CAST A GIANT SHADOW was a lot more enjoyable back in 1966, viewed as a child. Big stars, a good amount of action, desperate odds, etc. Apart from already being prepped by Exodus, the given/expected/demanded audience take on “the Middle East” was “Israel:noble + Arabs:evil =end of story”. Grow up, read a little, and this sincere & salty, shallow & simplistic action-bio is much harder to digest. Propaganda works best if it’s one-sided.*
David ‘Mickey’ Marcus is understandably worshiped in Israel. An American volunteer, the colorful Marcus led outnumbered, out-gunned Israeli forces after independence was declared in 1948. An undeniably impressive character, Marcus’ bold exploits seemed tailor-made for film and as exemplar of Jewish pride. **
Thusly inspired, Melville Shavelson—known for a string of successful comedies—took triple-duty on the project, writing, producing and directing. Backing from a sympathetic John Wayne helped get Kirk Douglas signed to play Marcus, with Wayne and Frank Sinatra doing cameos. Yul Brynner took a supporting role, and the love interests were formidable sirens Senta Berger (sexy sabra on the ground in Israel) and Angie Dickinson (left fretting in the States). Elmer Bernstein provides a rousing score, lots of extras fill the action scenes, shot mostly in Italy.
Nothing wrong with the acting; Douglas is sturdy, Berger would melt metal. Bernstein’s music is vibrant, sound effects are punchy. The script is episodic, the jokey stuff is contrived, and Shavelson’s somewhat cowed direction doesn’t generate much excitement. It comes off as a history lesson with a little swearing, some cleavage and a lot of hardware and explosions. Oh–and the other side of the story? Good luck. The still below, of Topol, as a representative one-size-fits-all ‘Arab’, tells you where the movie sits in terms of anything like a balanced perspective.
Reviews were tepid, it came in 36th among earners of 1966 (it probably would have been a hit if it came out a year later, after the Israeli victory in the Six Day War). Longish at 134 minutes, with James Donald, Stathis Giallelis, Luther Adler (as ‘Jacob Zion’--oy vey, already, Mel!), Ruth White, Gordon Jackson, Michael Hordern, Allan Cuthbertson and Jeremy Kemp. Michael Douglas, 21, made his uncredited debut in a bit. In 1971, Shavelson wrote a humorous book on the project, “How To Make A Jewish Movie”. His next picture after this was a return to his comedy forte, and Yours, Mine And Ours was a big success.
* Task yourself to add 2 + 2 (as in comparative casualty figures) and turn down the latest media harangue for a cycle to mull the radical idea that perhaps Palestinians are… human beings. A little guilt with an endless megaphone goes a long way. Go figure. Were this fratricidal argument over Biblical fairy tales not located next to the World’s Biggest Gas Station, how much feigned concern would be stirred? Fool me once…
** Tough street kid from the Lower East Side made it to West Point, then as a prosecutor under Fiorello La Guardia, going after Lucky Luciano. A gutsy WW2 maverick, parachuting into Normandy with the 101st, later working on the Nuremberg trials. After seeing Dachau, Marcus’ heritage was inflamed and he became convinced to serve as a field training officer for the disorganized Israelis. He soon took command as a general (under an alias to absolve direct U.S. Pentagon ties and/or involvement), given the rank title in Hebrew of aluf, the first Jewish soldier to hold that rank since Judas Maccabeus, 2,100 years ago. I guess if you’re casting the role of Mickey Marcus in 1966, Kirk Douglas would be the way to go.