Epic is hardly the only word for Otto Preminger’s Exodus. It’s a 3 ½-hour marathon noting the slow, painful birth of the state of Israel after World War II, filled with memorable movie faces playing people on all sides of the conflict.
The Production: 3.5/5
Epic is hardly the only word for Otto Preminger’s Exodus. It’s a 3 ½-hour marathon noting the slow, painful birth of the state of Israel after World War II, filled with memorable movie faces playing people on all sides of the conflict. Directed at a steady pace with some memorable action set pieces amid two slowly developing and rather chaste love stories, Exodus was a substantial hit in its day, but its reputation, unlike other 1960 films like Psycho, Spartacus, and The Apartment, hasn’t grown with the passing of time.
Childless, widowed nurse Kitty Fremont (Eva Marie Saint) finds herself in 1946 on the island of Cyprus on her way to the Far East to enjoy herself now that World War II has ended. She meets a young Jewish refugee Karen (Jill Haworth) whom she’d like to take back to America and possibly adopt if Karen is amenable at a later date, but Karen still has hopes of finding her long lost father and resists leaving the area going along with fellow Jewish refugees from Europe after the war who are being kept in internment camps by the British. Ari Ben Canaan (Paul Newman), a leader of the Jewish underground movement, has plans to transport 611 of the Jewish refugees on a rusty ship the Olympia (renamed the Exodus) away from British control at Cyprus and take them to Palestine, and since Karen is a part of the operation, Kitty goes along with her and gets to know Ari particularly well. At first the British resist the scheme, but a hunger strike and an appeal to the British crown by General Sutherland (Ralph Richardson) brings forth their release. Once in Palestine, however, there is continual unrest not only with the British stationed there but also with Germans eager to continue their extermination of the race and the Arabs who have been enemies of the Jews for centuries. A Freedom Fighter group led by Ari’s fanatical uncle Akiva Ben Canaan (David Opatoshu) recruits young Dov Landau (Sal Mineo) to assist bringing down the British and all others who try to stand in their way, but the fighting is violent and many lives are lost.
Dalton Trumbo’s script culled from the mammoth novel by Leon Uris is part action-adventure tale, part history lesson, part romance, and part social commentary on inbred prejudices prevalent in many different ethnicities. While there is three-and-a-half hours to cover a lot of ground and deal with more than a handful of major characters, the script doesn’t really dig deeply enough into its action, its romance, its history, or its social commentary, and the film always seems on the verge of turning into something great only to be truncated in one area in order to focus on some other aspect of the storytelling. The action scenes are sparse, but when they occur, they are certainly involving: the skillfully staged and shot silent bomb preparations and the subsequent prison escape; Dov’s evasion of the soldiers after him is fraught with tension, and a car chase with guns blazing also carries a fair share of suspense as does a late movie evacuation of the younger children from the school. With Otto Preminger’s track record with romance in his films, the rather innocent love scenes between Ari and Kitty which take two hours into the movie to finally happen don’t end up amounting to much, and though Preminger doesn’t pummel us with his distaste for prejudice (Peter Lawford’s smarmy Major Caldwell bragging about being able to tell a Jew while staring directly at one is probably the film’s most obvious satirical swipe at bigotry though Kitty’s early unease in her surroundings also gets some play though her involvement with the movement cures her of that), he certainly makes certain the script deals with it.
Paul Newman doesn’t imbue this performance with the same kind of fire and fury that distinguished so many of his performances from this era of his career (his work in From the Terrace, another movie that same year also available on a Twilight Time release, is much more blistering and passionate). Eva Marie Saint is sure and steady as the nurse who leaves her comfort zone to spend her life working for something she comes to care about. Sal Mineo earned the only acting Oscar nomination as Dov Landau, and it was certainly a deserved nod (he won the Golden Globe for his performance), an emotional performance of much determination and savvy. As his love interest, Jill Haworth in an early role is lovely and delicate making a sweet combination in her scenes with Mineo. A host of famous faces get their moments to shine: Lee J. Cobb as Ari’s earnest father, Ralph Richardson as the thoughtful General Sutherland, John Derek as Taha, boyhood friend of Ari’s despite his Arab heritage, Gregory Ratoff as a Jewish spokesman for the common man, and Peter Lawford as the unctuous Major Caldwell. Marius Goring as the displaced Nazi Von Storch seems a bit stereotypically portrayed, and Alexandra Stewart as Ari’s sister Jordana is somewhat colorless and lacking dynamism.
3D Rating: NA
Though filmed in Super Panavision 70 (and earning one of the film’s Oscar nominations for its cinematography), the 35mm elements used for this transfer make the aspect ratio 2.35:1, and it’s presented in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Sharpness is quite good throughout with even a tiny bit of line twitter in certain backgrounds, but color seems a trifle muted and is never really vibrant, especially in the opening reel which also seems to have the most age-related artifacts: specks, spots, and tiny scratches which momentarily distract. Black levels are excellent, and contrast has been consistently maintained to produce a pleasing if not stunning visual experience. The movie has been divided into 24 chapters, and the intermission card is present in this transfer.
The disc offers three distinct sound designs: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (the default), 4.0, and 2.0 stereo. While the dialogue track is somewhat low-key in all three mixes (a bit more forward in the 2.0 mix than the others), there is some directionalized dialogue present, and none of the three dialogue tracks are ever overpowered by Ernest Gold’s wonderful Oscar-winning score or the atmospheric effects present. While the rear channels don’t get resounding activity, when they are used, they do help draw the viewer into the action.
Special Features: 3/5
Isolated Music and Effects Track: the memorable music of Ernest Gold has been outstandingly restored and is presented in a resounding DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo mix that is worth the price of the disc.
Theatrical Trailer (2:49, HD)
MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer (2:06, HD)
Six-Page Booklet: contains some black and white stills, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s enthusiastic analysis of the movie.
Exodus comes to Blu-ray in a most welcome Twilight Time release featuring a restored soundtrack that brings out the best aspect of this 1960 production: Ernest Gold’s tremendous background score. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested in purchasing it should go to either www.twilighttimemovies.com or www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.
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