Cast & Crew
Edgar G. Ulmer
In the late nineteenth century Russian countryside, two sleeping Jewish men in horse-drawn carts awaken and almost come to blows when they find that each of their horses are eating hay from the other's cart. When the men recognize each other, Mendele Moicher Sforim, a bookseller, gets into Reb Alter Yaknehose's cart, and they head back to the small town of Glubsk. On the road, they see Fishke, a lame man from town, walking alone on his way to Odessa, a city in which he hopes to be successful as a beggar. Concerned that Fishke has left his companion Hodel, a blind girl, Mendele urges him to return. Although Fishke calls Glubsk a terrible place and painfully relates that Hodel called him "Fishke the cripple," he accepts Mendele's invitation to return with him. In Glubsk, Hodel, who vows never to beg as long as she can earn money in other ways, cries when she learns from the widow Drabke that Fishke left town. Fishke returns and sees her cry, then sits beside her and vows never to leave her again. Fishke then listens as a number of men argue about the power of God. Mendele complains that schoolboys may catch cholera from swimming in a contaminated river and argues for the need of a doctor in the town, while Hershl Kremer, another townsperson, maintains that only God, not a doctor, can decide who will live or die. Getzel Ganev, a thief, proposes to Dobe, a hunchback, but she tells him that she prefers Fishke. Getzl then proposes to Hodel, and when she refuses him, he tells her that Fishke has been running after Dobe. Hodel accuses Fishke of walking with Dobe, but he denies it, and she vows never to quarrel again. When Fishke sees Hodel with six other girls go bathing in the river, he warns them about the danger of cholera, but they ignore him. After the community argues about the need for a hospital, Gitel, one of the girls, dies. During a town meeting, Mendele pleads for the townspeople to use their money to make the river and streets clean and to pay for a hospital. When a woman suggests that the children are dying of cholera because they profaned the Sabbath, the townspeople decide to follow a superstition and marry the poorest boy and girl, Fishke and Hodel, in the cemetery. Reb Alter tells Fishke of the town's decision, and he refuses to marry, as does Hodel, when she is told by the women, but they finally go through with the wedding, although they are ashamed to be the "cholera bride and groom." They then leave the town, with the help of Mendele, to go to a large city not beset by superstition, where, Mendele hopes, Hodel might be made to see again. They walk off hand-in-hand as Mendele speaks to his mare of the wonderful people of Israel with their eternal hope and belief in a new dawn. He wishes joy and peace to all "Fishkes" and "Hodels," to all Israel and to all mankind.
Edgar G. Ulmer
N. Dean Cole
J. Burgi Contner
Gustav H. Heimo
Peter E. Kassler
Edgar G. Ulmer
Edgar G. Ulmer
The Light Ahead
One of these areas included movies targeted at minorities. During the late 1930's and early 1940's Ulmer directed Moon Over Harlem (1939) for blacks-only cinemas and Cloud in the Sky (1940), for Spanish-language movie houses. However, the primary minority to whom he catered were films for Yiddish-speaking audiences. The Light Ahead (1939) was one of two Yiddish-language films Ulmer made during 1939, a key year in which the world he created on film would be destroyed by the coming war.
The Light Ahead is the English-language title of a film that was marketed to Yiddish theaters as Di Klyatshe (The Old Mare) and Fishke der Krumer (Fishke the Cripple). Based on stories by Mendele Mocher Sforim, The Light Ahead tells the tale of Fishke, a lame peddler, and the blind girl he loves. They dream of marriage but their poverty prevents it until a cholera epidemic breaks out. What is a tragedy for the village becomes a blessing for the couple since old Jewish tradition says the epidemic can be stopped if a couple marries at midnight in a cemetery.
For the lead role of Fishke, Ulmer selected a young actor from New York's Yiddish theater, David Opatoshu. The actor, then only 21-years old, would go on to be a fixture in numerous American movies and television over the next five decades, winning an Emmy for his performance as Max Goldstein on the series Gabriel's Fire (1990-1991). Helen Beverly, later the wife of actor Lee J. Cobb, portrayed the beautiful blind girl.
The Light Ahead was only a moderate success when it appeared in a then-crowded market of Yiddish films on September 28, 1939. The movie's sometimes downbeat look at life in a Jewish village hit an inappropriate chord during the same month that Nazi troops were rolling through those villages in Poland. And by the end of the forties, all prints of the film seemed to have disappeared completely.
That TCM is able to show The Light Ahead is solely due to the efforts of film collector Herman Axelbank. Deeply moved by the movie when he saw it at its premiere, he spent thousands of dollars and searched five continents for a copy, discovering in the early seventies what is a not quite complete but probably the only remaining copy of the film in Amsterdam. Donated by Axelbank's heirs to the National Center for Jewish Film, The Light Ahead can shine again with a vision of a world long gone.
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Writers: Chaver Pahver, Edgar G. Ulmer, Shirley Ulmer based on the stories of Mendele Mocher Sforim
Cinematography: J. Burgi Contner, Edward Hyland
Editing: Jack Kemp
Cast: David Opatoshu (Fishke), Helen Beverly (Hodel), Isidore Cashier (Mendele Moicher Sforim), Rosetta Bialis (Drabke), Anna Guskin (Gitel), Wolf Mercur (Getsl).
by Brian Cady
The Light Ahead
The film was also released with the Yiddish title Di Klyatshe. It was called Die Klatche and Die Kliatche in Yiddish reviews. The print viewed was entitled Fishka der Krimmer. According to modern sources, the film was lost for a number of years, and the prints now in circulation, which are twenty to thirty minutes shorter than the original prints, were made from a print found in the 1960s. It is possible that the prints in existence are from a re-release, and that the companies listed were involved in the re-release. While the film was based on several stories by Mendele Moicher Sforim, according to the review in the Yiddish newspaper Der Tag, practically none of the content of the stories is included in the film. Sforim, one of the leading Yiddish writers of the nineteenth century, was born Sholom Yakov Abramowitz. Modern sources state that screenwriter Chaver Paver based his work on his own unproduced play entitled Fishke der Krumer, which itself was based on Sforim's stories. According to a news item, the supporting cast had either 300 or 500 players, 53 in speaking roles. According to New York Times and information in New York State Archives, the film was produced in New Jersey. Shirle Castle was the pseudonym of Shirley Ulmer, the director's wife.