The Sunday Intertitle: “First it was Hess, now him.”


Not really an intertitle. But a joke, since it appears right after someone says, “Now let’s go to England.” And a sophisticated, Lubitschian joke, since it requires the viewer to recognise the fact that Scotland is not England. Even some of the English don’t realise that.

The film, of course, is TO BE OR NOT TO BE, and we watched it with Marvellous Mary, who had recently enjoyed THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER and realised she hadn’t seen much Lubitsch. I always forget this one more-or-less finishes in my homeland. All so that a man dressed as Hitler can parachute into a haystack and startle the local farmers into uttering the line quote at top.

Hess, of course, had flown to Scotland, bailed by parachute (breaking a leg) and promptly got himself arrested. He claimed he was trying to broker a peace deal, but mystery surrounds his trip — he doesn’t seem to have been acting in any official capacity. He couldn’t have made peace all by himself, really, could he? Or if he could, can I? Why don’t I?

Attention to detail: the two farmers are played by authentic Hollywood Scotsmen, prolific Fifer Alec Craig (from Dunfermline) and arch-foe to Laurel & Hardy, that axiom of cinema, James Finlayson (from nearby Larbert). Even though only one of them has a line, Lubitsch evidently wanted convincingly dour faces.

It’s a little sad to see Finlayson looking so old — like Laurel & Hardy, he should be invulnerable to time, we feel — but good to see him doing his bit for the Old Country. He also turns up, all-too-briefly, in FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (as a Dutch peasant!), another anti-Nazi movie made before America’s entry into the war. I’ve always intended to visit Larbert to see if there’s a big bronze statue of him tearing his hair out in the town square.


To Be or Not to Be (1942)


4 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: “First it was Hess, now him.””

  1. The genius of Jack Benny

  2. Video blocked in the UK by Canal Plus. So everyone here should buy or rent or borrow or pirate it (using the link under the last picture).

  3. “tearing his hair out” or twisting his face into a big elongated “D’ohhhh!” Didn’t Dan Castellaneta cite him as the inspiration for Homer Simpson’s famous expression?

    My father (after failing his medical for SOE) was an air raid warden in East Kilbride in 1941. He recalls one night, stationed near Eaglesham, seeing a plane coming from the direction of Fenwick Moor. As he watched he clearly saw a figure parachute out and descend out of sight. Later he heard of Hess’s flight to the Duke of Hamilton and is convinced that this is who he saw that same night.

    I think I’d be just as awed to have seen James Finlayson.

  4. Yes, Homer gets his “frustrated grunt” from the Finn.

    Laurel & Hardy played Edinburgh and Glasgow, but I’m unsure if Finlayson ever revisited his homeland.

    Great Hess story — I bet it was him!

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