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In March 1942, Bosley Crowther, the film critic for the New York Times, was dismayed to see the premiere of Ernst Lubitsch’s comedy film, To Be or Not to Be, which featured a troupe of Polish actors outmanoeuvring the dumb Gestapo and successfully saving the Polish underground. The egomaniacal star couple of the Polski Theatre, Joseph and Maria Tura, were played by the vaudeville and radio entertainer Jack Benny and the ‘queen’ of screwball comedy, Carole Lombard. Crowther resented that the film director made ‘a spy-thriller of fantastic design amid the ruins and frightful oppressions of Nazi-invaded Warsaw’, adding that ‘[t]o say it is callous and macabre is understating the case’.
I do not think any spectacle can be more interesting, than the first sight of Man in his primitive wildness.
(Darwin to J. S. Henslow, 11 April 1833)
THE BEAST AND THE SWAN
Along with 'the exquisite glorious delight' of tropical scenery, the encounter with the 'bona fide savages' of Tierra del Fuego marked the highlight of Charles Darwin's Beagle voyage (1831-6). Darwin was fascinated and repulsed in equal measure by 'the most curious and interesting spectacle' of Fuegians, whose attitudes and countenance were not only 'abject' but 'distrustful, surprised, and startled'. The tribes inhabiting Wollaston Island were in particular 'the most abject and miserable creatures' Darwin ever saw: 'These poor wretches were stunted in their growth, their hideous faces bedaubed with white paint, their skins filthy and greasy, their hair entangled, their voices discordant, their gestures violent and without dignity.' Darwin could hardly believe them to be 'fellow-creatures, and inhabitants of the same world'. The difference between a primitive and civilized man seemed 'greater than between a wild and domesticated animal, in as much as in man there is a greater power of improvement', and, to Darwin, 'the cr[ie]s of domestic animals are far more intelligible' than the 'tones' and 'gesticulations' of Fuegians.
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