain Schultz for his embarrassment: "How dare you put me in this position? I can't rely on anybody." He was forced to dismiss his officers, and then humbly apologized to "The Professor."

The trick worked momentarily, and "The Professor" was about to leave unscathed from the Colonel's office (with an escort to the airport for a specially-arranged plane departure), when Tura's troupe of costumed theatrical actors (in Nazi uniforms) stormed in to rescue him from the Gestapo headquarters. They claimed that they had arrived with the Fuhrer as part of his Safety Squad, to arrest "The Professor" as an imposter. In front of the astonished and baffled Colonel, the Nazi General (Rawitch) pulled off "The Professor's" false beard and mustache, proving that the dead man was in fact the 'real' Professor Siletsky. "The Professor" fumed inside, outraged that his fellow actors had foiled his plans to leave the country.

Then, they embarrassed the buffoonish Colonel even further:

Well? What do you have to say for yourself now? Here is a man with a beard, and you didn't even pull it. I never saw a more gross neglected duty in my life... I've no confidence in you anymore, Colonel. I'm taking charge of this case myself. There will be a reorganization here, and your head will not be spared.

Back in the underground resistance headquarters, the group of actors (including Tura) quarreled amongst themselves and realized that they now needed an even bolder, chancier and riskier, and more complex scheme to escape with their lives. Sooner or later, they feared that they would be apprehended for their treachery: "In 24 hours, they'll know everything. Then we're caught like rats in a trap." They knew that the Theatre Polski had been reopened to host a stage show to welcome and honor Hitler, who would be heavily guarded and seated in the royal box. Dobosh proposed creating confusion and a commotion amongst the Gestapo during the performance in order to execute their plan.

In preparation for their ploy, Tura, Sobinski, and other actors costumed themselves as Nazi Gestapo officers (and Bronski was prepared to don a mustache to become Hitler) and infiltrated the packed theatre, whose interior was draped with Nazi swastika flags. The troupe's actors calmly strolled amongst the crowds of Nazis, undetected. Greenberg hid in the second floor's Ladies Lounge behind a dressing divider, while Tura, Bronski, and the rest of the group hid in the nearby Gentlemens Lounge. A phalanx of Gestapo guards and motorcycles preceded a motorcade carrying the Fuhrer to the theatre. Everyone in the audience stood at attention and gave a "Heil Hitler" salute as Adolf Hitler (viewed faceless from behind) entered his upper-floor royal box and took his seat. The entrance to Hitler's box was guarded by a phalanx of security forces.

During the singing of the German National Anthem (Das Lied der Deutschen) (aka Deutschland über Alles) (composed by Franz Joseph Haydn), Greenberg emerged in plain streetclothes from the lounge into the upstairs lobby and was quickly surrounded and seized by the guards. The distraction allowed the others in the Gentlemens Lounge (including Bronski as the mustached Fuhrer) to surreptitiously join the guards, who began questioning Greenberg. He was prompted to begin reciting his long-anticipated Shylock speech from The Merchant of Venice before the large band of Nazi soldiers:

What does he want from us? What does he want from Poland? Why all this? Why? Why? Aren't we human? Have we not eyes? Have we not hands, organs, senses, dimensions, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, cooled and warmed by the same winter and summer. If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? If you wrong us, shall we not revenge?

Assuming command as Hitler's security chief, Tura angrily ordered Greenberg to be taken away for questioning (by two disguised Polish actors impersonating Nazi lieutenants), and then advised that the Fuhrer (Bronski), standing next to him, vacate the premises immediately. As the group marched down the staircase behind Bronski to an awaiting limousine, they were blindly followed by the other Nazi guards. The drivers were ordered to proceed to the airport for their escape on Hitler's plane. On the way, they noticed the railroad station erupting in flames and explosions, evidence that the resistance forces were fighting back ("The underground is still alive"). But Tura realized he had lost his mustache - a crucial part of his disguise as the fake "Professor" - and he worried: "I can't get out without it."

A stop was planned to pick up Maria at the apartment, but Colonel Ehrhardt (and Captain Schultz) had already arrived there. At the Colonel's urgng, Schultz began to entice and seduce the unwilling Mrs. Tura while also recruiting her to the Nazi ranks as a counter-spy: "Mrs. Tura, we consider you a women of enormous appeal...," but then the Colonel dismissed him (for again shifting responsibility) and had her all to himself. She was anxious to have him leave before the scheduled entourage arrived, although he ignored her and began bribing her with a bracelet:

I confiscated a beautiful one today... I can make life worth living for you. I can give you extra butter rations. I will give you three eggs a week.

To the Colonel's surprise as he grabbed at Maria, the Fuhrer (Bronski) barged in on them. To his extreme consternation, the Colonel assumed that "Hitler" was also having an affair with her, and that he had been caught in another compromising situation without tact. He saluted "Heil Hitler" with a trembling hand. After "Hitler" silently backed away and left the room in shock, Maria ran after him, shouting: "My Fuhrer! My Fuhrer!" Ehrhardt's hand dropped down, touching his revolver in its holster. Left alone and behind the Tura's closed apartment door, a loud gunshot was heard, followed by a resounding moan and thud, and then a pause. Ehrhardt - who had failed at killing himself - was heard shouting out: "Schultz!"

Hitler's plane took off from the Warsaw airport for London, with the acting troupe on-board. After take-off, the two Nazi pilots were replaced by Lt. Sobinski, who flew the plane the rest of the way to England. Bronski (as Hitler) ordered the two Nazi pilots to jump and the "two very obliging fellows" - with unquestioning and wilful obedience - exited through an open hatch without parachutes. In Scotland, as anti-aircraft guns fired at incoming aircraft, all of the plane's occupants were forced to evacuate. Bronski (as Hitler) parachuted from the plane, and landed on a giant hay-stack, to the amazement of two farmers (l to r: Alec Craig, James Finlayson) with pitchforks. The one without a mustache (Alec Craig) remarked: "First it was Hess, now it's him."

In front of a Scottish inn, the entire acting troupe was photographed and interviewed by the press. As their spokesman, Tura bragged about his heroism when complimented about playing "the real hero in this amazing play":

I did my best and I was very ably assisted by my colleagues. Thank you, my friends, for everything you did. As little as it may have been.

He was willing to be rewarded for his service to the Allies when asked how England could show its gratitude to him. When he hesitated to answer, with false modesty, Maria answered for him: "He wants to play Hamlet....He wants to play Hamlet."

On stage in London playing Hamlet again in Shakespeare's homeland, Tura was warily watching Lt. Sobinski in the front row of the audience as he began his "To be or not to be" soliloquy. The young pilot AND Tura were shocked by a disruption in the second row. Another uniformed young male rose from his seat and noisily exited -- was he making his way backstage to Maria's dressing room?

Previous Page