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PASSIONLESS

You need more than a big name for Exodus, you need a star with some discernible passion for the subject. Paul Newman, partly Jewish, doesn’t have much in this one. Reportedly he was at odds with Otto Preminger from the beginning, incensed not only because his suggestions about his characterization were ignored but also over the way the director treated cast members. In the bio Paul Newman: A Life, author Shawn Levy quotes Newman as having said that Premingers “got the reputation of being a fascist asshole and he is, on the set.” As retaliation, Newman delivers an unconvincing performance overall and in particular a flat lined exit speech with one eye on the truck waiting to whisk him to the airport. His ennui isnt only apparent in his general demeanor, its also obvious in the way he kisses his co-star and how he looks in the traditional Arab thawb, ghutra and igal. Exodus had been elevated as a roadshow (the advanced ticket sales in N.Y.C. exceeded $1.6 million) but doesnt feel like one. Its a stroller during which youre in danger of getting a sunburn: youre baking in that Palestinian heat waiting for all those displaced Jews to apply an energetic push for a homeland. (Theyre barely up for a bar mitzvah.) Unaccountably the ship Exodus isnt used for a single tingle of emotional symbolism and the one sequence with the potential for excitement—the prison break—lacks a build-up of suspense and concludes without audience satisfaction. Given Premingers skills in previous films, his low-ebb who-really-cares-all-that-much direction here is almost shocking. (He even lifts the flames of the opening credits from his Carmen Jones.) Sal Mineo has some drive, only to defeat himself by applying a few too many self-pitying sobs. The rest of the cast—including Eva Marie Saint, Ralph Richardson, Peter Lawford, Lee J. Cobb, John Derek, Hugh Griffith, David Opatoshu, Jill Haworth and George Maharis—is a vacuum. This movie won the Oscar more for its great, thrilling best-selling theme on those old 45s than for Ernest Golds entire score. For all the hoopla of Preminger going public in declaring that blacklisted Dalton Trumbo would be given formal screen credit for the screenplay, its unimaginable he wrote such a dull one. (1966s Cast A Giant Shadow a belated companion piece, and with its conspicuous all star cast more entertaining.) Filmed in Panavision 70.

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Text COPYRIGHT © 2000 RALPH BENNER  Revised 2010 All Rights Reserved.