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The Religious Affiliation of Movie Producer and Director
From: Donald Spoto, Stanley Kramer: Film Maker, G. P. Putnam's Sons: New York, NY (1978), page 48:
Kramer's interest in Laurents' play dated back to the time of its Broadway run.... "Arthur Laurents was a gigantically talented young playwright," Kramer remarked years later. "So I went to New York and bought the rights for $35,000. A pittance. But I didn't tell Laurents that I wished to make the switch from a Jewish to a black protagonist. The play had been a failure because it depended on a great deal of talk about a man feeling different. But what was so different? For the dilemma to be understood, the character had to say he was Jewish. But the play was certainly about the kind of prejudice we all knew when we were young in New York."
Spoto's book about Kramer's films (pages 141-147), describes Kramer's movie The Juggler (1953), which has the distinction of being the first Hollywood feature film made in the new nation of Israel. The film clearly making this film in Israel had an affinity for Stanley Kramer, who was Jewish. From: Spoto, pages 142-143:
In fact, Kramer's own experience in the army in World War II closely paralleled the play. "I was in a signal corps photography company. The captain told me at once that he didn't like Jews--Hollywood Jews, particularly--and he told me to apply for a transfer. But I had been commissioned directly from civilian life, and so I couldn't be transferred out for a year. I had to stay with that man for a whole year!" It was undoubtedly this that influenced the young producer's original choice of material.
"We used the play word for word, except for the race change..."
"Everybody was working to create a new country, and there was a unique spirit of cooperation. Everyone struggled together on everything involved with the film, too. And it wasn't only a question of money. We all planted trees. We all worked on the kibbutzim."
Spoto, pages 201-202:
Edward Dmytryk was speakin of the third film he directed for the Stanley Kramer company, The Juggler, which was the first Hollywood feature film photographed in the young nation of Israel. "...I did that film in order to see Israel, a country that was pulling itself up and doing wonderful things for the world. Athough I myself am not Jewish, I felt deeply concerned, and was glad to go there first for location scouting and then, with the cast and crew, for the filming late in 1952."
Unfortunately, however, the spirit of the young Israel does not come through in this little picture.
The story of The Juggler is the story of Hans Muller (Kirk Douglas), a famous [Jewish] German entertainer who, after his imprisonment under the Nazis and the death of his wife and child in concentration camps, arrives with the busloads of refugees in Haifa, Israel, in 1949. Terrified of confinement and paranoid in his attitude toward all men in uniform, he knocks unconscious a policeman who simply asks him for necessary identification papers. Thinking the officer is an SS guard, and believing he has killed him, Muller flees across the countryside. [More.]
In Home of the Brave, the setting is a Pacific island during World War II, the men involved are all army comrades, and the rarefied atmosphere, the problems of hysterical paralysis and the smashing of group unconsciousness are the mental and spiritual bariers which provide a dramatic cyclorama against which the issue of spiritual brotherhood is worked out. The men clearly stand for types within each race, and the device of narcosynthesis and psychic healing suggests that prejudice is in fact irrational...
Pages 217-223 in Spoto's book about the films of Stanley Kramer details the making of Kramer's movie Inherit the Wind (1960), and the controversy that ensued over the film. The film is about the Scopes Monkey trial in which Biblical Creationism was pitted against Darwinian evolution. Christian Fundamentalists [actually, Protestant Fundamentalists for the most part] were angry about the film and called Stanley Kramer the "anti-Christ." From: Spoto, pages 220-223:
In [Stanley Kramer's movie] Pressure Point, as we'll see later, these two issues of mental illness and imprisonment are fused: the deranged character played by Bobby Darin manifests his paranoi by joining the American Nazi party and by blaming Jews and blacks for his own insufficiencies. But in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner the issue comes, literally, closest to home.
"The film got extravagant reviews," Kramer told me, "but it did at the box office. United Artists said this was just a silly story about two old men, so they didn't distribute it properly. Then the fundamentalists called me the anti-Christ, so there were some local problems in booking the film, too. It just died. But lately it's gotten some revival on television and on campuses."
Pages 224-235 in Spoto's book about the films of Stanley Kramer detail the making of Kramer's movie Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), which is about the trial of Nazi war criminals, and is certainly of particular thematic interest to Jews. From: Spoto, page 225:
There is a problem, however, with the ending of the picture. Unfortunately, Kramer apparently thought it necessary to counteract the anger of those who might consider the film irreligious. As Tracy leaves the courthouse in the final sequence, therefore, Leslie Uggams' voice on the sound track triumphantly proclaims The Battle Hymn of the Republic. She's joined by an invisible chorus, thus making clear that although the film carries no banner for fundamentalism, it is not for all that a nontheistic picture: "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord" is ringingly repeated.
Old Clarence Darrow might not have liked this, nor would H. L. Mencken, the journalist who covered the trial (here called E. K. Hornbeck, and bouncily played by Gene Kelly...). This ending, of course, tries to broaden the film's appeal, but in so doing it muddies the impact of what has just preceded.
When the picture was released, Stanley Kramer issued an extended personal statement. Because it illuminates his conviction about the work, and its timeliness and timelessness, it is worth citing [only a portion is excerpted below]:
"...Hollywood in fact has been making pictures with significant themes for many years. One may suppose that in the light of his day D. W. Griffith, who presented the South in a favorable light in The Birth of a Nation, attacked a daring and highly incendiary theme, for this was still in a year when many living men held memories of the War Between the States.
"...Inherit the Wind dramatizes one of the world's oldest themes: knowledge is not enough; freedom of enquiry is a living, dramatic process. Aristotle and Plato said it; so did Francis Bacon. And so must we in 1960."
"I think there's something seriously wrong with every one of my films, and so it's hard for me to mention a favorite. But I think there are some good thing about Judgment at Nuremberg. The ideas in it are terribly important to me. The whole theme of the film, the single idea that stands behind it, is stated by Spencer Tracy toward the end of the picture: 'This, then, is what we stand for: truth, justice, and the value of a single human being.' That's sort of a summary of my work, in a way, and I'd like to think the films encourage thought about that."
Spoto, pages 238-239:
The film [Pressure Point, 1962] begins as a graying psychologist (Sidney Poitier), director of a mental institution, listens to the exasperated account of difficulties being experienced by a younger colleague (Peter Falk). In reply, the older man reveals an experience he had as a young doctor--and thus the real story, told in flashback, beings.
Spoto, page 243:
The doctor had known an explosive relationship with a psychotic young American Nazi (Bobby Darin) who, during World War II, was imprisoned for sedition and thus came under his care. The (nameless) young man rejects the (nameless) doctor's help because he cannot accept aid from a black man, and he is pushed further into the horrors of his own crippling fantasy life. Driven to insomnia and the brink of total breakdown, he at last admits his need for help, and begrudgingly tells his own life story to the doctor.
The man's father, it seems, was a demanding, hard-drinking butcher who neglected his wife and son. The boy's mother was a neurotic, possessive malingerer who placed demands on the child that only barely stopped short of the sexual. Thus resentful, early in life, of authority, he grew up harboring delusions of grandeur and power. When the father of a Jewish girl rejects him as unsuitable, he turns his hatred of parental authority to hatred of Jews, and on the eve of the war he identifies with the Nazi movement. This, he felt, would give him a sense of group solidarity, and approval for striking out at authority figures. This group allows him, too, the minority groups as scapegoat, the hate objects of his paranoi turned into bigotry.
The flashback dissolves to the present, as Poitier concludes his narration to Falk: ten years later, the American Nazi was hanged, for beating to death a stranger, an old man. Poitier urges the young doctor not to yield to the pressure point, but to stay with his own young patient and to stand by his professional assessment, no matter the pain or despair.
...The theme [of racial purity] is introduced early in the film: Darin rejects Poitier's help "because you're a Negro."
"What have you got against us Negroes?" asks Poitier.
"What have you got against us whites?" asks Darin in turn... "Now that the Jews got that cripple in the White House," he continues (referring to Franklin Roosevelt), "you think you got it made." The man's anti-Semitism is now indistinguishable from his antiblack sentiment. "You blacks are just like weak men who can't compete in a game, although you keep trying," he says later. "But the Jews are more dangerous because they pass for white and are smug about it."
Later, still justifying his support of Nazism against American ideals and fealing to see their fundamental irreconcilability, he says, "It's a cause like any other. The ordinary man needs a leader. He wants things and he needs the excuse to get them. That's where you come in. We need you. Where there is no definite enemy, we make you the enemy. You and the Jews will be responsible for our triumph."
Pressure Point, in other words, became Stanley Kramer's more personal involvement in the issue of racial hatred. Ironically, however, it was necessary that it be directed by another. With all due honor to Hubert Cornfield, I can't help thinking the lower Kramer key would have been more apt.
Kramer's movie Ship of Fools (1965) also has Jewish characters and themes. From: Spoto, page 266:
The film advances the trip to 1933, thus to make more acute the advancing tide of Nazism. About the ship are... Rieber (Jose Ferrer), a fussy, loud-mouthed Nazi; ... Lowenthal (Heinz Ruehmann), a merry Jewish fellow who's convinced that patience, understanding and compassion will solve all the nasty world problems; Freytag (Alf Kjellin), a Gentile divorced from his Jewish wife, who makes a passionate speech against anti-Semitism...
Spoto, page 268:
Ship of Fools is, a you can see, a floating Grand Hotel. Full of Germans and Jews, and plowing the deep in 1933, it is laced with conscious social and psychological significance.
The major problem with Mann's script [for Ship of Fools], so gravid with cliches that it nearly sinks the Vera, is that the ironies are quaintly based on a knowing hindsight. As the Nazi barks inanities, an inocent German says, "Every time I listen to him I know no one will support his party." And a particularly loyal and homeland-loving Jew remarks with confidence, "There are narly a million Jews in Germany. What are they going to do--kil us all?" (This kind of remark is supposed to be ironic--and ends up especially infelicitous--since it's made by the noted German actor Heinz Ruehmann. "He was a bit star in pre-Hitler Germany," Kramer told me. "I wasn't too popular there after the showing of Judgment at Nuremberg, and I got a very stony reception when I arrived later to cast the Germans for ths picture. I met Ruehmann, who himself was not Jewish but felt a great burden of giult for the whole nation. When I told him I was looking for someone to play a Jew, he said 'I'm your man!'")
Spoto, page 109:
Speaking of his next venture for Columbia, a cinematic rendering of Samuel Taylor's play The Happy Time, Stanley Kramer called it the story about "the coming of age of a teen-age boy, his first reaching for maturity on everything from the intellectual plane to the first sex manifestatino. Further, we strove to illustrate the frank, above-board viewpoint on things basic, such as sex, by the continental mind, as contrasted to the hush-hush and guilt school of thought." In this regard, the film tries to be a gently human--even noble--statement, an anti-Puritan track dressed up as a domestic comedy. As tract, it comes close to succeeding. As domestic comedy, it's dangerous for diabetics.
About The Member of the Wedding (1952), which was produced by Kramer. From: Spoto, page 138:
"I hardly have anything to do," remarked Fred Zinnemann [the film's director] during production. "This is a drama with long sustained scenes in a confined set, depending heavily on dialogue. The actors' performances are what makes it come to life." And years later, recalling Ethel Waters' monumental playing, he said: "Ethel was a wonderful, sad woman. Between scenes, she'd sit in her dressing room and listen to her old records. But she was also a very headstrong lady. If she took three steps tot he right and I'd ask her to move tot he left instead, she'd stand perfectly still, point to the sky and say, 'God is my director!'" For all that stubbornness, this is almost certainly the role for which she is best remembered.
...Brandon de Wilde, whose only stage experience prior to this work had been a single line in a Sunday-school drama and his grade-school portrayal of a carrot, made nine more films. He was thirty when he was killed in a motorcycle collision.
Webpage created 28 July 2005. Last modified 28 July 2005.
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