Kirk Douglas and Milly Vitale in The Juggler (1953)


(director: Edward Dmytryk; screenwriter: Michael Blankfort/based on Mr. Blankfort’s novel; cinematographer: J. Roy Hunt; editors: Harry W. Gerstad/Aaron Stell; music: George Antheil; cast: Kirk Douglas (Hans Muller), Milly Vitale (Ya’El), Paul Stewart (Detective Karni), Joseph Walsh (Yehoshua Bresler), Alf Kjellin (Daniel), Beverly Washburn (Susy), Charles Lane (Rosenberg), John Banner (Emile Halevy), Richard Benedict (Kogan), Oskar Karlweis (Willy Schmidt); Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Stanley Kramer; Columbia Pictures; 1953)

“I’m sure there’s a fertile story there, but the storytelling is as dry as the desert.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Stanley Kramer produced social conscience film was shot in part in Israel, with the interior shots done back in the Hollywood studio. It’s from the novel by Michael Blankfort, who also wrote the screenplay. Edward Dmytryk (“The Mountain”/”Soldier of Fortune”/”The Caine Mutiny”) directs this low-budget gritty melodrama, basically the story of a chase through Israel. Hans Muller (Kirk Douglas) is a mentally fragile man on-the-lam, who is trying to come to terms with himself and the world.

Muller was in the old days a star juggler in a vaudeville show in Germany. During the war he was brutalized in a concentration camp and came out a survivor but developed a neurotic condition that occasionally calls for violent outbursts. He still can’t adjust that his wife and children didn’t survive the camps and that he’s no longer in the camp, as he still suffers from the psychological scars of being tortured. When at an Israeli reception camp, after the war, as a displaced person, the ex-juggler for no logical reason except for bad memories cracks an Israeli policeman, Kogan (Richard Benedict), in the face when questioned and flees to Mount Carmel as he’s being chased. There he poses as an American tourist to a group of children, and befriends the apparently homeless youngster Yehoshua (Joseph Walsh). He’s heading to a kibbutz on the Syrian border and Muller decides to join him. Muller teaches the kid how to juggle, and becomes attached to him. When Yehoshua steps on a land mine, Muller rushes him to a hospital. There he meets the widowed beautiful blonde, Ya’el (Milly Vitale), a woman who lost her husband to Arabs and now lives on a commune. She humanizes the wandering brash man, as a romance develops and he fesses up that he’s wanted by the Israeli police. Meanwhile, Israeli Detective Karni (Paul Stewart) is searching the countryside for the juggler to get him some psychological help and not to imprison him.

It’s a well-meaning ‘man in distress’ flick; it takes us through the beautiful Israeli desert countryside (the best thing about the pic are the visuals). I’m sure there’s a fertile story there, but the storytelling is as dry as the desert and the psychologically bent main character never comes across as someone I feel sympathetic to–which should have been a given for any survivor of Auschwitz. Kirk tries hard to be moving, but all that emotional angst expressed by him as he sticks out his jaw and juggles his sentimental lines, never touched any of my sensitive areas.