The seamy Jewish underworld of Odessa is the setting for Isaac Babel's story based on the life of gangster king Mishka Yaponchik "Mike the Jap" Vinnitsky. Murder is a way of life for Benya ... See full summary »
The seamy Jewish underworld of Odessa is the setting for Isaac Babel's story based on the life of gangster king Mishka Yaponchik "Mike the Jap" Vinnitsky. Murder is a way of life for Benya and his gang until he finds himself ensnared in a Bolshevik trap. Written by
National Center for Jewish Film
Based on the great Isaac Babel's "Odessa Tales," "Benya Krik" (unsure why it is shown as "Benny the Howl," unless his name is translated that way) is a movie based on Babel's famed, fictional Jewish gangster and filmed in Soviet Odessa during the "Golden Age" of Soviet cinema . It is LOOSELY based on the real-life gangster, Mikhail Vinnitsky. It is scripted by Babel, which, in itself, is a reason for seeing this movie.
The stories in Babel's "Odessa Tales." The individual stories on which this movie is based are "Froim Grach," "The King," and "How Things Were Done in Odessa." The Froim Grach and character is changed to that of one of Benya's henchmen, and the character in Babel's story is semi-morphed into Benya's character. The movie spans 4 years, from 1914 to 1918, and show Odessa as filled street urchins, gambling, and debauchery, where Benya rules with as strong honor system. He is the uncharacteristic hero, and how Babel adapts his original stories are, in itself, extremely interesting (think on how he had to keep his heroic character likable while changing the stories to fit ideology).
The ending was added. It was not part of the original stories, mostly because the Soviets had to keep their ideology alive. I won't give away the ending.
This movie, as I recall, quickly disappeared from distribution after it was made because of its content (a heroic and Jewish, albeit secular, gangster) and how it didn't keep within socialist ideological standards.
90 minutes long on the restored version on DVD that is available (imdb omits that above). The DVD is an excellent copy (but, supposedly, no sound at all, not even music!).
Well worth a look, and especially for the propaganda and ideology being mediated - the ending is pro-Soviet and was not in the original stories
like many of the early silent Soviet cinematic films that were
adaptations ("Aelita," as an example.
Sidenote: Babel was killed by Stalin much later for being a Trotskyite. Babel's writings are still considered masterpieces.
And if you love the writings Babel and Sholom Aleichem as much as I do, then it is a MUST SEE! Also, try to read the 3 previously-mentioned stories BEFORE watching the film ("Froim Grach" last). You will see how adaptation - especially adaptation of literature to film in Soviet society - changes the meaning of the film and its characterizations, and which may make it dangerous to the government.
Great Movie. Strong 10 0f 10. ----- E.
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