The Conversion of the Jews

  • Author(s): Lester Friedman
  • When: 1981-07
  • Where: Film Comment
  • America discovered its films and its Jews almost simultaneously. From primitive one-reelers like Levi and Cohen: The Irish Comedians (1903) to Private Benjamin and The Inquisition production number in History of the World Part 1 —moviegoers who may never have met or even seen Jews in daily life encountered them in local movie houses. Celluloid Jews appear in a variety of sins and guises: as sinister shysters, pathetic victims, baffled buffoons, sympathetic workers, struggling students, gallant warriors, sear-crossed lovers, sadistic gangsters, and a dozen other archetypes and stereotypes. Ironically, though, while the screen stories of other minorities (notably blacks and American Indians) have been studied in some depth, films featuring Jewish characters have received scant attention from scholars and historians.

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