From Nov ’08 Spotlight: When Paul Newman died on September 26, the world lost a truly great man, but for all the tributes published in the last month, almost none mentioned the fact that this mensch actually came to international prominence when he starred as “Ari Ben Canaan,” the sabra-hero of Exodus. Newman’s father was Jewish, and he always described himself as Jewish whenever the topic surfaced, so this misplaced political correctness dishonors both the man and his extraordinary career.
I just watched Exodus again. It needs no apologies. Of course it was made in an era of huge epics like Ben-Hur and Lawrence of Arabia, so DVD watchers must plan their own intermission. I suggest you hit “stop” when the camera pans across the King David Hotel (minute 1:40), and resume with lunch on the balcony (chapter 12).
I passed out little questionnaires at a recent Hadassah meeting. Everyone who answered had seen Exodus, and they all remembered loving it, although most hadn’t seen it since its original release in 1960. It is almost impossible now to remember how important this film was in its time, but University of Michigan historian Deborah Dash Moore lays out the case in her excellent essay in the Hoberman/Shander collection Entertaining America: Jews, Movies, and Broadcasting (2003), so I’ll give her the last word: “Exodus gave Jews a proud self-consciousness and a new way of imagining Jewishness. It encouraged those who performed Jewish identities in public to renegotiate what it meant to be Jewish by integrating Israel into the imagination of American Jews.” (page 219)