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Based on the best-selling novel by Leon Uris, Exodus (1960) focuses on the birth of Israel after World War II. It follows Ari Ben Canaan, an Israeli resistance leader as he tries to help a group of 600 Jewish immigrants escape British-blocked Cypress for Palestine.
Otto Preminger, director of Exodus, was certainly no stranger to controversy and almost from the beginning his screen adaptation of the Leon Uris novel had its detractors. The first flare-up occurred when he decided to discard Uris's screenplay because Preminger claimed the author couldn't write dialogue. His remark ignited a feud between him and Uris for years. He then approached Albert Maltz, another blacklisted writer, to pen the screenplay but Maltz delivered a version that was 400 pages long. (The average screenplay runs 150 to 160 pages). Preminger then turned to another blacklisted writer, Dalton Trumbo, who was hired to write the screenplay for Exodus under his own name. About the same time, Kirk Douglas helped hire Trumbo to write Spartacus (1960). The reappearance of Trumbo's name in 1960 helped break the power of the blacklist.
Trumbo, one of the famed "Hollywood Ten," was blacklisted for refusing to answer questions of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1947. After serving a year sentence for contempt in 1950, Trumbo moved to Mexico and continued writing under pseudonyms. He received an Academy Award for his script for The Brave One (1956) under the name Robert Rich.
Paul Newman described his experience filming Exodus as "chilly." Newman and director Otto Preminger had very different styles of work. Newman enjoyed discussing character motivations with his director, but Preminger only wanted actors to do what they were told. The two men got off to a rough start when Newman arrived with several pages of notes for the director. Preminger thought they were interesting, but replied, "If you were directing the picture, you would use them. As I am directing the picture, I shan't use them."
The director's non-compromising nature was probably well suited to this particular production. There were arguments against the film by governing heads of Israel where it was shot on location, as well as leaders of terrorist groups, so Preminger had to face external pressure as well as criticism from within the production. In his autobiography, Preminger said, "I think that my picture...is much closer to the truth, and to the historic facts, than is the book. It also avoids propaganda. It's an American picture, after all, that tries to tell the story, giving both sides a chance to plead their case."
When Exodus was first released, a funny story circulated concerning comedian Mort Sahl. Supposedly, he stood up in the middle of a premiere screening of the film with Preminger present and shouted, 'Otto, let my people go' in reference to the interminable length of the film. Most critics, but not audiences, tended to agree with Sahl.
Exodus received an Academy Award for best music score. And Sal Mineo received a Golden Globe for best supporting actor.
Screenplay:Dalton Trumbo, Leon Uris (novel)
Art Direction:Richard Day, William Hutchinson (associate)
Principal Cast:Paul Newman (Ari Ben Canaan), Eva Marie Saint (Kitty Fremont), Ralph Richardson (General Sutherland), Peter Lawford (Major Caldwell), Lee J. Cobb (Barak Ben Canaan), Sal Mineo (Dov Landau), John Derek (Taha), Hugh Griffith (Mandria)
by Deborah L. Johnson