(director: John Frankenheimer; screenwriters: Dalton Trumbo/from the novel by Bernard Malamud; cinematographer: Marcel Grignon; editor: Henry Berman; music: Maurice Jarre; cast: Alan Bates (Yakov Bok), Carol White (Raisl ), Hugh Griffith (Lebedev), Dirk Bogarde (Bibikov), Georgia Brown (Marfa Golov), Ian Holm (Grubeshov), David Warner (Count Odoeosky), Elizabeth Hartman (Zinaida), David Opatoshu (Latke), Murray Melvin (Priest), Peter Jeffery (Berezhinsky), George Murcell (Deputy Warden), Thomas Heathcote (Proshko); Runtime: 132; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Edward Lewis; MGM; 1968)

I came away admiring only the acting.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

John Frankenheimer(“The Gypsy Moths”/”The Horsemen”/”Black Sunday”) drama adapts Bernard Malamud’s great novel (winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1967) about injustice in Czarist Russia. Blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo trivializes the screenplay. Alan Bates, the film’s bright spot, was nominated for Best Actor. The film is only satisfactory if you haven’t read the book. I read the book, and realize Frankenheimer short-changed the author by making the story seem so false. I came away admiring only the acting.

In Czarist Russia, at the turn of the last century, during the period of pogroms, the poor but educated Jew, Yakov Bok (Alan Bates), is abandoned by his unfaithful wife Raisl (Carol White). Yakov leaves his farm and settles in Kiev, where he poses as a gentile and works as a handyman for the alcoholic, anti-Semitic merchant Lebedev (Hugh Griffith). Lebedev’s crippled young daughter Zinaida (Elizabeth Hartman) tries to seduce him, but Yakov spurns her advances. She gets even by accusing him of rape. But Lebedev stands by him and even promotes the hard working Yakov to factory overseer-accountant. The brick factory foreman, Proshko (Thomas Heathcote), takes a dislike to Yakov and the rowdy neighborhood boys prove to be bothersome to him. When one of the boys is brutally killed, the superstitious Russians believe the Jews are responsible for this ‘ritual killing.’ Since Yakov has been unmasked as a Jew, he’s arrested and treated by everyone as a killer despite no concrete proof. The only one who believes in Yakov is his homosexual government attorney Bibikov (Dirk Bogarde), who investigates his suspicion that the vic’s mother’s lover did the dastardly deed. Fearing that the lawyer will undermine their agenda to indict the entire Jewish community for the murder, the community anti-Semites murder Bibikov and make his death seem like a suicide. Through it all Yakov, though tortured, bravely refuses to confess. Yakov’s plight comes to the attention of the international community and the Czar is forced to have a regular trial.

Despite the film’s lumbering pace and turgid storytelling, the story is so powerful that it’s still worth seeing if you choose not to read the book.

REVIEWED ON 12/26/2014 GRADE: B-