Exodus – Preminger’s Lavish Epic
It’s a lumbering and neutered of passion 212-minute abridged screen adaptation of the passionate tome-like best-selling novel by Leon Uris, and is written by blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo under an alias. It’s directed in a heavy-handed manner by Otto Preminger, who nevertheless gets good performances from his talented cast and the film features first-class production values. The star-studded and lavish epic chronicles Israel’s struggle for independence in 1947.
It follows Ari Ben Canaan (Paul Newman), an Israeli resistance leader for Haganah, as he tries to help a group of 600 Jewish immigrants escape British-blocked Cypress for Palestine and direct the path to freedom away from the rival more radical terrorist Irgun movement. The unfocused film wanders over much desert turf: showing the bombing of the King David Hotel and the migration of European Jews to the new land (who include many survivors of the Holocaust); it loosely covers various political and personal aspirations among the Jewish nationalist movement itself, the Jewish aspirations to gain partition, the Arab resistance and the unfortunate role played by the Brits as guardians of the status quo.
There’s also a tepid romance that develops between the dedicated Ari and a young American widow, Kitty Fremont (Eva Marie Saint), stranded in Cyprus and a friend of the Brit commander General Sutherland. Ernest Gold’s Oscar-nominated score is a memorable classic. Newman’s performance is adequate technically but lacks warmth. Preminger remains loyal to the novel’s homage to the spirit of the new nation but the compromised film never gets past making everybody stereotyped and more dull than they should be and never develops the too many different threads the story takes in trying to give a complete picture of the struggle for a homeland.