HIS PEOPLE (aka: PROUD HEART) (director: Edward Sloman; screenwriters: from a story by Isadore Bernstein/Alfred A. Cohn/Charles E. Whittaker; cinematographer: Max Dupont; cast: Rudolph Schildkraut (David Cominsky), Rosa Rosanova (Rose Cominsky), George Lewis (Sammy Cominsky), Arthur Lubin (Morris Cominsky), Blanche Mehaffey (Mamie Shannon), Kate Price (Kate Shannon), Virginia Brown Faire (Ruth Stein), Nat Carr (Chaim Barowitz), Edgar Kennedy (Thomas Nolan), Betram Marburgh (Judge Nathan Stein); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; National Center for Jewish Film; 1925-silent)
“Heart-tugging, nostalgic Yiddish silent family melodrama.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Edward Sloman (“Puttin’ On the Ritz”) directs this heart-tugging, nostalgic Yiddish silent family melodrama, with universal appeal, that’s set in the early years of the last century in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. It evocatively captures in great detail the ghetto neighborhood (a pushcart peddler tells a customer: “What do you expect from a fish, perfume!”) and the deepening changes between the old world immigrants and their American born children. It shows how the father is becoming a pitiful figure and losing his authority in the new world to the more far-reaching matriarch. It’s taken from a story by Isadore Bernstein and written by Alfred A. Cohn and Charles E. Whittaker that updates the biblical story of Jacob and Esau.
It centers on the Russian-immigrant Cominsky family, where the grey bearded scholarly patriarch David (Rudolph Schildkraut) never fully adjusted to his new settings and toils as a poor pushcart peddler in his Lower East Side neighborhood; his wife Rose (Rosa Rosanova) is depicted as a long-suffering housewife raising their two sons Morris (Arthur Lubin) and the younger Sammy (George Lewis). Goody-two-shoes Morris is the father’s pride and joy and becomes a lawyer with ambitions to become a great man and is dating Ruth Stein (Virginia Brown Faire), the daughter of the upscale Judge Nathan Stein (Betram Marburgh), who is his boss in the law office. Sammy delivers newspapers and becomes a prize-fighter, which displeases the old man so much he kicks him out of the house. Fighting under the name of “Kid Rooney,” Sammy uses his fists to pay the bills for his deceitful brother Morris’s college education. Mamie Shannon (Blanche Mehaffey) is the pretty Irish neighbor who falls in love with Sammy from childhood and they continue dating as twentysomethings.
Morris is ashamed of his poor family and poses to the Steins as an orphan without a relative in this country, and falsely boasts of being a self-made man. After his father sells his valuable fur coat, from the old country, on a cold and snowy night to give Morris the fancy dress suit he asked for to keep up with the Steins, he comes down with pneumonia. But Morris is too busy to visit, and so the father on his death bed is fooled into giving his blessing to Sammy–who is always there for him. Then Sammy gets into the ring with someone whom he’s too green to fight, in order to give his father money to go to the warm climate of California for health reasons. Mamie takes Mama Cominsky to the fight and she urges on her son to get off the canvas after a terrible beating, and with that encouragement he licks his tough opponent. At the same time, the newspapers announce the engagement of Morris and the shocked father unexpectedly visits the eldest son while he’s celebrating at a large dinner party with the Steins in their splendid uptown house. Morris denies he has a father when confronted, and the father retreats to the subway but is greatly hurt.
There’s a lot of hokum one must get through to get to the final family reconciliation, where the father recognizes his mistakes and asks the honest and courageous Sammy, the Esau in this story, for his forgiveness. Morris is filled with shame when dragged home by his brother to confront his family, and he also reconciles with the family. The father gasps and says he now realizes that there are many ways to get success in this country and prizefighting is one of them. He apologizes for being so limited to think only book knowledge was important, and goes on to say he thought that way because that’s all he knew. The father remains a sympathetic but pathetic figure and the mother the pivotal one who holds the family together, while the sons stray from the old world traditions (one even going so far as to be openly with a shikseh) and both have an aggressive spirit needed to better themselves in the new world. It’s similar in theme to “Humoresque.”
REVIEWED ON 11/21/2006 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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