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It's the 1920's. The Hermans - Harry Herman, his wife Annie Herman née Elias, their adolescent son David Herman, and Annie's father - are a Jewish family living in a small flat in the working class Jewish neighborhood of Montréal. David loves his "Zaida" (grandfather) with who he spends most Sundays driving around in their horse drawn wagon collecting junk - namely "rags, clothes, bottles" - to earn money. David also loves hearing his Zaida's stories about their Jewish culture, although most of those stories are made up and not based based on religious Jewish beliefs. Those stories are only one bone of contention between religious Zaida and secular Harry, as modern thinking Harry feels the stories are old fashioned hogwash and provide David with no grounding in what is real in life. Another issue of contention is money, as Harry is always dreaming of get rich schemes - the latest being to manufacture permanently creased and thus iron-less trousers - for which Zaida will not provide ... Written by
Ted Allen wrote a wonderful short story, about 4 pages long, called "Lies My Father Told Me" which was short on plot but very evocative of the Jewish ghetto in Montreal in the 1920s. It reminisced about a young boy who accompanied his grandfather on a horse-drawn cart collecting rags and bottles.
This is the third attempt to fill out the story into a film. Allen wrote the screenplay, which was nominated for an Oscar. He also wrote the screenplay for the 1960 film, which I haven't seen.
Pretty much everything that can go wrong with a film has happened here. The story is melodramatic and predictable. The characters are one-dimensional caricatures rather than human beings. The main character, a young boy, is so tousle-haired and gap-toothed and sweet that you want to kick him. His father is a total loser (or "schlemiel") who keeps thinking up get-rich-quick schemes, and wastes his money on the races. The mother is noble, loving, self-sacrificing, etc. The boy's wise old grandfather (the other main character) has a gruff exterior but a twinkle in his eye. You expect the characters to break into song at any minute. The only believable character in this film is the horse!
The acting is way over-the-top, the actors striking poses like in a silent film, rather than acting like people.
Most of the film takes place in an obvious stage set of Montreal's slum. There are a few nice exterior glimpses of the real Montreal.
The whole thing is sentimental and mawkish and embarrassing.
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