Great Jewish Films

By | Oct 27, 2011

Avalon (1990) It is a beautiful—visually as well as thematically—generational saga inspired by director Barry Levinson’s Jewish family’s experiences. The film pays homage to both Levinson’s hometown of Baltimore and to the joys and sorrows of American immigrants.

Funny Girl (1968) Another adaptation from Broadway, the film tells the early life story of Jewish comedienne Fanny Brice and launched the Hollywood career of Barbra Streisand. The film appeared at a time of increasing Jewish self-confidence in the 1960s.

Torch Song Trilogy (1988) Adapted from the barrier-breaking Broadway play, it brought an affirmatively gay and Jewish-themed story to film. Harvey Fierstein, the writer and star, simultaneously exploits and explodes many Jewish performance stereotypes.

Europa, Europa (1991) Agnieszka Holland’s film adapts Jewish Holocaust survivor Salomon Perel’s incredible memoir about surviving the war disguised as an Aryan in the German army. It is an utterly surprising consideration of Jewishness and Nazi racial ideology.

Ben Furnish is the author of Nostalgia in Jewish-American Theatre and Film, 1979-2004.

Birthplace (1992) What starts out as a matter-of-fact documentary journey to Poland ends up as a shattering encounter with the past. The film is chilling in how it depicts the unchanged attitudes of a small village in Poland, despite the Holocaust.

The Search (1948) An exquisitely restrained look at the relationship between a nine-year-old refugee from Auschwitz and the American GI, played by Montgomery Clift, who adopts him. The film won an Academy Award for Best Writing and was shot in post-war Germany.

Little Man, What Now? (1934) This film zeroes in on German society at a time when many criticized Hollywood for not being more forthrightly anti-Nazi. It portrays the harsh conditions through the lens of two people who, very much in love, nonetheless struggle.

Playing for Time (1980) It’s one of the best depictions of the Holocaust ever aired on American television. With playwright Arthur Miller’s adaptation of Fania Fenelon’s memoir and a superb performance by Vanessa Redgrave, it’s not just a stunning achievement for a made-for-TV movie, but for any fictionalized representation of the Holocaust.

The Last Stage (1948) This docudrama was years ahead of its time. Directed by and starring Wanda Jakubowska, real survivors of Auschwitz reenact their experiences at the actual camp. The film was the first to put a human face on the suffering.

Steven Carr is the author of Hollywood and Anti-Semitism: A Cultural History Up to World War II.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.