Monday, June 01, 2009

That is the Question

Recently I had a slip of the tongue that dates me. Lilly has been working for weeks on an extended fifth-grade project about Molly Pitcher. It's lasted longer than I would have thought, so I asked her, "Haven't you finished that report about Molly Hatchet yet?" She looked at me oddly. She's had some practice at that over the years.

Not sure why that popped up, other than the superficial similarity. I never had any of their records nor went to any of their concerts, though I did hear "Flirtin' With Disaster" on the radio; everybody did. I also remember the Frank Frazetta album covers, even though I never spent any money on them. Such images were something of a novelty at the time, at least for me.

Over the weekend I saw the original version of To Be or Not to Be (1942) on DVD, which was entertaining if not particularly plausible. As tempting as it might be for later generations to think so, it's clear that Nazis-as-buffoons were not invented by Hogan's Heroes, since such buffoonery, with a considerable edge of menace, was on display in the movie, which is just one example of a wartime "propaganda comedy."

Propaganda for the good guys, I have to add. Years ago I found myself in an overly pedantic conversation about why the Allies won World War II. So I decided to end it by saying, "You know why we won? Because we were the good guys." Sometimes you have to give into to those reductionist urges, and not worry about it afterward.

My favorite character in To Be or Not to Be was Col. Ehrhardt, played by Sig Ruman, a German-born character actor who naturally enough made his living in Hollywood playing Germans, including turns in A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races. Ruman did "Nazi buffoon" to perfection in this movie. Interestingly, he even had a much-put-upon subordinate named Schultz.

Though not involving Col. Ehrhardt, one remarkable bit came toward the end of the movie when the troupe of Polish actors boarded Hitler's airplane in Warsaw, with one of them posing as Hitler and the others as high-ranking Nazis (told you it wasn't very plausible). The actors wanted to commandeer the plane to England, and happened to have a pilot among them, so they told the German pilot and co-pilot that Hitler wanted to see them, right away, at the back of the plane. When they got there, the Hitler impersonator said, "Jump!" and pointed to an open door. Without a word or protest, and without parachutes, out they went, presumably to their deaths.

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