Ernst Lubitsch played a major role in Carole Lombard's development as an actress. As head of production for Paramount in the mid-1930s -- the only director of note to wield such influence -- he helped elevate Lombard to the top tier of that studio's stars after it hadn't known what to do with her for several years.
But it wasn't until the latter part of 1941 that Lubitsch finally directed her, in the acerbic comedy "To Be Or Not To Be." It would not be released until March 1942, by which time the U.S. had entered World War II and Carole became an indirect casualty of it. For those and other reasons, "To Be Or Not To Be" initially drew a cool critical and public reaction, but over the years it has earned the reputation of a masterpiece for both Lubitsch and Lombard.
"To Be Or Not To Be" has long been available on video and DVD, but now it's getting the first-class treatment it deserves -- from the same people who issued the definitive version of another Carole classic, "My Man Godfrey," some 12 years ago.
Criterion has announced that its edition of "To Be Or Not To Be" will be released in late August, on both conventional DVD and the newer Blu-ray format.
As one would expect from Criterion, this item abounds with bonuses. There's a restored digital transfer, an audio commentary, a trailer, a 2010 French documentary on Lubitsch. a booklet, and two radio broadcasts -- a 1940 Screen Guild variety show featuring Lubitsch, Jack Benny and Claudette Colbert, and the Screen Guild January 1943 adaptation of "To Be Or Not To Be," starring Lombard's former husband William Powell, current wife Diana Lewis and the film's Sig Rumann (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/268891.html).
This isn't the first Blu-ray go-round for "To Be Or Not To Be"; the French firm Studio Canal released a version for the Region B format in early 2012. But for those of us in North America, Criterion's release should be yet another revelation. (List price is $29.95 for the DVD, $39.95 for Blu-ray.)