Symphony of Six Million (1932) Poster

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Oy! What a Tearjerker
howdymax3 October 2002
Like a good soup, there are many elements to this movie. You first have to start with a good stock. The stock in this movie is the Lower East Side of New York in the 30's. The hustle and bustle, the rag pickers, the pushcarts, the tailors, the fishmongers. The whole flavor of life in the Jewish ghetto. Without this backdrop the movie would fall flat.

Next are the ingredients. The cast in this movie is genuine and almost flawless. Gregory Ratoff as the father, Ricardo Cortez (Jacob Krantz) as his son - the doctor, and Noel Madison as the ambitious brother. They are all authentic and they are all Jewish. I said almost flawless because there is one flaw. Irene Dunne is cast as the love interest. She is a good actress, but she is clearly a shiksa in looks, speech, and mannerism. She stood out like a pork chop amongst the knishes and kugels.

Finally, none of this would matter if somebody didn't know how to cook. The story isn't original - as a matter of fact it is still being done today. A young boy grows up in poverty. A poor but nourishing neighborhood. He is part of a loving family which supports him in his quest to become a doctor. He succeeds and decides to devote his life to helping the underclass in the ghetto. His brother, meanwhile, becomes a successful businessman and convinces him that he should move "uptown" in order to make more money and help the family. He moves up the social ladder, becomes a raging success, and is celebrated by the rich and famous. Through a series of tragedies it becomes clear to him that he has lost his roots. It is only here,at the very end, that we have to give the director (probably at the direction of the producer David O. Selznick) a little melodramatic license. This movie was made in 1932 and drama was the order of the day.

You want subtle - watch something else. You want to choke up and feel good. Watch this.

Note: Although it was entirely unintentional, and could not have been imagined, there is an uncanny connection between the title of this movie and the holocaust which came to light a decade later. Six Million.
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What a Great Movie
gelashe3 October 2002
I was intrigued with the title of Six Million having a Jewish theme and what the connection would be since the movie was made in 1932. Once watching I was riveted to the story. The actors were custom made for their parts, hearing Oyfn Pripinchik being played throughout the movie made it heartwarming and endearing. A real Yiddishe Mama, an old fashioned papa (fabric cutter) and their children all living on the Lower East Side. The theme was that one of their son's wanted to be a doctor and took up a practice in their neighborhood caring for the poor (sometimes accepting no payment or very little) because it was rewarding for him. His brother saw it as wasting his talents and wanted him to become a Park Avenue big shot to make money. He did and lost his spirit. But wait til the middle and the end to see what happens. Have a box of tissues around. You will need it. Typical Fanny Hurst style.
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Good-doctor-goes-bad tale is enlivened by Jewish humor
Sleepy-173 October 2002
The story is nice, the theme pleasant (money isn't everything), but the outstanding element is the Jewish working-class background of a non-orthodox family. Not claustrophobic like the Jazz Singer and other self-pitying films, this film has an open and sunny attitude that makes it very accessible. Excellent, warm portrayals by Gregory Ratoff and Anna Appel as the stereotypical parents.
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Intriguing, beautifully made, with a miscast but game Dunne
Handlinghandel13 December 2007
The scenes on Manhattan's Lower East Side in the 1930s are very convincing. The Jewish family in which Ricardo Cortez is a prodigy are too. The mama, played by Anna Appel, presages Molly Goldberg: "Yoo-hoo, Mrs. Fishbein," she calls out. Everything about the milieu seems authentic. (I'm not saying a 1932 film was shot on location but the setting was lovingly recreated.) Cortez, without his Latin-lover makeup and mannerisms, is very believable. I like him always. His name here is Felix and, though he plays a more somber than usual character here, it fits: His nearly omnipresent grin can remind one of Felix the Cat.

Gregory Ratoff is excellent as the stubborn patriarch of the household.

I watched it essentially because of my enduring fondness for Irene Dunne. (Director Gregory La Cava was no slouch either. His movies, especially the early ones like this, are always worthwhile.) Dunne plays a character named Jessica. Forgive me if I'm wrong but this does not sound like a name one would have been likely to encounter in the Jewish "ghetto," as the characters keep calling the neighborhood. She plays a teacher of blind children who limps.

She has very little to do and she acquits herself well. It seems like a waste of her special talents, though, and somewhat intrusive miscasting.

Nevertheless, the movie is touching and at times amusing. It's a rarity in its (generally) direct portrayal of lower-class Jewish life at the early part of the last century.
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Now that's what I call a wake-up call
iamdldavidroot-17 December 2007
If I had the money to do so, as well as the time, I would distribute this to every physician and tell him/her that if he/she will not at least watch this, then give it back to me or give it to somebody who will watch it! It is too bad that this movie is largely unknown, since it seems more relevant to the world of today's medicine. This is an excellent example of the phrase "physician, heal thyself"! And it was too bad that I did not know about this movie until December 8th, when it was broadcast on Turner Classic Movies ( If there was anything that captured my attention, it was the the beginning musical theme, which varies throughout the movie.
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a nice glass Schmalz
paulwl8 October 2006
A previous viewer commented that there isn't anything "Pre-Code" about "Symphony of Six Million." Ohhhh, yes there is - the frank and loving embrace of Jews and Jewishness, especially the familial bonds of aspiration, hope and love so strong and heart-rending that conflict and guilt are its inevitable by-products.

Such an overtly Jewish photo play wouldn't have been acceptable in the Hollywood of just a few years later. No one would come right out and say so, but the likely reason was the sensibilities of the newly militant Catholic audience, then being stirred up by the likes of Father Charles Coughlin's anti-Semitic radio talks. Also to be catered to were the quieter prejudices of Middle Western Protestants, for whom Will Hays stood in as proxy on the Code committee.

The story being pretty boilerplate, the charm of this film is all in the atmosphere, which is laid on pretty thickly. Crucial to this are able supporting players, especially Gregory Ratoff and Anna Appel as Papa and Mama Klauber. Ricardo Cortez is a bit stiff as the conflicted, noble Felix, but his swarthy, polished earnestness hits just the right note for the well-to-do My-Son-The-Park-Avenue-Doctor, 1932 edition. Irene Dunne as Jessica, Felix's crippled love interest, is lovable mostly for being Irene Dunne, whose refined features and diction don't gibe at all with her role as a ghetto girl. It says a lot about the men who once ran the movies that an obviously Jewish romantic female lead was something they couldn't, or wouldn't, portray. Authentic Jewish womanhood was still inseparable from the family matriarch, played with affecting melodrama by Appel.

TCM's Robert Osborne pointed out that "Symphony" was one of the first talkies with a full original score. At David Selznick's behest, Max Steiner wrote nearly continuous music for the film. It's heavy going at times: Felix's inner drama is too often greeted by heroic heralds of brass, and the lugubrious harmonic-minor strings accompanying Irene Dunne's entrances are like a nice glass Schmalz poured over a sumptuous Sunday chicken dinner.
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Overdone, but has it's moments
nyp0117 July 2010
Warning: Spoilers
This movie has a back story for me. I used to work in a North Hollywood, California bank in the mid '90's. I befriended a regular customer there, a frail elderly man named Lester Lee. One day, he mentioned that he used to be a child actor, and the next time brought in two VCR tapes with snippets of two films he had been in, Symphony of Six Million, and Symphony of Living.

I took them home and watched the brief scenes, trying to see a resemblance between the 12 or 13 year old boy on my TV and the elderly gentleman who came into the bank once a week to deposit his Social Security check.

I tried finding copies of these films, but was unsuccessful. The internet was not as helpful as it is today, and I was not able to find anyone who sold those 'forgotten' films.

I recently remembered my acquaintance with Mr. Lee, and looked online and found someone selling Symphony of Six Million. I ordered it and watched it over breakfast this morning.

The first thing I noticed was that the sound was low: with my TV at full volume, it was still sometimes difficult to make out some of the dialog. The background hiss was loud as well.

The plot touches a lot of points that could just as well be made today about many communities struggling to adapt. The message of SOSM is an all-American story, one that has been repeated over and over again throughout our history with a series of nationalities and cultures that came to our shores: Jews, Italians, Irish, Germans, Armenians, and others. These shared the same problems of adapting to a foreign culture, finding a place in that culture, and along the way suffering from the conflicts between success and loyalty to one's people, adaptation and the remembrance of one's roots.

That is what the movie is about: the costs of assimilation. My problem is not with the 'message' of the film. It's with the overly melodramatic shifts in the story, and the unrealistic, romantic portrayal of the medical profession. That said, there are some fine moments in the film, the climax being the confrontation between Irene Dunne's and Ricardo Cortez's characters in the latter's upscale medical office. I found myself tearing up, as I'm sure many film goers have over the years.

Overall, I would say the film is very worth watching, especially as it is largely forgotten today. And watch for Lester Lee, as the young Felix!
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The road to hell is paved with good intentions...
AlsExGal13 March 2011
... and Dr. Felix Klauber (Ricardo Cortez as the adult Felix) always seems to have the best intentions. The movie starts out showing Felix as a child studying on the doorstep of his family's ghetto tenement house, taking time to defend a local girl with a curved spine (Irene Dunne as Jessica) from some taunting street bullies. The movie spends a good deal of time focusing on Felix' home environment as a child. We learn that his parents are immigrant Jews, that his father has a kind heart but a bit of a temper, that his brother can be a trouble maker but only in the way that most boys can be, and that his mother is everything you'd want a mom to be. In other words, Felix lives surrounded by misery and poverty, but his own family is doing alright and he has a very good home. Felix is very thoughtful and decides the best way he can alleviate the misery of the poor is to become a doctor and treat everyone, regardless of ability to pay.

Unlike most childhood dreams, Felix works hard and makes his a reality. As a doctor he treats people both at his home - he still lives in the ghetto with his family - and at a local clinic set up for such work. Everybody is happy - except Felix' brother Magnus. Magnus has become a businessman, thinks everything should be for sale, and that includes medicine. He's unhappy that Felix still lives with his parents in the ghetto when he could set up a nice practice in the wealthier part of the city. Knowing his brother could care less what he thinks, he convinces their mother to beg Felix to go uptown based on the fact that their father is getting old and needs to retire. It works.

The next thing we see is Felix treating socialite women whose only problem is that they are bored and overweight, although he does get paid handsomely for it. Now everyone in the Klauber household is again happy - except Felix who realizes his talents are being wasted but just can't seem to break away from the ties that bind him to his new existence. He no longer even has time to spend with the family he did all of this for in the first place. How will all of this come out? I'll let you watch and find out.

The ending was a bit too melodramatic, but overall it was a pretty satisfying film. Another reviewer mentioned the one unusual precode element of this film - the detailed portrayal of a Jewish religious ceremony being performed towards the end of the film on Birdie's new born baby - Birdie was Felix' sister. The production code which began being enforced in 1934 only allowed Christian rituals to be shown. Another unusual element of the film - Jessica as Felix' love interest although she has a noticeably curved spine. Jessica teaches blind children and acts as Felix' link to his past and his once virtuous goals. It's almost like in the cartoons when you see a character with an angel on one shoulder whispering in one ear and a devil in the other. Jessica plays the part of the angel here, Magnus is the devil - however he's a smart enough devil to always send his mother as his mouthpiece. Who would say no to mom?
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Moving Uptown, Losing His Soul
maryszd12 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Symphony of Six Million is a fascinating period piece of a film about a young, idealistic doctor, Felix (Ricardo Cortez), from the Lower East Side, who gives up his clinic practice among the poor and moves his office to Park Avenue to advance his family socially. Family tragedy strikes and he realizes he's lost his soul. The film is notable for its warmhearted depiction of an immigrant Jewish milieu. It's a tearjerker, but it has a sincerity that redeems it. The actors who play his immigrant parents (Anna Appel and Gregory Ratoff) are wonderful. And it has an overwrought but interesting musical score by Max Steiner. This film is a great piece of cinematic Americana and well worth seeing!
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OK movie
fsilva22 January 2005
I have to say I expected more from this early thirties' Gregory La Cava Photoplay, especially since one of my favourite actresses, Irene Dunne, starred in it, but she had little time on screen (IMHO) and her role as a crippled girl, is pretty shallow, she had not yet blossomed into the great actress of "Theodora Goes Wild", "Love Affair" or "The Awful Truth".

This weepie (based on a Fannie Hurst novel, the same author who gave us "Back Street", "Imitation of Life", etc.) tells the story of a family of German immigrants, who lives in a poor Jewish ghetto in New York. Thanks to the profession of one of the sons, who grows to be a successful doctor (Ricardo Cortez), they find much better "horizons".

Ricardo Cortez, who has a Latin name but who was really born in Hungary, of Jewish background, does a fine job in the leading role, suffering a lot through the movie, 'cos he sacrifices his ideals for his family's sake. His parents are skillfully played by Anna Appel and Gregory Ratoff, who bring much truth to their interpretations.

I have to say that I enjoyed more the first part of the film which shows the life of this family when their sons were kids; there's a lot of "real" truth in the depiction of their lives, when they grow-up the film becomes more of a routine-soap opera.

Anyhow, I had never seen Ricardo Cortez in such a role, 'cos I was used to see him portraying continental men of the world or gangster-types, and as I stated before, he does a good job. Irene Dunne is less than half of what she had yet to achieve (in acting talent & beauty-I prefer her with longer hair).

No Pre-Codes aspects here, although it was released in 1932. Anyway, 1930's fans will have to see it.
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My Son! My Son The Doctor!
sol-kay9 October 2006
(There may be some Spoilers) Growing up in the Jewish ghetto on the lower East Side of Manhattan Felix Kauber, Ricardo Cortez, always wanted to help those less fortunate them himself which drove him to go into medical school and become a doctor. Working at the lower East Side Cherry Street Clinic Felix was happy helping the people in the area who couldn't afford to pay a family doctor or wait hours on end at the local hospital emergency ward for treatment which was no where up to the high standards that Felix provided for them free of charge.

Happy with his lot in life Felix's life begins to change for the worse when his greedy younger brother Magnus,Noal Maison, persuades their mom Mrs. Hanna Klauber, Anna Appal, to somewhat reluctantly tell Felix that he was throwing away his future as a high paid Park Avenue doctor, treating neurotic but very rich society women, by giving his service to people who were more or less charity cases.

It takes a while for Felix to change his lifestyle and doctors office, from downtrodden Cherry Street to rich and swanky Park Avenue, feeling rightly at first that his roots and friends that needed him most were in that poor to middle-class community. Finally taking his mom's and brothers advice Felix moves up in the world of medicine, and list of high class patients, becoming one of the foremost and respected surgeons in New York. But what he doesn't know until it's almost too late is that he traded in his humanity as well as his soul for a pot of porridge; like Esau the twin brother of Jacob traded his birthright in the bible.

Very effective and ahead of it's time early talkie about a Jewish family without the usual racial and ethnic stereotype. We even have Felix have a girlfriend the sweet and caring braille teacher Jessica, Irene Dunne, who seems to be non-Jewish, Jessica looks and acts like she's Irish, with his very Jewish parents not making a point of it which you would have expected in a very Jewish movie like "Symphony for Six Million".

Felix's father Mayer, Gregory Ratoff, as well as his mother Hanna and girlfriend Jessica become more and more distant from Filex as he becomes part of the upper crust of high society without even him realizing. When Felix wasn't able to attend to young Georgie, a boy from then ghetto, who died on the operating table that Felix finally realized that eh had gone astray; Georgie died with the words Felix on his lips. Felix got the news of Georgie's death from Jessica whom he at first, until he realized that it was her, didn't want to see her at his office because she didn't have a doctor's appointment.

Felix trying to keep his past in the Lower East Side behind him has it catch up with Felix big-time when his father Meyer suffers a stroke at a party given by Fielx's sister and her husband as well as their new born son. Filex being the only one who could remove the deadly tumor from his fathers brain suddenly freezes-up and in the ensuing operation Mayer dies on the operating table. It has to be said that Felix did the best he, or any other brain surgeon, could have but still held himself responsible for his fathers Meyer Klauber's death.

Broken in both mind and body Felix mindlessly roams the streets of New York in a haze not knowing if he'll ever be able to hold a scalpel in his hands again and goes into a deep depression where he just about gave up any hope or future from himself. It's when Felix got the word that his girlfriend Jessica is to be operated on, for the removable a spine tumor, that the old Felix came back. The attending physician Dr. Schiffen,John S. Polis, feeling that Felix is a much better surgeon then he'll ever be allows Felix to operate on Jessica. A bit rusty and out of form Felix never the less ends up saving Jessica in a miraculous spine operation thus saving both her life and redeeming his soul and his lifelong concern for the city's underprivileged.

Nowhere as corny as you would expect it to be with a solid performance by Ricardo Cortez, who's Jewish himself, as the humble and caring Jewish doctor Felix Klauber. Felix learned in the end what he always believed, until he was corrupted by a fistful of shekels. Felix learned that being a physician and surgeon is to live by the rule that he always had deeply etched in both his heart and soul and upheld until greed and high society momentary blinded him of it: "I dedicate these two hands..That the lame may walk, the halt be strong..Lifting up the needy; comforting the dying. This is my oath in the Temple of Healing".
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Fascinating on more than one level
blanche-28 December 2007
Several people posting reviews for "Symphony of Six Million" have made some terrific points. One is that the title of this film, about Jews in New York, eerily suggests the Holocaust - well, that's why I watched it, in fact. I didn't read the description too clearly, saw the word Jewish, and I thought it was about Jews in Germany escaping to New York. The second comment was that it is a depiction of a Jewish family that several years later would not have been done in Hollywood for various reasons.

"Symphony of Six Million" stars Ricardo Cortez, Gregory Ratoff and Irene Dunne. It's the story of a young Jewish boy, Felix Klauber (Cortez) who grows up in the ghetto wanting to be a doctor who helps the people there. All is well until he is pressured by his brother Magnus (Noel Madison) to help the family get out of the ghetto so his father doesn't have to work so hard, his sister can marry well, etc., none of which he can do working for the poor. So Felix gives up his dream and moves to the upper West Side and then to Park Avenue, becoming more and more unhappy. Then there is a tragedy, and Felix is forced to re-look at his life.

The Fannie Hurst story is dated, melodramatic and is filled with stereotypical dialogue such as "you want I should" with a sing-songy voice throughout. Yet it shows the life of an immigrant in the ghetto that moves up and manages to hold interest, mainly because the family exhibits warmth, love, humor and charm. Gregory Ratoff is terrific as Mr. Klauber. Cortez, always an affable actor, has some of the heaviest dialogue, so at times his acting seems overdone. Noel Madison as Felix's brother has the right energy for his role and is a little reminiscent of the actor Phil Casnoff. As others have pointed out, Irene Dunne isn't low-class enough as Felix's crippled girlfriend, and one wonders throughout why she and Felix didn't get married. She is so pretty as a brunette, however, and has a lovely quality.

This is the first fully-orchestrated talkie, and the music is completely distracting with its weeping violin sounds. The other distracting thing is that characters speak off camera and it sounds as if the actors are being fed lines by a director's assistant - the sound has no presence at all as it isn't miked.

What makes this film especially dated is the idea of someone becoming a doctor to work in a clinic and help people and not care about money. This may have been the America of 1932; it sure isn't now. Well worth seeing.
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An amazingly unusual film for 1932
MartinHafer9 December 2007
In the 1930s, the world was filled with antisemitism and Hollywood rarely made stories about Jews. Aside from the very famous film THE JAZZ SINGER and a few other exceptions here and there, films tended to ignore this group. In addition, while many of the studio heads were Jewish, the stars of the films were not. In the case of handsome leading man Ricardo Cortez, he was Jewish but the studio gave him a Hispanic name and often had him play either Italian or Hispanic leads--such was Hollywood's attitude towards Jews! However, SYMPHONY OF SIX MILLION is an amazingly rare film in that it is all about a Jewish neighborhood and focuses on a Jewish family...and for once, Cortez actually plays a Jewish man! Now some might complain that most of the Jews in the film were very stereotypically Jewish (perhaps too much so), but considering they were supposed to live in the poor part of New York City and many of them were first generation Americans, it didn't seem out of line. Plus, fortunately, the people all seemed so decent and humane--with the same feelings, values and struggles facing any American.

Now for the plot--this movie is also like "THE ANTI-JAZZ SINGER". In THE JAZZ SINGER, Al Jolson plays a young man who wants to lead his own life and struggles with respecting his father and making his own career. Jolson, naturally, wants to follow his own dream and the father wants him to be a cantor in the synagogue. However, in SYMPHONY OF SIX MILLION, while everyone in the family wants Ricardo to be a doctor, the struggle is between what kind of doctor and the clientèle he will have. Cortez wants to be a doctor who works with the poor Jews of the ghetto while his brother and mother want him to be a rich society doctor. So the central struggle is the main character wanting to follow tradition and work with an almost exclusively Jewish clientèle and his family is pushing him away from his people--as I said, like an ANTI-JAZZ SINGER! Fortunately, SYMPHONY OF SIX MILLION was not a dull film like THE JAZZ SINGER. At the time, THE JAZZ SINGER was a fresh and innovative film, but seen today it seems very old fashioned (even for 1927) and stilted. SYMPHONY OF SIX MILLION still is an interesting film because it chronicles part of the Jewish-American experience and better portrays the struggle between modern and traditional life. In fact, the film was so compelling and well made, that it nearly earns an 8. Sadly, when the new Production Code came into effect in 1934, films with ethnic characters like you see in this film became much rarer in American films.
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The Temple Of Healing
bkoganbing10 March 2015
If I were picking a list of films for a Jewish film festival, Symphony Of Six Million would be right at the top of my list. Gregory LaCava directed it and with a rather florid style that probably would not go over with today's audience. Still it is quite a picture of the Jewish experience in America during the Depression years.

Ricardo Cortez stars here as an idealistic young kid who seeing the disease and poverty around him in the Lower East Side neighborhood he comes from works and studies hard to become a doctor. Cortez indeed becomes a doctor and opens a clinic in the old neighborhood.

But as his family sees it, he's too good for that. His brother Noel Madison persuades him to move uptown and start gathering a rich patient list in order that the entire family can move out and their parents Anna Appel and Gregory Ratoff can now take it easy.

Soon enough though Cortez forgets why he became a doctor with all the acclaim he now receives and the big money he commands. In the end he faces crises involving the health of two loved ones. He fails one and saves the other and possibly saves his soul as well.

One thing LaCava did was capture the Lower East Side of New York Jewish neighborhood. Appel and Ratoff were both veterans of the Yiddish theater and they really carry their parts off well. Cortez was also Jewish in real life, real name Jacob Kranz. He only got that name because he got his start playing Rudolph Valentino knockoff parts on the silent screen.

Irene Dunne is Cortez's co-star and she has little to do here as the girl who loves him since childhood. The film totally focuses around Cortez and his family dynamic.

Too melodramatic for today's audience, still Symphony For Six Million is a great picture of Jewish life in America in the not too distant past.
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So bad, it's good!
mikemarineguy-343-91128027 August 2012
If you want to see an "Old Movie" in the way a SNL parody might really look and sound, This is the one!

Robert Osborne said that Irene Dunne was know for her early weepies. Well this one has to be the ultimate example.

It is hard to take your eyes off the screen because you can't believe how far it will go into pure maudlin,schmaltz yet oh so seriously!

Just to see these actors perform these lines and scenes without laughing is truly worth it.

I found it a brilliant example of the quintessential classic over-the-top tearjerker.
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