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To Be Or Not To Be

September 29, 2021

Most of have seen the 1942 film “To Be Or Not To Be.” This classic starred Jack Benny and Carole Lombard along with Robert Stack. It has since been remade by Mel Brooks (1983).

For me the film is perhaps more memorable because my father Gene Rizzi played a small part in the movie as a Polish airman. That’s my father behind Carole Lombard in the publicity photo.

Although the film is a mixed comedy / drama, the question in Europe in 1942 was indeed “to be or not to be.” Nazi Germany tried hard to make it the latter. Seven decades on, I still find this film poignant and comical but with a twinge of nostalgia for pre-war Europe or what has been often described as its golden age. My father was in Europe during the run-up to the second world war as a young violinist with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. One evening in Vienna, he saw a crowd gathering on a street corner. As he approached, he saw a funny looking man with a queer little mustache standing literally on a soapbox, speaking violently in patriotic tones to the crowd. My father felt a sudden chill upon hearing the diatribe and decided he should return to the United States. His intuition was spot on. “To Be Or Not To Be;” he asked himself that question and returned promptly to the safety of America.

Seventy years later, I moved to Europe to fulfill many dreams with my wife. While Hitler was long gone, we found that his legacy was still very much alive. The scars we found etched upon the South Tirol were more like open wounds. “To Be;” we tried to be for over a decade. In the end, my wife and I had that same feeling my father had experienced. We decided “Not To Be” and moved back to the comfort and relative sanity of our birth nation.

“To Be Or Not To Be.” Indeed, that has always been the question. Answers to the question often take divergent forms. For me, being was not to be in Europe. While I’m sure others would see it differently, I am confident in our decisions. I often think of Jack Benny’s exasperation, my father’s decisions and a great film that ties it all together.

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Read author Allen E. Rizzi’s latest books available at Amazon.com

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6 Comments
  1. Nemorino permalink

    This is also one of my favorite films of that era. I remember reading that Jack Benny’s father was upset when he saw the film, because of the scenes where his son was disguised as Hitler.
    My own father immigrated through Ellis Island in 1928. One of his disappointments later in his life was that neither of his sons chose to remain in the United States as adults. My brother enrolled in a Canadian university, and after graduation he stayed on, becoming a ‘Landed Immigrant’ and later a Canadian citizen. When I was in my twenties I divided my time between Europe and the United States (and Vietnam), before finally settling here in Frankfurt in my early thirties.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Danke fürs Kommentieren! Ich habe Verwandte in Rieneck, wo meine Urgroßmutter geboren wurde.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nemorino permalink

        In Rieneck (nahe Gemünden) war ich bisher nur selten, werde aber wohl künftig endlos viel Zeit dort verbringen. Meine Frau und ich haben nämlich festgelegt (und schon dafür bezahlt) dass wir dort im Wald begraben werden.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoy the film so much. Next time I will watch for your father.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well said, Allen: “back to the comfort and relative sanity of our birth nation.”

    It’s eye-opening for me to associate with talented people like you. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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