Revisiting ‘Exodus’

The 1960 film “Exodus,” from the novel by Leon Uris, was the first major motion picture filmed on location in Israel. A sweeping, intelligent epic that told the story of the founding of the state, the movie helped create favorable public opinion for Israel in the West. “Exodus” played to sellout crowds and earned five times its cost.

The film’s director, Otto Preminger, is the subject of a new biography (“Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King,” by Foster Hirsch) that provides some interesting facts about the making of “Exodus.” Preminger had the cooperation of the Israeli government, but he had to deal with a steady stream of kvetching from old fighters from the Haganah (precursor of the Israeli Defense Forces) and Irgun (a militant Zionist group) about their depiction in the movie. Menachem Begin complained about Irgun getting short shrift. When Preminger asked how Begin had seen the script, Begin replied, “I wasn’t in Irgun for nothing.”

Preminger correctly perceived that Israel’s cause would be better served if the novel’s heavy-handed pro-Israel perspective was toned-down and if some of the Arab and British characters were “good guys.” This was a brilliant decision because it gave the still-pro-Israeli message of the picture an air of veracity that struck a chord with non-Jews.

A quarter of Jerusalem’s Jewish population turned out as unpaid extras for the street scene in which a massive crowd awaits the results of the United Nations vote on the partition of Palestine. Preminger got this turnout by promising the “extras” that all of them would be entered into a lottery with a grand prize of 20,000 Israeli liras.

Israeli celebs in America

For economic and ideological reasons, Israel didn’t have a TV station until 1966. Today, there are eight broadcast channels and a wide range of cable offerings. Israeli TV, like Israeli film, has blossomed in the last decade and Western companies are looking at which Israeli TV programs they can adapt for their own domestic audiences. The first such adaptation, the HBO series “In Treatment,” premiered earlier this year.

Israeli film and TV actors are also starting to break into American film and TV production. The box-office smash “The Mummy” (1999) and its sequel introduced worldwide audiences to handsome Israeli actor Oded Fehr, 37. More recently, Fehr has co-starred on the American TV shows “Presidio Med” and “Sleeper Cell,” and in the “Resident Evil” movies.

The pretty blonde Alana Tal, 24, had a regular role on TV’s “Veronica Mars” and was a regular on “Cane,” a dramatic TV show that began last fall and was effectively killed by the writers’ strike. But she has some movies in the pipeline.

Ayelet Zurer, 38, a patrician-looking actress, has been an Israeli film and TV star for two decades. She was just cast as the co-star of “Angels and Demons,” a big-budget sequel to “The Da Vinci Code.” She had a key role in “Vantage Point” and she co-stars in “Adam Resurrected,” a movie about the Holocaust also starring Jeff Goldblum, which was filmed earlier this year in Israel.

Indy’s return

Opening Thursday, May 22 is “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull,” the fourth installment in the Indiana Jones movie series. Steven Spielberg directed and Harrison Ford, 65, returns as Indiana Jones, the most athletic and adventurous archaeologist of all time. The movie is set in 1957 and this time Indy is battling Soviet agents for possession of some crystal skulls that may have been created by space aliens and have great powers. He is assisted by a young renegade called Mutt, played by Shia LaBeouf, 21. Like Ford, LaBeouf is Jewish on his mother’s side. Unlike Ford, who was raised without religion, Shia was raised Jewish and had a bar mitzvah.

Columnist Nate Bloom , an Oaklander, can be reached at [email protected].

Nate Bloom

Nate Bloom writes the "Celebrity Jews" column for J.