Wealthy, powerful sweatshop owner falls in love with employee's teenage daughter, who feels obligated to marry him after he shares his wealth with her parents, though she actually loves a young Marxist unionizer.




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Credited cast:
Judith Abarbanel ...
Mascha Melnick
Mark Schweid ...
Aaron Melnick
Sam Gertler ...
Sam, Moses' Nephew
Zvee Scooler ...
Rebecca Weintraub ...
Rubin Goldberg ...
Moses' Father
Leon Seidenberg ...
Michael Gibson ...
Moishe Gross
Wolf Goldfaden ...
Abe Sinkoff ...
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Ben-Zion Katz ...
Schmiel Yossel
Jacob Mestel ...
Michael Rosenberg
Sally Schorr ...


"Uncle" Moses is a wealthy garment store owner in the Lower East Side. He lords his wealth and its attendant power over the neighborhood, dispensing noblesse oblige and conducting casual affairs with numerous women. When he falls in love with the beautiful young daughter of one of his employees, he discovers what it is like to be beholden to another person. He convinces her to marry him, but she does so out of financial and social obligation, and Moses' love remains distressingly unrequited. At the same time, the growing labor movement attacks him for his exploitative employment conditions, and Moses begins to doubt the truth of the American Dream he thought he had achieved. Written by Dan Gilman <dgilman@haverford.edu>

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Drama | Romance





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Onkel Moses  »

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Historic Yiddish Film, based on a Newspaper Serial.
7 February 2012 | by (Midwest USA) – See all my reviews

Based on Sholem Asch's story/serial of the same name, "Uncle Moses" is an adaption set in NYC. It is the story of a Jewish man from a small town in the Pale who has come to America and owns a sweatshop that employs many people who came from the same small town. He falls for and marries a young woman who doesn't love him (she loves a young Marxist). The results.... well, you'll just have to watch it.

One of the most interesting details in the film is its setting of the 1930s NY's Yiddish- Jewish community, which was recreated many years later in "Ragtime" and "Hester Street." It no longer exists the way it did back then (or earlier), and the first few minutes of film show a glimpse of how it was (in a documentary footage style). Most of the movie is filmed in a New Jersey studio, and within 2 rooms. The movie is mostly about how money does not create happiness, nor purchase one's heart. The movie is also strong on peoples' and workers' rights during the Great Depression (it's a 1932 film), much like its country-set relative, "Grapes of Wrath" (John Ford).

The entire film is mostly spoken in Yiddish, a language rarely used in cinema. It does have English, showing that Jews from the Pale needed to use a franca lingua in business (much like today). For one who studies Jewish people in America, this film is priceless in this respect!

The acting is a little stagy (Schwartz was a big theatre producer and director and many films of this era were based on theatrical works, or they were musicals). The plot is also melodramatic, but not overly so (like "The Jazz Singer"). In my opinion, the lesser acting came from the character of Mashale, who doesn't really age and doesn't have the depth of characterization as she does in the original stories (she's a near-feminist in the book). This may be because the movie is an adaptation and Uncle Moses is where the audience would focus their attention. An what a great acting job Schwartz does!

The ending, which should look like be several years after the middle of the story, looks like it was done the same week. This always annoys me. Uncle Moses looks older, especially with the "sickly" makeup, but others look freshly out of the last shots. (I call this the "Untouchables Syndrome" - and if you have seen DePalma's movie, then you know what I am referring to).

The "stagey-ness" of the movie would probably leave the casual viewer somewhat bored, but the movie is definitely for the student of film, Jewish culture (especially US immigrant), and pre-Holocaust Jewish cinema. It is a pretty good movie, and historical for many reasons mentioned above. Great companion pieces include "Avalon," "Grapes of Wrath," and "Hester Street."

8 of 10. ---------- E.

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