The Juggler (1953)
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"Surviving the horror" could be another title for "the juggler" .A Jew ,who has lost all his family and who has known the concentration camps comes back to the promised land in 1949.Life during WW2 camps has often been described,but life AFTER the nightmare is a subject which has rarely been told in movies with a few exceptions ("die Morder sind unter uns ":Susanne's character and "Exodus": the young man played by Sal Mineo).But never as successfully as here.
Hans cannot forget.His psyche is shot."I'm the juggler and the juggled" . He tries to find back his dear departed although he knows they were killed.He suffers from claustrophobia and Douglas makes us FEEL his disease (the film owes a great deal to this extraordinary actor),and every time he sees men in uniform ,he thinks of his torturers.
Admirable sequences: Douglas in the desert town ,with all these walls which imprison him ,and those men around who are threats .The minefield where the distraught man and his young pal are rescued by their fellow men who form a human chain.
In his absorbing memoirs,Douglas wrote that he once helped Dmytryk who was one of the Unfriendly Tens .But when they made "the juggler" ,the director acted as if they had never met.Douglas thought he was ashamed for having been an informer.But he did not judge him at all.What would I have done if I had been in his shoes ? he wrote.
Many films might suggest that Dmytryk was suffering from of a strong guilty feeling: "the sniper" with his burned arm,José Ferrer's arm in a sling in "Caine Mutiny" .And in this film ,Douglas "gagging" his arm-mouth ,or covering it to hide his tattooed number.
I agree with all the precedent users.A film which must be restored to favor.
Back in the day Douglas was a music hall entertainer, a juggler by trade, and from what I could see Douglas mastered the art himself to make his performance quite believable. As an actor I have never seen anyone better than Kirk Douglas to go from 0 to 120 in emotions in a matter of seconds. Kirk needed that ability to play the psychologically tattered Hans Muller.
A lot of folks who survived questioned the very nature of nature's God to have allowed such a thing to happen. Even more so they questioned the randomness of those who did survive. Douglas lost his wife and children there.
When he wanders away from the settlement camp in Haifa and is questioned by an Israeli policeman, the demons from Europe return and Douglas strikes at the cop. Thinking he's killed him Kirk goes on the run and he teams up with another camp survivor, an orphan played by Joey Walsh.
Their wanderings and eventually settling down in a kibbutz is most of the film. The Juggler was the first American production to be shot in Israel and we see Douglas and Walsh in the real Haifa, the real Nazareth and in the countryside of Israel which had seen its own war for survival at birth the year before.
The Juggler however does stick to the story and it doesn't just become an Israel travelogue. And it's a nice story about a good man who's seen the worst of what his fellow human beings can do just trying to find a place in a promising, but strange new world.
Unfortunately, Kramer had a habit of assigning George Antheil to score his films. Antheil contributes another inappropriate score heavily accenting any melodramatic moment that points up Kirk's anguish, much the way he did in Kramer's NOT AS A STRANGER. It didn't work there and it doesn't work here, especially during the "escape" scene where the music reaches a frenzied fever pitch of discordant notes.
It's hard to fully sympathize with Douglas' tormented character and that is the film's chief handicap. As the man tracking down the fugitive, PAUL STEWART does his usual workmanlike job. Trouble is, there's an almost documentary feel to the story and its pivotal character is never fully fleshed out, remaining somewhat of an enigma despite Douglas' good performance. When romance comes into the story with the entrance of MILLY VITALE, Douglas' character softens a little under her compassionate care.
Some vivid glimpses of Israel, circa 1949, and good location photography gives the story an authentic air, but the story values are never more than ordinary and the total effect is bland.
Worthwhile mainly for Kirk Douglas fans, it fails to make the impact intended as a serious study of a man haunted by prison camp memories.
** 1/2 (out of 4)
Kirk Douglas plays a Holocaust survivor who is still suffering mental illness after ten years in a concentration camp where he also learned that his wife and children were killed by being put in an oven. After the war Douglas goes to Israel to try and start his life over but his mental condition nearly leads to him killing a cop but he heads off and finds new friends in a closed off community but his past is still looking for him. Edward Dymtryk directed this film, which has its heart in the right place but there are a few major flaws that really kills the film. Needless to say, Douglas gives a very strong and heartbreaking performance and I've heard this is one of his favorites. There's a scene towards the start of the film where he sees a woman with two children and thinks that they are his even though he knows they're really dead. The breakdown Douglas shows in this scene is among the best of his career. There are countless dramatic moments like this one and here lies one of the problems. Douglas gives a strong enough of a performance where the director should have let the acting do the talking but instead of doing that he pumps up the music score. Every time something dramatic happens he pumps up the music score and this here killed most of the drama for me. The film also wants to make the viewer cry every few minutes and this doesn't work either.
"The Juggler" was produced by Stanley Kramer, and feels more or less like another one of his schmaltzy "socially conscious message movies". It was written by Michael Blanfort, a screenwriter responsible for "The Caine Mutiny" and "Broken Arrow". With "The Juggler", however, Blanfort bites off more than he can chew, the film offering little insight into either Israel's bloody creation (and the philosophical questions it raises), WW2, the nature of concentration camps or the mind of a man ravaged by survivor's guilt.
Incidentally, the 1950s and 60s saw a number of films which were overtly or covertly about Israel's new-found independence. Most of these were written by blacklisted writers and filmed by once blacklisted directors, which is practically a reversal of how the radical left views Israel today (Dalton Trumbo would write "Exodus" some years later, which again starred Douglas).
Most of the films in this wave were also fairly cartoonish pictures, Americanizing the Holocaust and distorting early 20th century history, flattening it into fairly broad, easily digestible movements for Western audiences. We see this with "The Juggler" as well, Israel never rising above the level of a mother who assuages the pain of her brutalised flock. She is a pair of welcoming arms, a necessary haven, and nothing more.
For those interested in history: Edward Dmytryk was once blacklisted for "communist affiliations" (he joined the American Communist Party in 1944) and jailed for six months. He, like many directors (King Vidor et al), then made overtly patriotic flicks to curry favour with those in power, though to no avail. He remained blacklisted by studios and slowly went broke. In 1951 Dmytryk then went before the House of Un-American Activities Committee and provided the names of 26 former members of left-wing groups, all in an attempt to get his name off the blacklist. He succeeded, and immediately directed "The Juggler" and "The Caine Mutiny", the former a love-letter to Israel (perhaps, like his anti, anti-Semitic "Crossfire"), the latter a deliberate reversal of the message found in "Mutiny on the Bounty". Where "Bounty" justified the revolt of oppressed sailors against those in power, "Caine" does the opposite, portraying rebels as an irrational mob of silly, overly educated men. This period of Hollywood history, in which artists were effectively destroyed for their political beliefs, ostracised, blackmailed and forced to comply, is fairly well known. Less well known is how left-wing movements an extension of Hitler's own paranoia vis a vis "Marxist Jews" - were murderously suppressed by the United States across most of Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, Europe and Asia (even Australia, with what was essentially a 1970's coup).
What's this got to do with "The Juggler"? In a way, Dmytryk's film is all about naming names and its own low-key witch-hunts. Characters must name names to convict Hans Muller, others must name names to prove his innocence, and a little girl is asked to both sell-out and provide photographs of Muller. "Sometimes, you have to give up your friends," one character then essentially says. The message? Stop running, stop hiding, tell the truth, obey, Daddy knows best.
6/10 Douglas chews scenery well, though his vaudeville routines are at times cringe-worthy. This is surprising, as Dmytryk was the editor of "Duck Soup". See too Dmytryk's "Farewell My Lovely". Worth one viewing.
Kirk Douglas was cast as a German-Jew who has just immigrated to Israel in 1949. Since WWII, we don't know what he's done or where he's been, but he was horribly abused in a concentration camp, so it isn't at all surprising he is emotionally fragile and suffers from a classic case of Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome. In some ways, Kirk was an excellent choice--he's Jewish and did amazingly well in his juggling routines. However, having him play a German named "Hans Muller" was silly, as he acted about as German as Mickey Mouse. Everyone but Kirk had a strong accent in the film--Kirk sounded like an American. Also, while I love his films, Mr. Douglas is NOT one of the more subtle actors in history and a few of his scenes where he struggles with the effects of PTSD were overdone--and were almost silly. And that is NOT something you want in a serious film about a very serious topic.
Aside from this casting problem (why didn't they just have Kirk play a man who was originally an American and he was living in Europe?), the other smaller problem about the film is that, at times, it tried a little too hard. Scenes from the kibbutz seemed a tad over-idealistic and lacked realism from time to time.
However, despite these serious flaws, the film still was engaging and had one of the earliest and best portrayals of PTSD on film. It's well worth seeing for mental health professionals and people interested in the early history of Israel, but others might find it tough sailing. An earnest and sincere failure that is still a decent time-passer.
My advice? See some other films about the Holocaust first--save this one for later if you are so inclined. Some great films about this era you might want to first watch are THE SHOP ON MAIN STREET (from Czechoslovakia), THE SEARCH, SCHINDLER'S LIST, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL and the TV mega-miniseries, WAR AND REMEMBRANCE. For early Israeli history (post-1948), try EXODUS--it's not perfect but is still far better than this film.
As a Holocaust survivor who lost his wife and children, Hans Muller (Douglas) comes to Israel in 1949.
He reminded me somewhat of Rod Steiger in "The Pawnbroker," as he is unable to come to grips with what has occurred in his life and he constantly confuses his current life with what has happened to him in the past. A routine encounter with an Israeli policeman leads to near tragedy and Douglas runs away to a Kibbutz where he finds love and understanding with a woman and a young sabra who he meets along the way.
The final scene where Douglas is trapped in a one- room area is similar to that of his captivity in a concentration camp. The torture expressed on his face was reminiscent of what he would exhibit in "Lust for Life" years later.
Along the way, Douglas befriends teenager Joseph "Joey" Walsh (as Yehoshua "Josh" Bresler). The apparently orphaned boy begins as a guide - but he and Douglas quickly develop a "father-son" relationship. In keeping with the familial theme, Douglas later meets young blonde Milly Vitale (as Ya'El). The beautifully-figured widow lost her husband in the recent Arab-Israeli War - and you'd be safe in predicting a romance between Douglas and Ms. Vitale is in the script. It's brought to you by writer Michael Blankfort, producer Stanley Kramer and director Edward Dmytryk. They've got a good lead with Douglas and nice-looking film, shot party on location...
Douglas makes a very believable juggler, if not a German. The performance by young Walsh is also quite appealing. The subject matter is excellent, but we don't see much beneath the surface; everything is left to Douglas' anguish. We wonder why he is not returned to his home and given back his career and wealth - after all, we won the war. Watch for a startling scene in which adorably cute Beverly Washburn (as Susy) refuses to give her autographed picture of "The Juggler" to the policeman (Paul Stewart) hunting Douglas. Her father tells the girl, "Sometimes, for the sake of the law, we have to give up our friends." That line stands out like a sore thumb.
****** The Juggler (5/5/53) Edward Dmytryk ~ Kirk Douglas, Joseph Walsh, Milly Vitale, Paul Stewart
I enjoyed seeing a young John Banner playing a Dutch tourist who helps the police pursue Kirk. He's far more pleasant than the caricature we all remember him as: the bumbling Sgt. Shultz from "Hogan's Heroes"
The kid from "Hans Christian Anderson" is here too, playing Kirk's sidekick instead of Danny Kaye's. And Paul Stewart, the guy who was Kane's valet in "Citizen Kane" is the cop. He was in a TON of television in the 60s.
This Film does Try Very Hard but is Ultimately Stagy and Flat and Barely Interesting. Although the First Hollywood Movie to Go to the Newly Formed Country Israel, it is Rather Unremarkable the Way it Portrays the Location. Ironically it's just Bland and Not Very Compelling.
There are Some Fine Moments, Like when a Little Girl is Prodded into Giving Up a Photo of "The Juggler", Kirk Douglas as Hans Muller, She is Told..."Sometime we must give up our friends for the sake of the law."...Yikes...Isn't that what the Nazi's Demanded? Isn't that what the Mccarthy Commie Hunt Demanded?
Overall, the Broad Subject Matter of Concentration Camp Survivors was Rare in the Movies, and for that this One is Special. But it isn't an Especially Good Movie. A Fair Attempt at a Difficult Subject, but the Results are Inconsistent and the Film as a Whole is Less than the Talent In Front of and Behind the Camera in this Noble Mediocrity.
Kirk Douglas is a famous German juggler who has survived a concentration camp where he lost his wife and children. He winds up a refugee in Haifa but his experiences have left him deranged, mistaking strange women for his wife, claustrophobic, bitterly mistrustful of authority. He runs away from the refugee camp, battering a curious policeman almost to death, and hikes across much of Israel with a boy, Joseph Walsh, that he's picked up along the way. When he reaches a remote kibbutz, they welcome him, and he and one of the staff, Milly Vitale, fall in love. But the police are on his trail because of the assault on the cop. They capture him and take him away for trial and psychiatric treatment.
Describing the tale in a precis like this drains it of all blood. Along with "Champion", it's certainly one of Kirk Douglas' finest performances. The climactic scene in which he's locked all the doors to a tiny cabin and threatens to kill any policeman who tries to break in is indescribable. Milly Vitale, at the door, makes the point that he hasn't locked others out, he's locked himself in. And when Douglas realizes that she's speaking the truth, his eyes roll back and his face is distorted with anguish.
Of course it's overdone. This is Hollywood speaking. And they want to make sure you get each particular point, even if they have to hit you over the head with a crowbar to do it. Thus, when Douglas' shirt sleeve is accidentally rolled back, uncovering his tattoo, someone must remark, "That's a concentration camp number. You must have been in a concentration camp!" The last shot is a disappointment, with Douglas on his knees, begging for help.
At the kibbutz we get the happy peasant cliché. Everyone is kindly and unpretentious. They take pleasure in simple things, like the arrival of two cows, which they decorate with flowers. And after that, there must be a folk dance to George Antheil's frenzied music and Edward Dmytryk's gigantic close ups of wildly happy faces.
The cast look genuine enough in dusty work clothes. Douglas appears only briefly with his hair carefully trimmed, combed, and moussed. But Milly Vitale is always made up and wears a stylish 1953 do. That's a mistake, because Milly Vitale is radiant and doesn't need her face plastered with goo.
But there are moments, sometimes brief, just a line or two of dialog, that stand out as if accompanied by barely perceived fanfares. On a hilltop, Douglas is explaining how he lost his family -- thank God, no flashbacks -- and then he answers all her questions with old jokes or tricks. As for how he was swept up, "The juggler is juggled." Why can't he accept the kibbutz as his home? Douglas is juggling four oranges (he's pretty good) and he repeats, in time with the rotation of the fruit, "Home . . is a place . . you lose."
Like "The Pawn Broker," the film deals not with the suffering of the concentration camps but with the suffering that lives on within us after the horror is "over." It's a difficult movie to forget.