Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Zionism: The Movie, Staring Paul Newman

The Otto Preminger Centennial

Exodus, based on the best selling book by Leon Uris, is Otto Premingers epic spectical on the establishment of the state of Israel. Intermixing real with fictitious characters the movie is probably not the best history lesson you could have the subject, and its portrayal of events has been harshly critiqued over the years. With a running time of approximately 3 1/2 hours, and a pacing that isn't in a hurry to get any where, sitting through this feature might feel as though it takes longer then some Israeli wars.

The plot concerns Kitty Fremont (Eva Marie Saint) the widow of photo-journalist who died covering Jewish uprisings in Palestine in the immediate post World War II years. Kitty has traveled to Cyprus to visit General Sutherland (Ralph Richardson) a British army officer who had been a friend of her late husbands. While there the General asks Mrs. Freemont (who happens to be a trained nurse) if she wouldn't mind spending a few days helping out at a refugee camp for Jews. The British Navy had been intercepting ships attempting to carry European Jews to Palestine, the reasoning being that the surge in Jewish population in the area was making it difficult for the imperial forces there to keep the peace with the Arabs. While volunteering at the camp Kitty befriends a teenage girl named Karen (Jill Haworth) whose mother and siblings died in the holocaust and whose father has been missing for years. Kitty eventually decides to (with the Generals permission) take Karen to America with her in the hopes of adopting the girl.

Kittys happy plans are disrupted however when Ari Ben Canaan (Paul Newman) arrives on the island to help implement a secret plan to transport the refuges who had been intercepted aboard a ship called 'The Star of David' (of which Karen is of course one) get to Palestine. Dressed as a military officer and carrying forged orders Ben Canaan manages to get the 'Star of David' passengers onto a new boat, which he calls 'Exodus'. The British figure out what he is up to before the boat can leave harbor and blockade the ship. In response the folks aboard 'Exodus' go on a hunger strike until they are permitted to leave for Palestine, promising to blow up the boat if the British try to board it. Eventually the U.K. decides to cave in to their demands and the ship sets out on its journey, with Kitty Fremont permitted to stay on board as ships nurse after their doctor dies of a heart attack.

Once they all make it to the holy land the plot shifts to the search for Karens father, who she believes might have made it to Palestine in the after-math of the war. Eventually Karens father is found alive in a hospital, but so mentally and physically ravaged by his experiences that he can not even talk, let alone respond to his daughters presence. Karens story is not however the central focus of the movie, rather star Paul Newmans Ben Cannan character is. We see Ari struggle to reconcile the militant and non-violent camps of Zionism, help orchestrate an elaborate Great Escape style prison break, and defend the residents of the small Jewish settlement he calls home from Arabs in the wake of the U.N. granting of Israeli partition.

As I said before this movie is pretty long, it could be several movies, and while well executed I'd have to rank it in the bottom half (favorites wise) of the Preminger films I've seen. Ernest Golds score for the movie constituted the films only Academy Award win.


Post a Comment

<< Home