Friday, July 28, 2023

SIGN OF THE GLADIATOR (1959)

King Odenathus of Syria has always been an ally to Rome, but when he is murdered, Queen Zenobia breaks their treaty and attacks Roman troops near the royal city of Palmyra. Marcus Valerius, a valued Roman commander, is captured, enslaved, crucified on an X-shaped cross in the hot sun and tortured by the slave boss before he comes to the attention of Zenobia, who makes him a palace slave. Valerius makes contact with Julian, a Roman spy in Palmyra (side plot note: Julian is in love with Bathsheba, a vestal virgin and sister of the dead king, who will eventually be sacrificed). Learning that Julian is with a small group of Romans outside the city, Valerius pretends to switch sides and offers his personal services to the queen, with the proof being that he betrays the Romans to the Syrians—they play along with their capture and are rescued (by a small group of Christians if I'm not mistaken)  just before they are ordered to be put to death. But Valerius and Zenobia find themselves falling in love and Valerius tries to get Palmyra and Rome to negotiate. Upsetting his plans is Zemanzius, the queen's prime minister, who is actually working with Prince Shapur of Persia toward their own takeover of Palmyra. Events build to a climactic battle that tests the tie between Valerius and Zenobia.

Zenobia and Odenthaus are based on actual historical figures, but I suspect little else here is. Still, the narrative is richer than most of the later sword and sandal films that came in the wake of the huge success of the 1958 Hercules movie with Steve Reeves. Though certainly aligned with the peplum genre (togas, torture, sexy queens, sacrifices), in some ways this is more like the Hollywood biblical adventures of the 50s, with more attention paid to politics and character development than one would see in later genre films. There are no real muscle men; the lead actor, Georges Marchal (pictured), is handsome and beefcakey (and shirtless on occasion) but he's no Hercules. The sex kittenish Anita Ekberg is quite attractive as Queen Zenobia (with her breasts occasionally threatening to escape her robes) but her acting is rather bland, and she doesn't have the gravitas of a queen—she comes off more like a court concubine. Jacques Sernas as Julian makes for a handsome buddy to the hero, and Folco Lulli (Zemanzius) is an OK villain. Chelo Alonso makes an impression as the scheming lover of Zemanzius, especially when she does an erotic belly dance for the court. There are no gladiators in sight—the original title was SIGN OF ROME—and the action is confined to the last 15 minutes. The battle is well done, though to an unnerving degree, it all looks fairly dangerous for both the horses and the men. [Amazon Prime]

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

THE BLACK ABBOT (1963)

Pay attention, there might be a quiz. Lord Harry Chelford, whose mother died under mysterious circumstances a couple of years ago and who may be going mad, needs an heir and he wants the much younger Leslie Gine to marry him, though she's actually sweet on Dick Alford, the estate manager. Lord Harry also believes the legend that there is a buried treasure somewhere on his estate. Meanwhile, Arthur, the family's attorney and Leslie's brother, is being blackmailed by his bookie Gilder who wants Leslie for himself. Mary, Harry's former secretary, wants Harry for his money and claims to know where the treasure is. Thomas, the butler, seems always to be engaging in suspicious behavior. The family doctor breezes in and out. Oh yeah, and there’s the title character, a mysterious robed figure who stabs a man to death in the opening scene. This brings Scotland Yard in to try and sort out all the threads and find out: who is the Black Abbot? Where is the treasure? Who is the robed older woman wandering around at night? 

This German krimi, based on an Edgar Wallace story, is ridiculously convoluted but, when you clear away the red herrings, fairly easy to follow. The tangled romances, brought in perhaps to make things feel even more Gothic than they would, wind up having little to do with the outcome, but here, it's really the atmosphere that matter most. It's not immediately clear who the good guy is going to be, but if you’ve seen other krimi films, you’ll know that the presence of Joachim Fuchsberger as Dick marks him as the hero. His usual sidekick, Eddi Arent, is a comic relief cop. In the crowded supporting cast, Werner Peters is a standout as the slimy bookie Gilder, and Klaus Kinski brings his unsettling creepiness to the relatively unimportant role of the butler. Though the pace drags a bit, the ending is nicely done. Lovers of the Gothic melodrama should especially like this one. Pictured are Fuchsberger (Dick) and Grit Boettcher (Leslie). [YouTube]

Monday, July 24, 2023

VIVA LAS VEGAS (1964)

Before I sat down to watch this, I only had one Elvis Presley movie under my belt, Blue Hawaii, which I saw on the pool deck of a Turner Classic Movie cruise ship in bright Caribbean sunshine with a cocktail by my side, so my attention was not exactly riveted on the screen. Hence, I remember very little about it except that Angela Lansbury played Elvis' mother and it seemed to have been shot on real Hawaiian beaches. On a recent long holiday weekend, I decided to give this one a shot, mostly because I like Ann-Margret, his leading lady. Elvis stars as himself… er, no, as a young, handsome hotshot race car driver who dreams of driving his own car in an upcoming race in Las Vegas. He has finally gotten together enough money to buy a new engine for the car, but he promptly loses it when Ann-Margret, playing a young, sexy swimming instructor at the Sands Hotel in Vegas whom Elvis is flirting with, pushes him in the water. The money gets sucked up into the pool filter so, because he has to start from scratch, he and his assistant (Nicky Blair) get jobs working at the Sands. They both end up entering a Sands talent show, he to win money for his engine, she to get enough money to give her aging fisherman father so he can buy his own boat. There's also the little matter of the climactic Las Vegas race which pits Elvis against Italian champ Cesare Danova (who himself is also making a play, somewhat half-heartedly, I thought, for Ann-Margret).

As I assumed going in, the plot here isn't really the point, it's watching pretty people sing and dance, while occasionally getting a mini-travelogue of Las Vegas in the mid-1960s. A well-filmed car race is the topper. One thing I was wrong about was Elvis himself. I never thought of him as much of an actor, and he certainly was never an Oscar nominee for any of his 30-some movies, but within the limits of his carefully-curated persona, he acquits himself well enough here. He sings, he dances, he exudes a relatively healthy masculine self-confidence, and there is never for a second any doubt that he'll get the girl. That is one of the movie's weaknesses: his romantic rival, Danova, is a wet rag who never registers any chemistry with Ann-Margret. (Of course, the fact that Elvis and Ann-Margret were apparently engaged in an affair during filming may also be a factor in the chemistry thing.) The screenplay is also on the weak side, generating little tension and giving our characters no personality aside from the actors provided with their pre-existing personas. The factor that leads to Elvis finally getting his engine is pretty much a deus ex machina. But generally, it's a painless experience, and every time that Ann-Margret is on screen, she wipes everything else away. William Demerest is able to make a bit of an impression as Ann-Margret's father. And that title song, performed twice, once over the opening credits and once by Elvis on camera, is spectacular. [TCM]

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

THE WAYWARD BUS (1957)

In California, Johnny drives a ramshackle bus on a once-a-day trip from the small town of Rebel Corners to Sun Juan. His wife Alice runs a small roadside diner and drinks too much. They seem disgruntled with each other, but not enough for either one to force a crisis. But Alice seems to have it in for Norma, the young waitress who works for them. She has dreams of being in show business and thinks that Alice is jealous of her for wanting a better life. The two have a physical confrontation which leads Norma to leave on the bus to San Juan, and drives Johnny into saying that he's leaving Alice. Among the other passengers: the sexy adult entertainer Camille (who longs for domestic tranquility), traveling businessman Ernest (who, though quite a bit older, is smitten with Camille until he discovers what her career is), Van Brunt (a cranky old bastard who lets everyone know he has an important reason to be in San Juan by 3:00), and a bickering couple with a wayward daughter named Mildred, who starts to flirt with Johnny. The bulk of the film is the bus trip which should only take a couple of hours but is held up by bad weather and later, a landslide which blocks the road. By the time they reach San Juan that evening, relationships are forged or broken and people’s lives are changed, mostly for the better.

This is based on a John Steinbeck novel; except for The Grapes of Wrath, I haven't read much Steinbeck, but this feels a lot like the 1940s movie of his novel Tortilla Flat and the 1980s film of his Cannery Row, stories about a diverse group of people held together by a central character. Tortilla had Spencer Tracy and Cannery had Nick Nolte, both giving slightly larger-than-life performances to anchor their films. This has Rick Jason playing Johnny; he's not bad, but he doesn't have the age or feel of authority that Tracy and Nolte had. I kept hoping he'd get better, but at the beginning, he's as good as he gets. When his circle consists of just his wife and employees, he commands attention, but he has a hard time holding it when other more colorful folks are around him. Somewhat surprisingly, the two sex kittens, Joan Collins (Alice) and Jayne Mansfield (Camille), give the best performances here, and their characters are the most interesting, whether due to the writing or acting, I'm not sure. Dan Dailey (Ernest) and Delores Michaels (Mildred) are the only other acting standouts here. All the characters, even the most annoying ones, are ultimately treated humanely by the screenplay, and the conflicts that arise all feel predestined to get smoothed out by the end. The mudslide scene is handled well. Watchable, but a hard movie to truly like. Pictured on the bus: Jason driving with Mansfield and Collins on the left. [Criterion Channel]

Monday, July 17, 2023

COYOTE CREEK CHRISTMAS (2021)

My Christmas in July review:
Paige is a big city event planner working her way up the corporate ladder. She's happy for some down time to go celebrate Christmas with her parents in the small mountain town of Coyote Creek where they run a very successful (and very large) inn. But when she learns that Mom and Dad are scaling back a bit on the holiday plans this year, she's quite upset and decides she will "plan" the inn's Christmas as an "event" to add to her portfolio. She settles on the theme of Christmas Around the World and plans for German cookies, Japanese food (fried chicken), Icelandic traditions, etc. and throws herself into the planning. What her parents are deliberately keeping from her is that they are in the middle of selling the inn so they can spend their senior years traveling. And who are they selling to? A real estate development firm run by the Bailey brothers (not George and Harry from It's a Wonderful Life, but wouldn't that have been fun?). Jack, the more driven brother, sends Dylan, the handsome single father, out to the inn to finalize the sale and start making plans for a razing and rebuilding of the site to suit a corporate buyer. But the parents ask Dylan not to tell Paige about the plans yet. Really, Hallmark viewers need to know nothing more—big city folks in a small town, family property, corporate plans, pretty gal, handsome guy—a happy ending for both the couple and the property is in the bag by the 115 minute mark at least (out of 120). Dylan pals around with Paige and helps with the Christmas plans, Dylan's precocious son Noah (who loves using Word-of-the Day words in conversation) takes a shine to Paige, and in the end, things work out all around, with the promise of Dylan and Paige getting together and (probably) staying in Coyote Creek.

But getting to the ending is not as smooth a ride as it should be. The good points: Ryan Paevey, he of the handsome face, deep voice, and unthreatening masculinity (at left), is great. Janel Parrish, born in Hawaii of Chinese and American parents, is also quite good until her poorly written character betrays her (more on this later). The parents (Linda Minard and Cameron Bancroft) are fine. Paige's sidekick Quinn (Naomi King) is fun and gets her own same-sex romance on the side, though honestly it feels like a last-minute thing added by the writers to kill five minutes of running time. There's also a cute bit involving a Christmas marmot and Coyote Creek folklore. The Christmas d├ęcor and aura are perfect.

The bad points: The big conflict that surfaces around the 90-minute mark is when Paige discovers the plans for selling the inn. Though the secretiveness is all due to the parents, she turns into a bitch and takes out her anger pretty much solely on Dylan. In my eyes, this made her almost irredeemable, and it kind of stunk up the somewhat forced happy ending. (Maybe after the writers' strike, the Hallmark writers will come back energized with some new ideas and stronger characters.) I was confused about Quinn's place in the proceedings—I assumed at first that she was Paige's sister, but Quinn kept referring to Mom and Dad as "your parents" to Paige, so I guess she's just an old friend who works at the inn—or maybe not even that; I can’t remember if she actually works there or is just around all the time. The kid playing Dylan could have been reined in a bit, unless the plan is that he'll be a gay English major at some point, but he is enthusiastic. By Christmas Eve, the inn is so deluged with guests that they have to set up "glamping" tents outside to accommodate everyone, a stupid plot point—I guess overbooking is cool by these people—that's not needed. I’d probably watch this again, but I'd bail at the 90-minute mark and imagine a different ending in which Dylan and Paige get together but also go back to their big-city jobs and let Mom and Dad sell out. Pic above right: Mom, Dad, Quinn, Paige, Dylan and Noah. [Hallmark]

Friday, July 14, 2023

RHAPSODY (1954)

Elizabeth Taylor announces to her wealthy, disapproving father (Louis Calhern) that she is leaving his home in France to go to a conservatory in Zurich. She says she wants to polish up her piano style, but mostly she wants to be where her boyfriend (Vittorio Gassman) is as he finishes up his violin studies. Taylor gets a room in a boarding house where she hits it off with another first-year piano student (John Ericson), which triggers Gassman's jealous streak. Ultimately, Taylor bombs her audition, and as Gassman's studies become more intense, his ego grows. At a rehearsal for a concert with the Zurich Philharmonic, Gassman butts heads with the conductor, and decides that he shouldn't see Taylor at all until after the concert, which leaves room for Ericson to step in and spend time with her. The concert becomes a star-making event for Gassman, but when he starts paying too much attention to orchestra groupie Barbara Bates, Taylor tries to kill herself. Ericson devotes himself to her during her recovery and eventually the two get married, but it's clear that Taylor is still carrying a torch for Gassman. Eventually, the paths of all three cross again, and Taylor is going to have to choose between the now famous Gassman and the depressed Ericson.

This is a fairly slow-moving romantic melodrama which fans of classical music may enjoy for its interludes of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky. The whole point of the film seems to be to showcase Taylor's beauty, and she does indeed look beautiful, both in her close-ups and in her colorful wardrobe. Gassman and Ericson try their darndest to compete with Taylor for focus (narrative if not visual); the handsome Gassman is more successful, giving a fairly strong performance, with Ericson (pictured with Taylor), more appealing looking than handsome, struggling a bit with the passive second-lead male role, but he's OK. Old pro Calhern is welcome in a couple of short scenes. Look for a young Stuart Whitman as one of the musical students. There's a fun scene early on in which Gassman and his buddies take over a small diner for an impromptu concert. I was impressed with the skill with which both Gassman and Ericson appear to play their respective instruments (especially the vigorous workout Ericson gives the piano in the final sequence), though the music is actually played by professionals. Of its kind, the MGM sheen makes it watchable, but probably not for casual classic-era fans. [TCM]

Thursday, July 13, 2023

FORTY GUNS (1957)

This Samuel Fuller western opens with a stunning opening shot of three men in a small wagon headed down a desert road in Arizona as a huge party of forty men on horses comes stampeding down the road, parting to go around the wagon. The forty men are the Dragoons, men who work for powerful rancher Jessica Drummond (Barbara Stanwyck). The three men in the wagon are U.S. Marshal Griff Bonnell (Barry Sullivan) and his brothers Wes and Chico, armed with a warrant for the arrest of a man named Swain, who happens to be one of Jessica's Dragoons. In the main storyline, Griff and Jessica begin as antagonists but grow to respect each other, and even fall in love. Getting Swain turns out to be easy, as Jessica insists that she's not the unlawful type. But her vulnerable spot is her reckless brother Brockie (John Ericson) who has just killed the town's blind marshal and gone on a spree of destruction just for kicks. He is temporarily put in his place by Griff but hard feelings remain. In another plotline, Wes is asked to stay in town and take the marshal's place, which he is tempted to do as he has fallen in love with the gunsmith's daughter. Griff's youngest brother, Chico, gets blind drunk and has to be tossed in a trough to sober up, but he soon outgrows his rowdy ways and proves his mettle with his brothers. Brockie continues to cause friction, despite Jessica's attempts to keep him out of trouble, becoming the catalyst for a brutal final shootout.

Between a nice visual style, characters with some depth, and mostly fine acting, this is one of the more interesting westerns of the classic era. Barbara Stanwyck (pictured) had staked a solid claim in the genre in 1950's intense psychological western THE FURIES; here, she is less showy but more realistic, and perfect in the part of the powerful woman whom you expect to be a one-note villain (especially when she is described in a barroom song as "a high-riding woman with a whip") but becomes anything but. John Ericson is believably scary as the out-of-control Brockie. The solid supporting cast includes Dean Jagger as a sheriff mostly under the control of Jessica (at one point she has to remind him, "I'm your boss, not your partner"), Gene Barry as Wes, Robert Dix as Chico, and Eve Brent as the gunsmith's daughter. I was less taken with Barry Sullivan as Griff—he's wooden and uncharismatic, and not worthy of Jessica. But he doesn't really hurt the movie much. The black & white cinematography is beautiful throughout and the climax is genuinely thrilling. Highly recommended. [Criterion Channel]

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

BACK PAGE (1933)

Ambitious reporter Jerry Hampton (Peggy Shannon) has a scoop, an article about an illicit love nest suicide, but her editor kills it because it involves the rich and influential J.H. Smith. Her boyfriend Brice (Russell Hopton), also a reporter, wants to get married but she's not ready to settle down, so he advises her to get a job on a small-town paper where she can have an impact. Brice's uncle Martin Blake (Edwin Maxwell) is the president of the bank in the small California town of Apex, where the retiring head of the local paper is looking for someone to take over. Sam (Claude Gillingwater) is reluctant to hand over the reins to a woman, and her first act is to antagonize the paper's biggest advertiser Nathan Young (David Callis) by writing about his brother's divorce. When he threatens to pull his ads, she claims that she is about to accept competing ads from mail order companies out of town, and Nathan caves. Sam is won over and Nathan becomes her platonic buddy, running her around town on errands and getting involved in her investigation into a local oil well operation. Blake, the bank president, has encouraged the people of Apex to invest in the well, but Sam smells a rat, and sure enough, the well supervisor comes to Jerry and tells her the well is a bust. Blake has announced he will buy up the townspeople's shares, at a fraction of what they paid (which you may recall was a strategy in old man Potter's bag of tricks in It's a Wonderful Life), and suspicious Jerry, along with Nathan, starts nosing around and soon breaks the news that the well is actually fully functioning. The citizens celebrate and Apex becomes a boom town, but the angry Blake gets his revenge by calling in loan payments that he knows the paper cannot make. He plans to take over the paper, firing Jerry and, to add insult to injury, installing her boyfriend Brice as editor. Can Jerry out-scheme Blake and keep her job and her boyfriend?

This is a rather delightful movie, if you keep your expectations on a low-budget pre-Code level. The plot is complex enough to keep you interested but not so convoluted as to cause confusion. It manages to stymie some expectations one might have about its heroine: she is strong and independent, she sustains a non-romantic friendship with a male, and her boyfriend is not jealous of her commitment to a work life. The movie has a low-budget look but that winds up being almost a plus, as the newspaper office has an authentic small-town feel to it. Generally, the acting is fine. Peggy Shannon eventually became an alcoholic and died less than ten years later, but she fits her role here perfectly. Maxwell does his usual good work in a villainous role; Hopton disappears in the middle of the story, but makes a good impression when he’s around. Sterling Holloway has a comic relief role as a (possibly gay) gossip columnist; many reviewers of this film find him irritating, but I don't mind him. This is the kind of story that lends itself to a typical melodramatic treatment, but the tone is kept fairly light and upbeat. I viewed this on DVD as part of a set from Flicker Alley called In the Shadow of Hollywood: Highlights from Poverty Row, and it's been given a spectacular restoration. The audio commentary, as most are these days, is hit and miss. The commentator misidentifies actor Claude Gillingwater as Gillingworth throughout, and is repetitive with her social context points. I recommended the movie if not the commentary. Pictured are Callis and Shannon. [Blu-ray]

Friday, July 07, 2023

MAN-EATER OF KUMAON (1949)

The jungles of Northern India are inhabited by tigers (so we are told) and typically their prey does not include humans. Collins (Wendell Corey) is an American doctor who is tiger hunting to escape painful memories of his recent divorce. He wounds a tiger which loses a claw but gets away. The natives know that the tiger in its weakened state will have a hard time hunting and will be a threat to people and must be hunted down, but Collins, showing signs of malaria, refuses. When the tiger begins killing villagers, they know that it will never return to its natural prey, and soon in a nearby village, a young pregnant woman named Lali (Joy Page) is attacked and severely injured by the tiger. Her husband Narain (Sabu) fetches Collins to help her; she survives but her unborn child does not. When a tiger print with a missing claw is found in the dirt, Collins eventually decides to stay in the village to hunt the tiger down. Meanwhile, there is some melodrama involving native customs which say that Narain must leave Lali because she can no longer bear children, though he does not want to, and Lali ends up going off to offer herself as bait to catch the tiger. The ending, while satisfying, is remarkably anti-climactic. I watched this because Sabu (The Jungle Book, Cobra Woman) was top billed, but unfortunately Wendell Corey has more screen time. Though he's not exactly a bad actor, Corey must be the most unappealing and uncharismatic actor to become a leading man, and his drab performance sinks the movie. Sabu and Joy Page (the young refugee who Bogart helps in Casablanca) and the tiger all try to get some juice into the proceedings, to no effect. Morris Carnovsky, a respected stage actor whose screen career was eventually hurt by the blacklist, is fine (though made up in what I call 'duskyface') as Ganga Ram, Nairan's father. The print I saw on YouTube was missing roughly ten minutes of footage but it didn't seem to hurt the narrative flow too much, and honestly, anything to make this film shorter is fine by me. Based loosely on the real-life experience of author and hunter Jim Corbett. For Sabu completists only. Pictured are Sabu and Page. [YouTube]

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

THE ROYAL HUNT OF THE SUN (1969)

Spain, 1528. Explorer Francisco Pizarro goes to the king to get backing for a third trip to Peru to find the hidden gold of the Incas that Spain is certain exists. King Carlos can't afford to bankroll what he assumes will be another futile trip, but he gives Pizarro two priests (to convert the natives) and sends Estete, a royal representative, along. Pizarro raises money and men on his own with help from fellow explorer Fernando De Soto who accompanies Pizarro to Peru. By 1530, Pizarro's men arrive and meet with Incan king Atahualpa, who calls himself Lord of the Earth and Sky and Son of the Sun. Pizarro, claiming also to be a god, demands that Atahualpa hand over all the Incan gold to take back to Spain. After Pizarro's men slaughter most of the king's guards, Atahualpa agrees to be kept captive until his men have filled a room with gold for the Spaniards. Over time, Pizarro finds himself respecting the king. In the end, Atahualpa refuses to guarantee that his men will not harm Pizarro's men as they leave, so Atahualpa is sentenced to die. Putting on the mask of the Sun King, Atahualpa assures everyone that, if he is put to death, he will rise alive the next morning, and Pizarro comes to believe that, if Christ could be resurrected, perhaps Atahualpa can too. 

Like ALFRED THE GREAT which came out the same year, this tries to be both an epic and a philosophical chamber drama at the same time. Admittedly, the deck here is stacked against the epic, as this is based on a play (by Peter Shaffer, author of Equus and Amadeus) and there are few large-scale scenes of conflict or adventure. Robert Shaw (Pizarro) and Christopher Plummer (Atahualpa) give it their all, and at times their conversations, mostly about religion, achieve some actorly grandeur. Interestingly, Shaw outshines Plummer here. Plummer gives a very eccentric performance as Atahualpa, full of strange gestures and hissing and odd verbal squeaks, and though he does make the character seem otherworldly, he also remains cold and unknowable. Shaw lets us see the inner confusion of Pizarro who seems not to be concerned much with the spiritual until he confronts the Incan king. The outdoor scenes, shot in Peru, are splendid looking, and despite the intense focus on the two strong leads, there are some noteworthy supporting performances: Nigel Davenport as De Soto, Leonard Whiting (Zefferelli's Romeo) as Martin, a young associate of Pizzaro's, and Michael Craig as Estete. Not easy to find, but worth seeing, especially as an example of a kind of film (or indeed, play) that isn't made anymore. Pictured, from left, Shaw and Plummer. [DVD]

Monday, July 03, 2023

TEVYA (1939)

It's impossible to experience or discuss this film without making reference to the musical Fiddler on the Roof, an adaptation of stories about Tevye the Milkman written in Yiddish in the 1890s by Sholem Aleichem. [Most sources, including the 1971 film of Fiddler and the subtitles on this film, spell the milkman’s name Tevye; this movie's title spells it closer to the Hebrew transliteration. Out of tradition (pun intended, if you know the musical), I will spell it here with the final 'e'] Tevye and his family live in a village in Ukraine, and are one of the few Jewish families in the area. We see Tevye's daughter Chava being admired by the young men of the village, but unknown to all, including her father, she's in love with Khvedka, a gentile scholar who brings her books to read. When a friendly priest drops by to tell Tevye about rumors that a Jewish girl is about to marry a gentile, Tevye says that if that happened to him, either he would die or she would. When Chava hears this, she faints. Sure enough, the very next day, Chava marries Khvedka. Tevye goes to the priest's house in an attempt to stop him from marrying the two, and his wife Goldie warns, "Be careful—if you start in on your quotes, we'll be lost." But his efforts are in vain; Khvedka's parents call Tevye and his wife "disgusting pests." At home, Tevye declares Chava dead, not to be remembered or mentioned, and goes as far as sitting shiva (a funeral ritual) for her. Chava loves her husband, but over the next couple of years, his family starts treating her like a servant. When her mother is on her deathbed, Chava has to watch from outside in the rain. When the Tsar decrees that all Jews must be expelled from their villages, Tevye has no choice (the priest tells him he could convert, but he's not about to do that) so he packs up to leave. When Chava hears the news, she breaks away from Khvedka and his family, and returns to her father, desperately hoping he will take her back.

There is humor here and there—when Tevye's horse refuses to get up and work, he asks it, "How long is your sabbath?"—but this is a darker version of the stories than Fiddler was. In the musical, Tevye had three daughters, all of whom defy his wishes and marry as they please. Here, there is only one other daughter, Tseytl, whose sickly husband (whom we never see) dies and she winds up living with her two children with Tevye and Goldie. The matchmaking business, a big part of Fiddler, is absent here, as are most of Tevye's conversations with God. Because the Tevye of Fiddler is often played as larger-than-life (Zero Mostel, Topol, Harvey Fierstein), it's interesting to see here that Maurice Schwartz, a famous actor of the Yiddish stage (pictured), underplays the character a bit, making him more human and less a blustering force of nature. The other performances are generally fine, though Miriam Riselle as Chava wrings a bit too much melodrama out of her situations. I wasn't sure what to make of the husband, Khvedka (the name in the subtitles though most sources call him Fedye). Leon Liebgold plays him quite sympathetically, right up to the scene where Chava leaves him, but I wondered why he let his family run roughshod over her. The film is in Yiddish and the locations look authentic, but it was actually filmed on Long Island and directed by Schwartz. Fans of Fiddler should try to catch this. [Blu-ray]