Cinema Judaica: The Epic Cycle (1947-71)

On View March 29 – October 23, 2016


ImageGregory Peck as King David...Charlton Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments...Paul Newman as Ari Ben Canaan in Exodus...Kirk Douglas as Colonel Mickey Marcus in Cast a Giant Shadow... Elizabeth Taylor as Rebecca of York in Ivanhoe... Joan Collins as Queen Esther... and Sophia Loren as the Haganah operative Judith... Hollywood films in the three decades after World War II portrayed 4,000 years of Jewish historical identity and, in some of the biggest box office hits of all times, transformed the image of the Jew from embattled to triumphant. Over one hundred flamboyant posters and bold advertising materials for films ranging from Samson and Delilah and Ben-Hur, to Judgment at Nuremberg and Fiddler on the Roof are featured in this blockbuster exhibition.

"Hollywood's depictions of Biblical heroes and love stories, courage in resisting antisemitism, and fighting for modern Jewish statehood offered a powerful reflection of the growing self-confidence of American Jewry during these pivotal decades after the ImageHolocaust," notes Jean Bloch Rosensaft, Director of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum. "These iconic images influenced the positive Jewish self-image of the "boomer generation" and provided a cultural and sociological context for the successful Americanization of the Jewish experience, which we continue to enjoy in our own time."

The exhibition describes how the commercial success of Cecille B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah (1949) ushered in two decades of expensively produced ancient historical films, as well as Italian and Spanish "sword and sandal" knock-offs. It details how Ben-Hur capped a record Oscar sweep, and a singular citation by the National Conference of Christians and Jews for "promoting the cause of good will and understanding among all peoples of the nation."

The theme of modern antisemitism emerged in such 1950s films as The Young Lions and I Accuse! (1958), based on the Dreyfus Trial. The exhibition documents the emergence of Holocaust films: The Diary of Ann Frank (1959) and Conspiracy of Hearts (1960). The 1961 capture and trial of Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann spurred the production of Operation Eichmann! (1961) and Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), while 1965 saw the first theatrical showings of Ship of Fools, The Pawnbroker, The Shop on Main Street, leading to The Fixer (1968) and The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970). The exhibition also includes rare posters from films of limited distribution that were produced by Jewish or Israeli filmmakers during this period.

Exhibition on loan from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum and is curated by Laura Kruger. Sponsored by the Robert Arthur Segall Foundation.