January 9, 2009

Top 10 Jewish Movie Characters.

From Idol Chatter. Excerpt:
5. Obi-Wan Kenobi from "Star Wars" (Sir Alec Guinness) - His name seems more Japanese than anything else, but "don't tell me he's not Jewish," a friend says confidently. Sir Alec Guinness's rabbi-like Jedi talk of a Force that runs through us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together is proof.
Throwing Things takes offense:
[This] may be among the most poorly-constructed lists I've ever seen, a BFTJ compendium focusing on characters that are just brutally bad stereotypes (Judd Hirsch in Independence Day), in bad movies (Melanie Griffith in A Stranger Among Us), or who aren't even Jewish at all (Obi-Wan Kenobi and Gov. William J. Lepetomane, and just because the Native American chief spoke some Yiddish doesn't make him Jewish -- see Powell, Colin.)
And yet he's miffed that Yentl isn't on the list.

33 comments:

Henry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henry said...

1. Moses. Charlton Heston. The 10 Commandments.

Let's not overlook the obvious.

jdeeripper said...

Any top 10 of Jewish movie characters must include:

Danny DeVito as Penguin in "Batman Returns"

Boris Karloff as The Grinch in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas".

Al Lewis as Grandpa Munster in "Munster, Go Home!"

And the great Mae Questel as Mother in the Oedipus Wrecks feature of "New York Stories".

Original George said...

‘Maybe he’s Jewish inside.'

Benjamin Braddock

From the Vanity Fair article which is partly about the Jewishness of "The Graduate."

Said writer Buck Henry: “Jews from New York came to the Land of Plenty, and within one generation the Malibu sand had gotten into their genes and turned them into tall, Nordic powerhouses. Walking surfboards. We were thinking about how these Nordic people have Dustin as a son, and it’s got to be a genetic throwback to some previous generation.”

Adam said...

It's my suggestions, and I'll defend it: Yentl's a hell of a lot better than the Judd Hirsch character in Independence Day, a stereotype so bad I practically recall him lending money at usurious rates while Will Smith was saving the planet.

O.G.: Via Mark Harris' Pictures at a Revolution:

"When he had decided to make The Graduate three and a half years earlier, [Mike] Nichols thought he knew exactly what his satirical targets were. ''I said some fairly pretentious things about capitalism and material objects, about the boy drowning in material things and saving himself in the only possible way, which was through madness,'' he recalls. But the deeper he got into the shoot and the more intensely he pushed [Dustin] Hoffman past what the actor thought he could withstand, the more Nichols realized that something painful and personal was at stake, and always had been, in his attraction to the story. ''My unconscious was making this movie,'' he says. ''It took me years before I got what I had been doing all along — that I had been turning Benjamin into a Jew. I didn't get it until I saw this hilarious issue of MAD magazine after the movie came out, in which the caricature of Dustin says to the caricature of Elizabeth Wilson, 'Mom, how come I'm Jewish and you and Dad aren't?' And I asked myself the same question, and the answer was fairly embarrassing and fairly obvious.''

"Nichols — the immigrant, the observer, the displaced boy — finally understood why it had taken him years to settle on an actor to play Benjamin. ''Without any knowledge of what I was doing,'' he said, ''I had found myself in this story.'' And in Hoffman, he had found an on-screen alter ego — someone he could admonish for his failings, challenge to dig deeper, punish for his weaknesses, praise to bolster his confidence, and exhort to prove every day that he was the right man for the role."

Henry said...

Now that I clicked through to Throwing Things I see Adam beat to me the Moses reference.

Well how about Paul Newman playing Ari Ben Canaan in Exodus.

I agree with Adam's dismissal of Judd Hirsch in Independence Day. Not only was it a ridiculous caricature -- a kind of straight non-parodic version of Mel Brook's Miracle Max, it's not even Hirsch's best Jewish character. That would be Dr. Berger in Ordinary People.

The Drill SGT said...

1. Moses. Charlton Heston. The 10 Commandments.

I agree, but add

Tevye

Fiddler on the Roof

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBHZFYpQ6nc

Michael H said...

Shrek. Was Shrek Jewish? Sounded a bit like he may have been.

bearbee said...

Striesand - Fanny Brice/ Funny Girl, Katie Morosky/The Way We Were
The Diary of Anne Frank

Jweish Humor
Jewish Movies
Gonif with the Wind - a thief tries to acquire ownership of Tara through a forged deed.
The Putzman Rings Twice - a mohel murder mystery
Schnorer Rae - a freeloader tries to get in on the union movement
Balaboosta Cockburn - John Wayne's wife memorizes Grossinger cookbook
The Good, the Chabbad, and the Ugly - a kosher noodle western
Moby Dreck - Captain Ahab harpoons the wrong end of the whale
The Cincinnati Yid - Steve McQueen uses some of his poker winnings to start a reform congregation
Litvak Big Man - Dustin Hoffman learns that his parents are an American Indian and a Lithuanian immigrant
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kibbitzer - Paul Newman and Robert Redford do some standup shtick while they rob their victims
Bridge over the River Kvetch - the extras complain that whistling the theme song dries out their mouth and hurts their lips
The Creature from the Black Latke - an overdone potato pancake turns into a monster
Mamza Poppins - a talented nanny has questions about her birth legitimacy
The Matzo Candidate - Frank Sinatra is brainwashed into thinking it's always Passover
Mister Schnapps Goes to Washington - Jimmy Stewart thinks he's still filming Harvey
Driedls of the Lost Ark - Harrison Ford plays Chanukah games
Aleph Doesn't Live Here Anymore - neither the waitress nor the old Hebrew school can be found
Borscht-time for Bonzo - Ronald Regan tries to train an Ashkenazi monkey
Singing in the Ch'rain - Gene Kelly gets horseradish on his umbrella

bearbee said...

Ben Cross - Harold Abrahams/Chariots of Fire

Ann Althouse said...

Hi, Adam.

I love the story about Mike Nichols and Mad Magazine.

Re Moses as a "Jewish movie character." Why not Jesus too, then?

And why didn't anyone mention Wladyslaw Szpilman?

Ann Althouse said...

"Now that I clicked through to Throwing Things I see Adam beat to me the Moses reference. Well how about Paul Newman playing Ari Ben Canaan in Exodus."

Henry, try clicking through to the other list.

Original George said...

Christopher Reeve as 'Superman.'

"Superman's Moses-like origin and his Midwestern WASP-ish (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) persona are widely regarded as a symbol of Jewish assimilation. Children of immigrant Jews, Siegel and Shuster were not unlike many in their generation in their desire to fit in to the general goyim population."

Up, Up, and Oy Vey!

(Wish I could say I thought of that, but it's a book title....)

Adam said...

Well, then the question is what movies make Jesus an interesting character -- or, for that matter, any of the other disciples. JCS? I am not a fan of Mel Gibson's film, for many of the same reasons I don't like the Hirsch role.

And I still haven't seen The Pianist. I've also been led to believe that Defiance will lead to a few additions to this list.

Henry said...

Henry, try clicking through to the other list.

Damn. I did, but skimmed the list looking for Moses and missed the co-billing of Newman at #9.

Re Moses as a "Jewish movie character." Why not Jesus too, then?

Yes, but which Jesus? Mel Gibson?!?

Better would be Graham Chapman as Brian Cohen.

In, fact, why isn't Brian Cohen on either list?

Ann Althouse said...

"Well, then the question is what movies make Jesus an interesting character -- or, for that matter, any of the other disciples. JCS? I am not a fan of Mel Gibson's film, for many of the same reasons I don't like the Hirsch role"

"The Last Temptation of Christ."

Ann Althouse said...

Actually, Judas is a great character in that Scorsese movie. He was Jewish too.

Adam said...

It's been a long time since I've seen LToC, but I seem to recall Keitel essentially playing Judas as being Brooklyn-born.

Ann Althouse said...

Yeah, Scorsese thought the New York accent had the right low-class feeling.

William said...

Prior to The Godfather, I always thought that the Italians depicted on screen lacked authenticity. Only many years later did I realize that Italian was the code way of depicting Jews. For example, the Ali McGraw character in Love Story was actually Jewish. I'm sure tha why she later got the part of Richard Benjamin's girlfriend in Portnoy's Complaint.....In Love With a Proper Stranger, Natalie Wood did a double reverse spin. She was a Jewish girl playing an Italian who was used as the screenwriter's stand-in identity for a Jewish girl.

William said...

After your family has been here for three or more generations, your ethnic identity is more an art form than a functional device.

Trooper York said...

What about Sol Nazerman in the Pawnbroker. I thought that was a pretty good movie. A little over liberal preachy, but Sidney Lumet is at the top of his game showing New York City.

Trooper York said...

Also Hyman Roth in Two nailed Meyer to a T.

Not to mention Moe Green as a stand in for Benny Siegal in One.

Nichevo said...

I'm sorry, Alex Rocco as a Landsman? Didn't buy it.

I guess John Turturro and Stanley Tucci should call their office...yes, Italians play Jews and Jews play Italians, I believe there is a quota system...

as for Oswald Cobblepot? Oh yeah, dripping with Yiddishkeit.

No, honest, if this thread were funny I would laugh...no harm done, I'm not accusing anyone of anything...it just leaves me flat.

Oh, you could name Topol twice - his Dr. Zharkov in Flash Gordon was pretty much a flare-lit tipoff (thanks EES!). Hyman Roth and Adrien Brody were good...Chariots, tes...umm...nah, I got nothin'.

I'm sorry John Wayne never played any Jews; he would have been superb of course.

Nichevo said...

BTW Ann, your photo is just dreadful...are you ill? Depressed?

Trooper York said...

Alex Rocco was playing a rip off of Bugsy Siegal who aped the Italian gangster style which is why he got along with Charly Lucky and the boys.

The jews and italians who went into the rackets developed a similar style in a lot of ways.

ricpic said...

Al Lewis as Grandpa Munster in "Muster, Go Home."

I've got nothing against Al Lewis. For all I know he may be the sweetest guy in the world. But a Jew? Don't know his ethnicity but he looks pure Kraut (apologies to Der Althouse).

jdeeripper said...

William said...In Love With a Proper Stranger, Natalie Wood did a double reverse spin. She was a Jewish girl playing an Italian who was used as the screenwriter's stand-in identity for a Jewish girl.

Natalie Wood wasn't Jewish at all contrary to the image many people had of her.

She was Russian with probably a touch of Gypsy.

ricpic said...Al Lewis as Grandpa Munster in "Muster, Go Home."

I've got nothing against Al Lewis. For all I know he may be the sweetest guy in the world. But a Jew? Don't know his ethnicity but he looks pure Kraut (apologies to Der Althouse).


There are Rabbis who are less Jewish than Al Lewis

ricpic said...

I stand corrected, jdee.

ak said...

I'd add Gitl, Bernstein, and even the loutish husband Jake, from Hester Street.

Also, the entire family from Radio Days and from Brighton Beach Memoirs.

Kirk Parker said...

What's wrong with A Stranger Among Us?

dick said...

How about Robbie Benson in The Chosen

blake said...

Moshe and Mali in Ha-Ushpizin.

Can we count "Schlomo" of Live and Become?

Oh, and Eyal in Walk on Water.

Or are we not supposed to be including Israeli movie characters? Seriously, Ha-Ushpizin is not only one of my favorite movies, it's the most Jewish movie I've ever seen.

Walter Sobchik of The Big Lebowski has to be included in any serious list. 3000 years of beautiful traditon from Moses to Sandy Koufax...