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Exodus Movie Review

canaan ben film preminger

1960 – Otto Preminger –

When a terrorist bomb blast damages the King David Hotel about two-thirds through the very lengthy Exodus, it wakes up the movie and leads to a somewhat less ponderous final hour. But then almost anything would be better than the heavy-handedness of the pre-intermission hours of Otto Preminger's epic based on Leon Uris' best-selling novel. It's not hard to guess the studio's thinking. A built-in audience probably exists for films that deal with issues torn from headlines on the theory, probably erroneous, that the seriousness of the subject matter—here the creation of the national state of Israel—will also extend to the presentation of that idea on film. Another segment of the audience probably comes when a film is based on a popular novel. Over time, however, as these two audience-appeals diminish, a film will stand or fall on its own merits.

Exodus lacks any sense of drama and pace. The first part of the film depicts the efforts of resistance leader Ari Ben Canaan (Paul Newman) to gain publicity and thereby influence a forthcoming U.N. vote on statehood by collecting a boat-load of Jewish refugees in Cyprus and taking them to Palestine. Once he has bluffed and forged his way into getting them loaded, the British discover his plan and set up a blockade. Ben Canaan and the refugees retaliate by declaring a hunger strike, and for a while the film cuts back and forth from the headquarters of British General Sutherland (Ralph Richardson) to the boat trying to make the inactivity of not eating appear dramatic. Ninety hours without food seemingly leave the passengers no worse in appearance or temperament.

In another plot, an American nurse, Kitty Fremont (Eva Marie Saint), wants to care for and possibly adopt fourteen-year-old Karen (Jill Haworth), one of the exiles. Peter Lawford appears as Major Caldwell, one of Sutherland's subordinates, and his blatant anti-Semitism becomes one of the film's favorite targets in its first hour, skewering his prejudice with the same obviousness with which he reveals it. As Caldwell tells Ben Canaan, for example, who masquerades as a British officer, that he can “tell a Jew by his look,” Ben Canaan pretends to have something in his eye and asks Caldwell to inspect it for him, which he does, pouring out more invective.

The leaden approach Preminger shows here is similar in tone to that of another epic project of his from the 1960s, The Cardinal. Preminger and Uris at first attempted to collaborate on adapting the novel to the screen, but had a falling out, and Uris trashed the movie upon its release. Ernest Gold's Oscar-winning score is likely the best thing in the movie.

Cast: Paul Newman (Ari Ben Canaan), Eva Marie Saint (Kitty Fremont), Ralph Richardson (General Sutherland), Peter Lawford (Major Caldwell), Lee J. Cobb (Barak Ben Canaan), Sal Mineo (Dov Landau), John Derek (Taha), Hugh Griffith (Mandria), Gregory Ratoff (Lakavitch), Felix Aylmer (Dr. Lieberman), David Opatoshu (Akiva Ben Canaan), Jill Haworth (Karen), Marius Goring (Von Storch), Alexandra Stewart (Jordana), Michael Wager (David) Screenwriter: Dalton Trumbo Cinematographer: Sam Leavitt Composer: Ernest Gold Producer: Otto Preminger MPAA Rating: PG Running Time: 212 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1960: Score; Nominations: Color Cinematography, Supporting Actor (Sal Mineo); Golden Globe Awards, 1961: Supporting Actor (Sal Mineo) Budget: $4M Box Office: $8.3M (rentals).

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