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GREEN FIELDS (Grine Felder)(directors: Jacob Ben-Ami/Edgar G. Ulmer; screenwriters: George Moskov/from the play Grine Felder by Peretz Hirschbein; cinematographers: William Miller/Burgi J. Contner; editor: Jack Kemp; music: Vladimir Heifetz; cast: Michael Goldstein (Levi-Yitzchok), Helen Beverly (Tzineh), Isidore Cashier (David-Noich), Anna Appel (Rochel), Herschel Bernardi (Avrum-Yankon), Saul Levine (Hersh-Ber), Max Vodnoy (Elkone), Lea Noemi (Gitl), Dena Drute (Stera); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Ludwig Landy/Roman Rebush; The National Center for Jewish Film, Brandeis University; 1937-USA-in Yiddish with English subtitles)
“A positive look at how the ordinary Jew conducted himself in the Old Country.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Edgar G. Ulmer (“Black Cat”) co-directs with Jacob Ben-Ami (a recognized actor-director in both the Yiddish and American theater) the popular Yiddish play Grine Felder by Peretz Hirschbein. Ulmer spoke no Yiddish but had a familiarity with the Yiddish theater. The film was made without established stars; all the actors spoke Yiddish, though they were so convincing as foreigners it was hard to believe they were English speaking Americans. It was filmed in the same rural New Jersey farm Ulmer used before for The Girl from Poltavka. The film became a big hit and the actors went on to careers as celebrities in the Yiddish cinema and theater circuit. Green Fields reminds one of the past in Russia, when Jews lived in the Jewish Pale (an area of restricted settlement in the western portions of Tsarist Russia) and had to fight for knowledge.

A restless young orphaned yeshiva scholar Levi-Yitzchok (Michael Goldstein) leaves the city-life, his valued books and his dear synagogue to search for the ‘light of truth’ in the countryside. He mentions that “the truth is everywhere, but one must search for it.” This brings Levi-Yitzchok to a Jewish peasant farm somewhere in Russia where he encounters Avrum-Yankon (Herschel Bernardi), the youngest son of the hardworking patriarch David-Noich (Isidore Cashier). Avrom brings Levi-Yitzchok home to meet the rest of the family: his mother Rochel (Anna Appel), the always giggling, barefooted, childishly playful teenage sister Tzineh (Helen Beverly), and his oldest brother Hersh-Ber (Saul Levine). The family considers it an honor to have such a learned Jew stay with them and insist he become the tutor to their children. Though he only planned to stay for the night, he ends up staying for the summer even though he was first unsure if he wants to remain in a place where everyone is illiterate and can’t observe all the Jewish customs as do the city-dwellers.

The drama comes about when David-Noich’s jealous neighbor family tries to persuade Levi-Yitzchok to live in their place. Elkone and Gitl (Max Vodnoy and Lea Noemi) desire to have Levi-Yitzchok, who is called by all the peasants the Rebbe (Rabbi), marry their daughter Stera (Dena Drute). But Stera is in love with Hersh-Ber, and Hersh-Ber resents that her father is keeping them apart. Meanwhile Tzineh has fallen in love with Levi-Yitzchok and schemes with her mother’s help to capture his heart. The comedy is sparked by the spats between the two families, who only stop because Levi-Yitzchok feels uncomfortable with Jews fighting amongst themselves.

Green Fields serves to offer a positive look at how the ordinary Jew conducted himself in the Old Country. There’s a veneration for the folksmentsh (the ordinary person) and the value of honest work such as toiling the soil. This is put on equal footing to studying the Torah. The yeshiva bocher, Levi-Yitzchok, quotes from the Talmud: “A man without land is not a man.” He gets a chance to observe this as a truth by living with the peasant family. By the conclusion Levi-Yitzchok agrees to marry Tzineh, believing he has found in the simple setting the ‘real Jews’ he was looking for. The politics of Green Fields waxes poetic on a utopian agricultural society as the Jews best way of living close to God and feeding his belly, and as a result the film brims over with a dreamy feeling for the sunny fields of plenty and the honest people who work the land.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”