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Inspired by Leon Uris' international bestseller, this "extraordinarily moving" (The New Republic) chronicle of the rebirth of a people and the establishment of a nation is the ultimate experience in human drama. Nominated* for three Academy Awards® and winner* for Best Score, Exodus is an "exciting, dramatic, scenic, panoramic and deeply moving" (New York Daily News) masterpiece. Ari Ben Canaan (Paul Newman), a commander of the Israeli underground, manages to lead 600 Jews from the detention camps of Cyprus onto a large freighter bound for Palestine. But British forces soon learn of his plan and insist that he turn back. Undaunted, Ari and his passengers refuse to give up, risking their lives for the greater cause of Israeli independence.
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Exodus was a huge blockbuster back in 1960-61, with Ernest Gold's memorable, Oscar-winning score even making the Top 10 charts. The film also places a footnote in Hollywood history, as it was one of two films that year that dared to credit blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo (his other 1960 credit was Sparticus); Trumbo's adaptation of the Leon Uris book is largely straight-forward, focusing more on the plotting than on the characters. Fortunately, with Otto Preminger in command, the flick moves along briskly, what with glorious wide-screen vistas of Cyprus and Israel and several genuinely exciting action sequences--especially a terrific prison break-out. The film's somber coda is even more moving considering that the issues it raises are still unresolved to this day.
Newman and Saint are nice to look at, but there's not much chemistry between them--he seems stiff and she's just, well, saintly. The supporting cast is much better. Mineo received an Oscar nomination for this (he lost to Sparticus' Peter Ustinov), primarily for his emotional interrogation scene where he recounts his experiences at Auschwitz. Haworth is delicate but headstrong. Opatoshu, for my money, was the best thing in the whole movie--methodical, yet quietly commanding--there's a wordless scene between him and Lee J. Cobb (playing his brother) that is just marvelous. The cast of thousands also includes Ralph Richardson, Peter Lawford, Hugh Griffith, John Derek, Gregory Ratoff, and George Maharis.
This being an MGM DVD, there isn't much in the way of extras--just the original theatrical trailer and several choices for subtitles. As noted elsewhere, the quality of the transfer isn't as high as one would like--the sound, especially, should've been remixed while the the picture quality is terrific sometimes and other times less than perfect. Hopefully, they'll reissue it with improved specs.
It was a formidable task trying to transfer the huge novel to the screen, and it isn't completely successful. Newman is an odd choice, but gives a good performance as the stalwart hero. Saint is completely wrong for her part; she's unattractive and unappealing. The script doesn't help either; their so-called romance is practically non-existent. Sal Mineo was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his convincing portrayal of a child who survived the Warsaw ghetto.
The soundtrack by Ernest Gold is magnificent and the movie is actually filmed on location. While it may be a disappointment to those who have read the book, "Exodus" is still interesting and even inspiring.
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