In honor of Easter and Passover, which both arrive later this month, we will list seven memorable movies -- one for each day of Passover -- that in some way have something to do with these two religious holy celebrations.
The greatest Easter dinner scene in film history –– or at least the funniest –– takes place in "Annie Hall," during which the very anti-Semitic Grammy Hall looks at the very Jewish Alvy Singer as if he were dressed as a Hasidic Jew while the Hall family dines on far-from-kosher ham.
"You're what Grammy Hall would call a real Jew," says Annie to Alvy.
All we need now is a movie where Mel Gibson gets invited to a Passover Seder. Maybe not –– I don't even think Woody Allen could make that film funny.
In honor of both Easter and Passover, we will list seven memorable movies –– one for each day of Passover –– that in some way have something to do with these two religious celebrations.
Note that we will not include the recently released film "Hop" about a wayward bunny for the simple reason that the movie contains all the merit of rabbit droppings. Nor are we including made-for-TV movies because they're as numerous as rabbit droppings.
The films are listed in alphabetical order, and when appropriate –– or even when it's inappropriate –– we'll try to tie the two faiths together.
"BEN-HUR" (1959): Charlton Heston, who was a Christian, made a career out of playing Jews. In addition to his Oscar-winning portrayal of the title character in this Oscar-winning film, he played Moses in "The Ten Commandments" and John the Baptist in "The Greatest Story Ever Told." As for this epic, it has it all, including the famous chariot race scene. Ben-Hur also witnesses the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The cast includes Stephen Boyd and Jack Hawkins.
"EASTER PARADE" (1948): Try not to pay too much attention to the flimsy plot about dancing teams, and simply enjoy the company of Judy Garland and Fred Astaire as they sing an Easter basket full of fabulous Irving Berlin songs. The two stars also dance a bit. Ann Miller and Peter Lawford co-star. Irony alert: Berlin, who was Jewish, wrote the two most famous songs about the two holiest of Christian holidays. In addition to this film's title tune, he wrote "White Christmas."
"EXODUS" (1960): Passover celebrates the hard-won freedom of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery in biblical times. This film chronicles the founding of Israel in modern times. Paul Newman, who was Jewish, plays an Israeli resistance leader in this epic tale –– so epic that its running time borders three hours and 30 minutes, and its pace may test one's patience. One source tells the story of comedian Mort Sahl, who was invited by director Otto Preminger to a preview and, at the film's conclusion, said to the director, "Otto, let my people go." The cast includes Eva Marie Saint and Peter Lawford, again.
"FIDDLER ON THE ROOF" (1971):I can't exactly recall if this film about a father trying to maintain Jewish traditions in 1905 Russia contains a Passover scene, but what is Passover if not tradition? I expect readers will enlighten me if a scene does exist. What I do remember –– hey, it's been awhile since I saw the film –– is the wonderful music. Being a snob for original casting, in the starring role of Tevye I prefer Zero Mostel's performance in the theatrical version, which opened on Broadway in 1964, to the film version starring Topol. Norman Jewison directs.
"KING OF KINGS" (1961): Hollywood hasn't exactly ignored the story of Jesus Christ. These films vary wildly in quality, but this is one of the better ones. Directed by Nicholas Ray and starring the rather attractive Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus, it takes a thoughtful approach to the story. Subplots abound, including extended scenes with John the Baptist and Barabbas. Orson Welles narrates.
"THE PRINCE OF EGYPT" (1998): This Oscar-winning animated musical from DreamWorks tells the story of Moses –– he was an Egyptian prince before he found out his true heritage –– and does so without too much sugarcoating or historical alterations. It is geared for a young audience, after all. The film's real achievement, however, can be found in its spectacular visuals. Take that, Disney. The all-star vocal cast includes Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, Steve Martin, Martin Short and Marcel Marceau. OK, Marcel isn't here.
"THE TEN COMMANDMENTS" (1956): The granddaddy of all biblical epics. OK, it's even longer than "Exodus," but director Cecil DeMille knows his way around a spectacle. Plagues? Check. Parting of the Red Sea? Check. He certainly was familiar with the story, since he made a silent film version in 1923. In this remake, the aforementioned Heston plays Moses, Yul Brynner plays Rameses and Anne Baxter plays Nefritiri, who loves Moses, marries Rameses and then makes her husband's life a living hell: "Where's an asp when I need one?"
For an added bonus, rent "History of the World Part I," which contains a send-up of "The Ten Commandments" as Mel Brooks, playing Moses, comes down from Mount Sinai carrying the tablets containing the commandments. "The Lord Jehovah has given unto you these 15 ..." Brooks begins before dropping and breaking one of the tablets. After an "oy" moment, he continues, "Ten! Ten Commandments for all to obey."
Contact Bob Tremblay at 508-626-4409 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.