Friday, September 14, 2012

163. THE JUGGLER (1953)

Edward Dmytryk (whose early career encompassed THE DEVIL COMMANDS, CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN and MURDER, MY SWEET) directed this involving psychological drama, which screenwriter Michael Blankfort based on his own novel. The film stars Kirk Douglas as Hans Muller, a once-celebrated Jewish entertainer who is relocated from the concentration camp he has survived, minus his wife and children who perished there, to a kibbutz in Haifa, Israel. Unwilling to admit his past except to a little girl (played by future SPIDER BABY star Beverly Washburn, who is excellent here), he finds adjustment to survival difficult and he flees his safe haven, seriously injuring a patrolman who asks for his papers. On the road, he makes the acquaintence of Yehoshua (Joseph Walsh, the future screenwriter of Altman's CALIFORNIA SPLIT), an optimistic young Jewish orphan who wants to learn from Hans the art of juggling, and their relationship begins the healing of his shattered mind. Hans is eventually identified as the patrolman's attacker by a Dutch witness (HOGAN'S HEROES' John Banner) and he and the boy are brought back to the kibbutz after an eventful misadventure into an unexploded minefield. Hans' recovery is attended by Ya'El (Milly Vitale), an attractive resident of the kibbutz who encourages him to stay and give his life meaning by doing good works there with her. The supporting cast includes Paul Stewart, Charles Lane and Alf Kjellin.

The film's exteriors were shot on location while most of its interiors were shot in the studio in Los Angeles, but it's a worthy example of well-meaning, humanistic, socially responsible, constructive cinema by a filmmaker who was subsequently denounced by the HUAC as one of the "Hollywood Ten" and thrown into prison for refusing to incriminate acquaintences affiliated or formerly affiliated with the American Communist party. After months of incarceration, he renounced his original stance and did name names, which freed him and allowed him to work, but which compromised him in the eyes of both sides in the matter, in ways that didn't halt but certainly affected the course of his career. Future actress Daliah Lavi recalls being a 10-year-old "mascot" on the set of this picture, when it was filming on location near her home in Shavei Zion, less than a decade away from playing Douglas' love interest in Vincente Minnelli's TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN. She recounts the story in her interview in the next issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG (#170).

Viewed via Turner Classic Movies.   

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