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Anti-Semitism, race relations, coming of age, and fathers and sons: in Baltimore from fall, 1954, to fall, 1955. Racial integration comes to the high school, TV is killing burlesque, and rock and roll is pushing the Four Lads off the Hit Parade. Ben, a high school senior, and his older brother Van are exploring "the other": in Ben's case, it's friendship with Sylvia, a Black student; with Van, it's a party in the WASP part of town and falling for a debutante, Dubbie. Sylvia gives Ben tickets to a James Brown concert; Dubbie invites Van to a motel: new worlds open. Meanwhile, their dad Nate, who runs a numbers game, loses big to a small-time pusher, Little Melvin; a partnership ensues. Written by
When Nate goes to pick Ben up from Little Melvin the Key Bridge can be seen. The Key Bridge was not completed until 1977. See more »
[voice-over at the end]
Life is made up of a few big moments, and a lot of little ones. I still remember the first time I kissed Sylvia, or the last time I hugged my father before he died. And I still remember that white-bread sandwich and that blonde dancing girl with the cigarette pack on her thigh. But a lot of images fade, and no matter how hard I try, I can't get them back. I had a relative once who said that if I knew things would no longer be, I would have tried to remember better.
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A passable story about growing up Jewish in 1950's Baltimore, "Liberty Heights" lacks any consistent dramatic storyline, but deals with a variety of issues in a sensitive manner.
Seen largely through the eyes of two Jewish teenagers (Van and Ben Kurtzman, played by Adrien Brody and Ben Foster) and their father Nate (Joe Montegna) the movie deals with the social changes just beginning in the early 1950's. Nate owns a burlesque house long after burlesque has gone out of fashion, and runs a numbers game on the side, constantly risking charges. Meanwhile, Van and Ben deal with anti-Semitic feelings (swimming pools with signs that read "NO JEWS, DOGS OR COLOREDS ALLOWED), but at the same time also deal with the changes brought about by integration, making friends and making tentative steps toward romances with those of other ethnic groups. We get a sense throughout of the difficulty that people must have felt in being asked to give up long-standing social conditioning, and we see (perhaps unrealistically) that the young people are far more willing to break out of these restrictions than their parents.
The movie isn't all that exciting, but does provide an interesting slice-of-life perspective that makes it worth watching. I rated it as a 5/10.
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