Wednesday, October 26, 2011


(December 1960, U.S.)

This post for Otto Preminger's film of EXODUS should probably have been ghost-written by my cousin Danny. He's a thousand times more the Jew than I'll ever want to be, he's half Isreali and he surely knows a lot more about the factual history behind the events that happened on the ship "Exodus" in 1947 and dealing with the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 than I'll ever be aware of. Still, it's my blog so I'll give it a go...

To begin with, I have to say that when considering the decade of the 1960s before about 1967, it's confusing to really know how the tide was turning in Hollywood. Film historians tell us that the entire major studio system was on the verge of total collapse. Yet despite that claim, we still had an array of incredible films like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, SPARTACUS, THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, GRAND PRIX, THE GREAT ESCAPE and of course, EXODUS.

For this historical epic, we have the great stars Paul Newman as Ari Ben Canaan, a Haganah (look that up) rebel who previously was a captain in the Jewish Brigade of the British Army in World War II and Eva Marie Saint as Nurse Katherine "Kitty" Fremont, an American volunteer at the Karaolos Internment camp on Cyprus, where thousands of Jews - Holocaust survivors - are being held, as the British won't let them go on to Palestine. They're anxiously awaiting the day they will be liberated. Ari has obtained a cargo ship to smuggle 611 Jewish inmates out of the camp for an illegal voyage to Mandate Palestine before being discovered by military authorities. When the British find out that the refugees are in a ship in the harbor of Famagusta, they blockade the harbor. The refugees stage a hunger strike and Ari threatens to blow up the ship and the refugees. The British eventually relent and allow the "Exodus" safe passage to Palestine.

During this time, opposition to the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states is heating up. Young Dov Landau (played by Sal Mineo) proclaims his desire to join the Irgun, a radical Zionist underground network who devise a series of terrorist explosions in a crowded hotel. Terrorism is key here in that it not only represents the evil behind the murder of many hotel residents, but also the plot to free the captured terrorists. And yet even among this political turmoil and tragedy, there is still time in the film for two kids (Dov and a young Jewish girl named Karen) to fall in love. This love is ultimately doomed, though, during a time of war, destruction and death. For even as an independent Israel is now in plain view, it's the inevitable death of Karen and Taha (played by John Derek), an Arab village leader that will ultimately bring people together in the end with a message to the world. Karen and Taha (Jew and Arab) are buried together in one grave and at the Jewish burial ceremony, Ari swears on their bodies that someday, Jews and Arabs will live together and share the land in peace. I'm afraid that true history has taught us differently, though, hasn't it?

Widely characterized as a "Zionist epic", EXODUS was identified by many commentators as having been enormously influential in stimulating Zionism and support for Israel in the United States. Although this film softens the anti-British and anti-Arab sentiment of the original Leon Uris novel, the film remains controversial for its depiction of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and for what some scholars have perceived to be its lasting impact on American conceptions (or MISconceptions) of what regional turmoil really is.

Cousin Danny, if you're reading this now, let me just say that you probably could've written this up just a little better than I. Oh, well.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Katherine "Kitty" Fremont: "Can't you understand that you make me feel like a Presbyterian when you can't, just for a minute or two, forget that you're a Jew?"

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