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USA 1960
Directed by
Otto Preminger
208 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
1.5 stars


Given its release date, title and running time and you’d be forgiven for thinking that Otto Preminger's film was one of the Hollywood Biblical epics so popular at the time.  Rather, it is a story of the founding of modern Israel  in the aftermath of WWII.  It does however have many of the contemporary epic's stylistic features: the Middle Eastern setting, the big budget treatment with a large cast of well-known faces and hordes of faceless extras, grandstanding conflicts and lashings of moral rectitude and sentimental self-sacrificing.  What it doesn’t have is a script that warrants the pomp and circumstance that might have worked when dealing with legendary events two thousand years ago but is simply incongruous in an underwhelming story about an Israeli resistance leader (Paul Newman) trying to bring about the establishment of Israel against virulent Arab opposition (the Arabs even enlist an ex-Nazi, played by Marius Goring, in their desire to wipe out the hated Israelites)

Working from the best-selling novel by Leon Uris, writer Dalton Trumbo has the formidable task of explaining the considerable back-story of the Jewish-Arab conflict, one which indeed goes back to Biblical times. Frankly, it is one which defeats him, with the result that he has stereotypical characters obligingly explain the issues at stake in conveniently expositional conversations.  Whilst this is never a good strategy it is certainly not helped by Preminger’s ponderous direction and a frankly uninspired cast who range from ill-suited Newman and Eva Marie Saint as his obligatory romantic interest to the characteristically over-eager Sal Mineo to some simply awful smaller roles.   Why Newman, who with his blue-eyed Aryan looks would be better suited to a Gestapo uniform was cast as a Jew is anyone's guess and although Saint was roughly the same age as him she looks a good ten years older with the romance between them, to say the least, far from heated, Saint looking like she would snap in two if squeezed too hard.

There is in fact little except Saul Bass’s opening titles and Ernest Gold's Oscar-nominated score that one can recommend in this film that works its way dutifully through the political and ideological checklist with plodding earnestness.

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