It feels like I have been promising this one forever but I am finally delivering! June is going to be all about Jewish culture on the silent screen.
The films are a mix of movies made specifically for Jewish viewers (some Yiddish will be forthcoming!) and films made for all viewers that portray Jewish characters as sympathetic and interesting.
Obviously, Hollywood and film industries abroad have had their share of negative stereotypes and comedy relief characters but we are going to be steering clear of those as much as possible.
The silent era coincided with a perilous time for Jewish people. Antisemitism was on the rise, spurred on and embraced by important figures like Henry Ford in the United States and “the Jewish question” openly debated in Western Europe, where Jews fleeing pogroms, revolution and collapsing empires in the East were scapegoated for every social ill. Obviously, things would soon become much, much worse.
Some of the films I will be reviewing will tackle the issue of antisemitism head on while others will focus more on Jewish characters just trying to live their lives. It’s important to know, however, that the topic was known, discussed and on many, many minds.
To whet your appetite, here are some films in this theme that I have already reviewed:
East and West (1923): The earliest known surviving Yiddish language film, these are the adventures of Molly Picon when she leaves America to visit the old country. Mischief and chaos follow in her wake and she ends up accidentally marrying a yeshiva student. The bulk of the film is taken up with her dealing with the fallout. Fabulous showcase for the young Picon who is a dynamo even without her famous voice.
His People (1925): Stage legend Rudolph Schildkraut plays the patriarch of an Ashkenazi family living in New York. This lovely dramedy deals with his at-times strained relationship with his very Americanized sons. Have a hankie ready because this one will hit you right in the feelings but there’s also plenty of warm humor.
I hesitate to include this one but I will be referencing it in my reviews this month so here it is…
Surrender (1927): Readers of this site know that I hate this film with a passion. It involves a Russian prince trying to court a rabbi’s daughter and he does it by threatening genocide, like any romantic young man would. I have no idea what anyone who made this picture was thinking and it’s an example of what I absolutely do NOT want in films this month.
While it has nothing to do with Jewish culture, really, I recommend Young April, which is a rare opportunity to see both Schildkrauts, Joseph and Rudolph, play opposite one another in starring roles. I have also reviewed the Twilight Zone episode Deaths-head Revisited, a Holocaust horror story that stars Joseph Schildkraut opposite Oscar Beregi, Jr., another child of the Yiddish theater.
There’s a lot of research coming your way and I hope you will find the reviews interesting.