(director: Otto Preminger; screenwriters: Dalton Trumbo/from the novel by Leon Uris; cinematographer: Sam Leavitt; editor: Louis Loeffler; music: Ernest Gold; 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), Jill Haworth (Karen), David Opatoshu (Akiva), Felix Aylmer (Dr. Lieberman), Michael Wager (David), Martin Miller (Dr. Odenheim), Gregory Ratoff (Lakavitch), Marius Goring (Von Storch); Runtime: 212; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Otto Preminger; United Artists; 1947)

“Otto – let my people go!”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s a lumbering and neutered of passion 212-minute abridged screen adaptation of the passionate tome-like best-selling novel by Leon Uris, and is written by blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo under an alias. It’s directed in a heavy-handed manner by Otto Preminger (“Laura”/”Saint Joan”/”Rosebud”), who nevertheless gets good performances from his talented cast and the film features first-class production values. The Jewish comedian Mort Sahl was invited by the director to a preview and is reported to have said after the over three hour film ended: “Otto – let my people go!”

The star-studded and lavish epic chronicles Israel’s struggle for independence in 1947. It follows Ari Ben Canaan (Paul Newman), an Israeli resistance leader for Haganah, as he tries to help a group of 600 Jewish immigrants escape British-blocked Cypress for Palestine and direct the path to freedom away from the rival more radical terrorist Irgun movement.

The unfocused film wanders over much desert turf: showing the bombing of the King David Hotel and the migration of European Jews to the new land (who include many survivors of the Holocaust); it loosely covers various political and personal aspirations among the Jewish nationalist movement itself, the Jewish aspirations to gain partition, the Arab resistance and the unfortunate role played by the Brits as guardians of the status quo. There’s also a tepid conventional romance that develops between the dedicated Ari and a young American shikseh widow, Kitty Fremont (Eva Marie Saint), stranded in Cyprus and a friend of the Brit commander General Sutherland (Ralph Richardson).

Ernest Gold’s Oscar-nominated score is a memorable classic. Newman’s performance is adequate technically but lacks warmth. Preminger remains faithful to the novel’s homage to the spirit of the new nation but the compromised film never gets past making everybody stereotyped and more dull than than they should be and never develops the too many different threads the story takes in trying to give a complete picture of the struggle for a homeland.


REVIEWED ON 12/28/2007 GRADE: C+