From Tzivi’s May ’11 Spotlight: On April 9, we lost Sidney Lumet, one of America’s best and most successful filmmakers. In the course of his long and brilliant career, Lumet made over 40 films, 14 of which were nominated for Academy Awards in multiple categories. Some of Lumet’s films, like 12 Angry Men, Serpico, and Network, defined their times. Others, like Murder on the Orient Express and The Wiz, were merely commercial blockbusters.
Somewhere in between are three of the most important Jewish-American films of the 20th Century: The Pawnbroker, Daniel, and Running on Empty. I also have a special fondness for A Stranger Among Us (which has the only score Jerry Bock ever composed specifically for a film soundtrack).
My father was still alive when Daniel was released in 1983, and I remember the conversation we had about it in great detail. Before I saw Daniel (based on E.L. Doctorow’s novel The Book of Daniel), I honestly didn’t know very much about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, but my father used the occasion to explain the controversy surrounding their execution in the context of his own life experiences: growing up during the Great Depression, serving in World War II, and raising a family in the shadow of Cold War McCarthyism.
For many years, Daniel was simply unavailable, too controversial to sell and too painful to watch, but after HBO broadcast Angels in America in 2003, a DVD version was finally released. So you can now watch Daniel in the privacy of your own home and decide for yourself.
Many scenes in Daniel have permanently imprinted themselves on my mind: Lindsay Crouse as “Rochelle Isaacson” telling her mother—in Yiddish—why she donated her salary to the Scottsboro Boys Defense Fund; Mandy Patinkin as “Paul Isaacson” facing down protesters at the Paul Robeson concert in Peekskill; Ed Asner as attorney “Jacob Ascher” trying to place two orphaned children whose relatives are afraid to shelter them; Tovah Feldshuh as “Linda Mindish,” a loving daughter protecting an elderly father who no longer remembers why his nephew “Danny” (Timothy Hutton) has cause to hate him.
Sidney Lumet captured these moments on film and now they are forever preserved. May his memory be for blessing.
ADDENDUM: Click HERE to read my chat with Ivy Meeropol (the granddaughter of Ethel & Julius Rosenberg). I did this interview in 2004 for the Really Good Films website, simultanteous with the release of her splendid documentary Heir to an Execution.
Emotional scene from Daniel (1983):
Young Daniel watches as his father “Paul” (Mandy Patinkin) is arrested.