• Exodus

    Released By: Twilight Time
    Released On: March 15, 2016
    Director: Otto Preminger
    Cast: Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint, Sal Mineo, Lee J. Cobb, Ralph Richardson, Peter Lawford
    Year: 1960
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    As we head into our seventh decade of turmoil in the Middle East, it's difficult for many of us to envision a time when things were more peaceful. A quick history lesson for those not in the know; in 1947, the United Nations voted in favour of a "Partition Plan for Palestine", which put in place independent Arab and Jewish states in the wake of the British rule ending. Ships full of Jewish refugees from countries around the world, who had lost their homes or been prisoners in Nazi concentration camps, arrived in what was known as Mandatory Palestine, prepared to make this new independent state their home...which didn't sit well with the British, who were still in control of the area, or the Arabs who were ordered by their Grand Mufti to either give up their homes and land to live as exiles, or exterminate the entire population of the newcomers.

    Exodus tells a story, largely based in historical fact rather than creative license, of the days leading up to the UN vote. A year after the death of her news photographer husband, Katherine "Kitty" Fremont (Eva Marie Saint) tours Cyprus with plans to visit the last man to see her husband alive, General Sutherland (Ralph Richardson). While en route to meet the General, Kitty witnesses trucks full of Jewish refugees, recently arrived in Palestine illegally by boat, being taken to detention camps at Karaolos on the orders of the British, who are none too happy to have unannounced visitors. Though she admits that she feels, "strange among them", Kitty later agrees to Sutherland's request to stay on as a nurse at one of the camps, treating sick Jewish inmates. While there, she meets two of the younger refugees, who leave an impression on her; Dov Landau (Sal Mineo), an angry young man who witnessed firsthand the horrors of Auschwitz; and Karen, a young girl who has come to Palestine looking for her father. Striking up a friendship with the young girl, Kitty lunches with her, takes her to the beach, and offers to escort her back to America where she can go to school.

    Though Karen is still determined to find her father and apprehensive about leaving, the immediate decision is made for them with the arrival of Ari Ben Canaan (Paul Newman), a member of the largely peaceful Haganah, who is convinced that he can sway the UN to vote in favour of Partition if he jams Palestine with as many of the Jewish refugees as possible. Disguising himself as British military, and with the aid of some locals, he arranges for a mass exodus from the camps onto a boat waiting in the Famagusta harbor...conveniently named, "Exodus"...a plan that spirits Karen out of the camp and onto the ship. When the British threaten to board the ship, Ari claims that it's wired to blow all of the refugees to pieces in the harbor, causing an international incident, and after a hunger strike, the King of England gives permission for the Exodus to head out.

    It's a victory for Ben Canaan and the refugees, but it's not all sun and fun in their new homeland-to-be, as Dov discovers the radical Irgun, the violently militant flip-side of the coin to the Haganah, determined that the only solution for the Jews is to exterminate the British and Arabs who oppose them. Making matters more complicated is the fact that the Irgun leader is Akiva Ben Canaan, Ari's uncle, who has no interest in listening to his nephew's talk of peaceful Partition. But as the UN vote gets closer and the Arab and British get more hostile towards their newcomers, Ari comes to the realization that to succeed, every Jew, whether Haganah or Irgun, will need to join together for the coming backlash.

    Coming in at nearly three-and-a-half hours, Exodus most definitely feels a bit too long, especially winding into the last forty minutes; comedian Mort Sahl is reported to have stood up and yelled, "Otto...Let My People Go!" at the premiere, as the film neared the 3-hour mark; but for the majority of the running time, Preminger keeps the film rocking and rolling along, with a whole lot to look at, plenty of action, and wisely stays away from turning it into a romantic film with a historical background. The cinematography is beautiful here, with striking landscapes and interesting architecture. Though some of the more important roles feel like they've been miscast; Sal Mineo and Newman repeatedly occur to me as being out of place; the actors on display here are powerhouses and deliver their lines with conviction. Ernest Gold's truly epic score assists the visuals beautifully; grand and sweeping, not one note seems out of place.

    However, the drawback of Exodus for some, aside from the lengthy run time, will be the politics found in the film, which are by no means offhand or subtle. Though the filmmakers have obviously attempted to show the pros and cons of both sides of the coin when it comes to the Palestinian Partition, some viewers will find it difficult to by sympathetic to a character who bombs a hotel and kills ninety-one people in the name of freedom. Exodus is not an easy film to watch; though there are brief, occasional moments of humour or romance, the subject matter is dark and heavy, and lacks the Hollywood treatment found more recently in films that push the history into the back seat to make way for stunning CGI battle sequences. This is not a story that a lot of creative license has been taken with; both the character of Ari and Akiva are based on real people who acted in real life as they appear in the film. Heavy material and politics aside, however, Exodus is a remarkable film, not on the epic scale of The Ten Commandments, but definitely earns its place in the ring.


    Twilight Time brings Exodus to Blu-ray in a 2.35:1 AVC-encoded transfer that looks decent for the most part. A fair amount of grain is evident, detail and colour are good, though they feel like they should be better. Though the picture doesn't suffer too much from any visual issues, though I did notice a small amount of shimmer and artifacting during some scenes, more than likely due to the fact that Twilight Time has indicated that this comes from an older transfer from a 35mm source. As such, dirt, debris and damage do occasionally pop up, but this shouldn't be read as indicating a bad transfer; overall, it's decent and looks natural, a step up from the DVD release.

    There are a number of audio tracks available for this release; all DTS-HD Master Audio Tracks. A 5.1, a 4.0, and a 2.0 track are provided, as well as a stereo Isolated Music and Effects Track. I'll summarize here by saying that the 5.1 track sounds great and was my preferred choice for the film, with clear dialogue and moderate use of the surrounds and sub. Though the sound does dip in quality here and there, it's not a hindrance to the enjoyment of the picture, rather, it provides a positive listening experience. The 4.0 didn't differ much to my ears (though I randomly switched between tracks throughout the running time for the review), but the stereo track definitely lacks in comparison. A lot of restorative work was done for this release, and rather than shave it down for the purposes of this review, you can read all about it here and here.

    Subtitles are provided for this release in the form of English SDH.

    Extras for this release include a trailer for the film, a 90th Anniversary MGM promo trailer, and the Twilight Time Catalogue, and of course, there is that Isolated Music and Effects track available from the audio section; and as usual, an informative essay from Julie Kirgo can be found in the liner booklet.

    The Final Word:

    It's big and it's bold, and what a cast! Exodus will not appeal to everyone, but there's no doubt that it's an achievement in film, and this Twilight Time release is a dandy way to see it.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!