Amazon update no. 1: “Judith”

May 11, 2014

SOPHIA LOREN

SOPHIA LOREN

We hooked up our new Amazon Fire TV gizmo and got a little giddy with the voice-recognition remote. One of the names we blurted into the device was “Sophia Loren” and that led us to watch Judith a 1965 example of a wasted opportunity.The cast also included Jack Hawkins and Peter Finch.

This project had possibilities. The story is set in Palestine shortly before the British pulled out of what was to become the State of Israel. A ragtag military organization called the Haganah — forerunner of the Jewish Defense Force — is anticipating more than the usual hostility from surrounding Arabs and is particularly concerned about a former German tank commander, Gustav Schiller, who is providing the Arabs with tactical training. In order to find the elusive Schiller, the Haganah leadership recruits the Nazi’s former wife, Judith, a Jew who has her own reasons for wanting to track him down.

At the beginning of the film we watch as Judith is smuggled into a sea port in a large wooden crate along with another woman and a piece of heavy machinery. When the crate is opened we already see the flaw in this movie: one of the women is dead — not a surprising outcome, considering the mode of transport — but Judith is tastefully disheveled but not so much so that she isn’t ravishing in eye makeup and lipstick as befitted a mid-1960s sex goddess.

PETER FINCH and SOPHIA LOREN

PETER FINCH and SOPHIA LOREN

Judith is hustled off to the kibbutz where an Haganah unit is housed under the supervision of Aaron Stein, played by Finch. The back story is that Schiller and Judith had a son together, but that Schiller ultimately abandoned his wife and took their child. Judith wound up in the Dachau concentration camp and was forced to have sex with German officers.

Judith doesn’t know where Schiller is, but the Haganah leaders figure that she could identify him if they did locate him. Aaron nudges the impatient Judith into approaching the local British Army commander, a Major Lawton (Jack Hawkins) into letting her see the military file on Schiller. Lawton, who is an upright chap, is nevertheless no match for Judith’s charms, and he hands over the file, which indicates that Schiller’s last known address was Damascus.Stein and another Haganah member take Judith to Damascus where they find Schiller. Judith double-crosses Haganah by shooting Schiller, but somehow the men smuggle the wounded man back to Palestine.While the kibbutz is being attached by Arab forces, Schiller tells Judith about the plan of attack, but he is killed by Arab bombs before telling her where their son has gone.

JACK HAWKINS and SOPHIA LOREN

JACK HAWKINS and SOPHIA LOREN


There probably was enough to go on here to make a decent movie. Finch and Hawkins turned in good performances, and the gritty location shots created a credible image of the environment in which such events would have taken place in 1948. But the film is often reduced to absurdity because of the seemingly irresistible opportunity to exploit Sophia Loren’s physical charms.

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4 Responses to “Amazon update no. 1: “Judith””

  1. Frank Bergson Says:

    Great piece Charles. Do you think The Pride and the Passion was very much better?

    So many war films of the 50’s 60’s showed all of the stars with clean hands and faces and unrumpled clothing.

    Did you by any chance see the film Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer ?

    Best regards, Frank (juror#9)

  2. shoreacres Says:

    Do you think there’s any chance the Biblical Judith was somehow lurking around the edge of the screenwriter’s mind? I kept waiting for a character named Holophernes to show up.

    Obviously, it’s not a perfect parallel, but there are plotlines that sound as though they could have come straight out of the Book of Judith. Even that improbably gorgeous Sophia Loren recalls Judith 10:4 — After concluding her prayer, Judith took off her sackcloth and ashes, arranged her hair, put on her best dress and jewelry, and “made herself beautiful.”

    This might be one of the most interesting books-to-film yet!

    • charlespaolino Says:

      The Book of Judith definitely played into this story, which was originally written by Lawrence Durrell as a treatment for the screenplay. Durrell worked on a novel, too, and the unfinished work was published in 2013. Durrell was a complicated character. There’s a good profile at this URL: http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/149740/lawrence-durrell-judith

      • shoreacres Says:

        I really enjoyed the linked article. I’ve been a fan of “The Alexandria Quartet” for years. I’m still trying to figure out how to write about my introduction to that work – it came while I was reading Graham Greene on the veranda of the City Hotel in Freetown. (I was vacationing during my time in Liberia.)

        Anyway. I’ve just recently begun expanding my reading of Durrell – didn’t know a thing about his involvement with “Judith”. I’ve got some catching up to do. Thanks!

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