Cast & Crew
Gregory La Cava
As a boy in the Jewish ghetto of New York, Felix Klauber dreams of becoming a surgeon, while his brother Magnus devises ways to make quick money. After many years of study, Felix earns his medical degree and becomes a physician in the local clinic, where his unorthodox but successful methods earn him the respect of both his patients and his peers. Magnus, however, convinces Felix's mother Hannah that Felix should quit the clinic and open a lucrative private practice on the Upper West Side to better provide for the family, which includes Felix's aging father Meyer and his unmarried sister Birdie. Although troubled by Magnus' plan, Hannah uses her maternal influence and talks Felix into changing his practice. Soon Felix moves to Park Avenue and establishes himself as the doctor "with the million-dollar hands," whose patients' complaints are more imaginary than real. Trapped by his financial success, Felix neglects his family and ignores Jessica, his crippled childhood sweetheart who teaches at the Braille Institute for the Blind. When Felix fails to show up to perform a lifesaving operation on one of her impoverished blind students, Jessica denounces him as a traitor to his heritage and to his profession. Humbled and confused, Felix attends the "Redemption of the First Born" ceremony given in his baby nephew's honor and witnesses the sudden collapse of his father. At his family's urging, Felix agrees to perform surgery on his father, who has an advanced brain tumor, but loses his patient shortly into the operation. Devastated by his father's death, Felix vows never to practice medicine again and falls into a deep depression. However, when Jessica, whose spinal condition has worsened, announces that she is going to take a chance on a dangerous operation that may end her lameness, Felix offers his services and perfectly executes the operation. His confidence restored, Felix returns to medicine and to his ghetto roots.
Gregory La Cava
John St. Polis
Pandro S. Berman
Archie F. Marshek
J. Walter Ruben
David O. Selznick
Symphony of Six Million
A drama laced with ethnic humor, the story concerned a young Jewish doctor (Ricardo Cortez) who rises from the slums of New York to become a West End Avenue - and then Park Avenue - surgeon, losing touch with his roots in the process. After a botched operation on his father (Gregory Ratoff), Cortez vows never again to touch another surgical instrument - until, that is, his crippled girlfriend (Irene Dunne) decides to have an operation to fix her spinal condition.
With anti-Semitism embedded and generally accepted in many aspects of American society, the Jewish Selznick may have felt "a conscious resolve to depict Jews as more than stereotyped comics, to present Jewish traditions and attitudes sympathetically, something that had been done only infrequently in Hollywood." (Ronald Haver, David O. Selznick's Hollywood) Selznick ordered the insertion of scenes of the doctor's childhood, and of warm, realistic moments of Jewish immigrant life, many of which were actually already present in the Fannie Hurst story itself but which had not previously found their way into the script. Selznick charged young RKO producer Pandro Berman with making these changes, and furthermore changed the film's title to one he deemed "more dramatic and dignified." (Haver)
On a more technical level, Selznick told his music department head, Max Steiner, to underscore almost the entire picture with symphonic music. This was an unusual concept at the time; talking pictures before 1932 typically had very little scoring.
Symphony of Six Million was a box-office success. According to author Ron Haver, Pandro Berman later called it his "first good movie" and Selznick, too, was always particularly proud of it. It would remain one of Selznick's most personal films.
Critics liked the picture, with The New York Times praising the surgery scenes and also the very elements that Selznick and Berman had added: "This is one of the outstanding hospital episodes that has been pictured," wrote Times critic Mordaunt Hall. "It elicits steady attention during its every second... There are a number of excellent scenes of the thronged east-side thoroughfare and here and there some light touches of this Jewish family life... Ratoff is splendid as the father."
For Russian-born Gregory Ratoff, Symphony of Six Million was his debut Hollywood acting job. While he usually played heavily accented, language-mangling characters, Ratoff himself was actually articulate and intelligent. He had studied law, and then acting and directing, in Russia, leaving during the Bolshevik revolution for Paris. Eventually he made his way to the U.S. where he starred in many Yiddish theater productions. Not long after he began his screen acting career, Ratoff turned to directing movies, including Intermezzo (1939) and The Men in Her Life (1941).
Symphony of Six Million was Irene Dunne's seventh feature. Though she had scored an Oscar® nomination for her second film, Cimarron (1931), she was still considered simply a rising and versatile star. That would change with her next picture, Back Street (1932), in which her breathtaking performance (in yet another Fannie Hurst story) made her a full-fledged star, period.
Producer: Pandro S. Berman, David O. Selznick
Director: Gregory La Cava
Screenplay: J. Walter Ruben, Bernard Schubert, James Seymour, Fannie Hurst (story)
Cinematography: Leo Tover
Film Editing: Archie Marshek
Art Direction: Carroll Clark
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Ricardo Cortez (Dr. Felix Klauber), Irene Dunne (Jessica), Anna Appel (Hannah Klauber), Gregory Ratoff (Meyer Klauber), Noel Madison (Magnus Klauber), Lita Chevret (Birdie Klauber).
by Jeremy Arnold
Symphony of Six Million
The title frame of the viewed print read, "Fannie Hurst's Symphony of Six Million." Gregory Ratoff made his film debut in the picture. In New York, the film was screened twice daily at the Gaiety theater, which charged up to $1.50 for a single ticket, and had a four-week run "with options." According to Variety, this film cost $270,000 to produce. In a letter to Katharine Brown, RKO's New York story editor, associate producer Pandro Berman stated that he was interested in hiring actor Maurice Moscovitch to play the role of the father in the film. The part was eventually played by Ratoff, however. He also suggested to Brown that she avoid "the usual conception of Jewish characters, as for instance Buster Collier in Street Scene, or Vera Gordon" (a popular vaudeville, stage and screen actress who frequently played "Jewish mother" roles). The Variety review noted that this film was one of the few pictures to feature a Reform rabbi. In a letter to RKO head David O. Selznick, Jason S. Joy of the MPAA warned that censors in Ohio might object to the film's operating scenes because "such scenes are too realistic if not actually gruesome" for a general audience. Modern sources include Harold Goodwin in the cast as an intern.