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 Preminger’s “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 near flatline exit speech with one eye on the truck that’ll hopefully whisk him away not to more fighting but to the airport. His ennui isn’t only apparent in his general demeanor, it’s also obvious in the way he kisses his co-star and how he looks in the traditional Arab thawb, ghutra and igal. Filmed in Super Panavision 70, Exodus had been elevated as a roadshow (the advanced ticket sales in N.Y.C. exceeded $1.6 million) but doesn’t feel like one. For a while it’s a stroller during which you’re in danger of getting a Palestinian sunburn; an hour in and you’re risking a heat stroke waiting for all those displaced Jews to apply an energetic push for a homeland. (They’re barely up for a bar mitzvah.) Unaccountably the ship Exodus isn’t used for much 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 Preminger’s 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-muffling 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 than for Ernest Gold’s entire score; recorded by Ferrante and Teicher on those old 45s, it reached high on the charts and stayed there for weeks. In spite of all the hoopla of Preminger going public in declaring blacklisted Dalton Trumbo would be given formal screen credit for the screenplay, it’s unimaginable he wrote something this dull and historically shaky. Cast A Giant Shadow a sort of 1966 companion piece and with its conspicuous cast substantially more entertaining: Angie Dickinson, for example, approaches her best few minutes of acting in scenes with Kirk Douglas, one of which makes us wonder who might get singed by her cigarette. (Opening 12/16/1960 at the Cinestage, running 31 weeks.)
Oscar win: best musical score, dramatic or comedy picture. Oscar nominations: best supporting actor (Mineo) and best color cinematography (Sam Leavitt).
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Text COPYRIGHT © 2000 RALPH BENNER (Revised 2010) All Rights Reserved.