Schmaltzywood: The Golden Age of Yiddish Cinema in America (1937-1940)

Thanks to the generous support of the Chicago Center for Jewish Studies, this entire series is FREE!

Film restoration and new English subtitles provided by the National Center for Jewish Film.


2014-10-05 @ 7:00 PM

Green Fields

(Jacob Ben-Ami & Edgar G. Ulmer, 1937) · A smashing screen success, this adaptation of Peretz Hirshbein's classic 1916 play of the same name follows a young orphaned scholar as he leaves the dimly lit study house for the open fields of Eastern Europe. Shot almost entirely outdoors in New Jersey, the film transports viewers to an idealized landscape where a rural community of feisty farming peasant Jews teach young Levi Yitshok (Michael Goldstein) lessons of the soil and of love.

runtime: 106 min format: 35mm


2014-10-12 @ 7:00 PM

Two Sisters

(Ben K. Blake, 1938) · The eponymous pair of siblings vie for the affections of a handsome doctor, but ultimately it's their sisterly bond that prevails. While each member of the love triangle receives their moment, it's Yiddish theater veteran Jennie Goldstein who carries the picture in her sole screen credit. The film is an exercise in self-sacrifice and schmaltz, but it marks a compelling intersection of an antiquated American style and a progressive Jewish mindset.

runtime: 82 min format: 16mm


2014-10-19 @ 7:00 PM

The Singing Blacksmith

(Edgar G. Ulmer, 1938) · Filmed in New Jersey on land owned by the Catholic Monastery of the Benedictine Order, The Singing Blacksmith is an adaptation of David Pinski's classic 1906 play of the same name. Reportedly, an extremist pro-Nazi group was headquartered near the set—the production only avoided disruptions because the surprisingly friendly local monks (many of whom were German) patrolled the area with shotguns. Moyshe Oysher's singing as Yankl is remarkable here. With a special opening and poetry reading by Leo Melamed, a Yiddish child actor who would grow up to become the Chairman Emeritus of the CME Group (formerly the Chicago Mercantile Exchange)!

runtime: 115 min format: 35mm


2014-10-26 @ 7:00 PM

Motl the Operator

(Joseph Seiden, 1939) · Chaim Tauber, "the Pagliacci of Yiddish Poetry", stars as Motl, an industrious employee in a New York sweatshop. He soon observes the irony of his labor: the harder he works, the richer his boss becomes, yet his wages remain the same. He joins the picket lines with his fellow workers and forfeits his wages for his values. What could easily be dismissed as a weepy melodrama fully encompasses the class conflict and sacrifice of the immigrant experience.

runtime: 88 min format: 35mm


2014-11-02 @ 7:00 PM

Kol Nidre

(Joseph Seiden, 1939) · Famous for their role as young lovers two years previous in The Dybbuk, Polish husband-and-wife team Leon Liebgold and Lili Liliana are reunited as stars in Kol Nidre, a surprising mashup of romance, melodrama, comedy, and musical. The film tells the story of a girl (Liliana) who is torn between two lovers, using this premise to comment on the expectations surrounding gender, marriage, and the family in a time of generational uproar.

runtime: 85 min format: Digital


2014-11-09 @ 7:00 PM

The Light Ahead

(Henry Felt & Edgar G. Ulmer, 1939) · Set in "Glupsk" ("Foolsville"), this film presents a story of love, kindness and treachery in a Russian Jewish town in the 1880s. Impoverished lovers Fishke "the Lame" and Hodel "the Blind" dream of a world far from the tricksters and cons who have taken advantage of them. They find a sympathetic ear, and perhaps even more, in an itinerant bookseller. Based on the novel by Mendele the Bookseller, with actors from New York's Arted and Yiddish Art Theaters.

runtime: 94 min format: 35mm


2014-11-16 @ 7:00 PM

Mirele Efros

(Josef Berne, 1939) · Mirele Efros, often called the "Jewish Queen Lear," dominates the screen as the calculating widowed matriarch of a wealthy Jewish family. Her handpicked daughter-in-law, however, soon wrests control of the family away from her now helpless mother-in-law. Adapted from a hit play of the same name penned by Jacob Gordin, this melodramatic film documenting Jewish life in Poland offers a cautionary—if ultimately redemptive—tale of greed and family loyalty.

runtime: 87 min format: 16mm


2014-11-23 @ 7:00 PM


(Maurice Schwartz, 1939) · Before there was Topol, before there was Zero Mostel, there was Maurice Schwartz. In this precursor to Fiddler on the Roof, thought lost until miraculously rediscovered in the '70s, Schwartz stars as Tevye, the philosophizing patriarch of Sholem Aleichem's classic novel Tevye the Dairyman. Filmed in Long Island as the Nazi army was invading Poland, the film fortuitously explores interfaith relationships in a time of struggle with pathos and trepidation.

runtime: 93 min format: 35mm


2014-12-07 @ 7:00 PM

Overture to Glory

(Max Nosseck, 1940) · A quasi-anti-Jazz Singer, Overture to Glory focuses on a star cantor who shuns the synagogue for the glories of performing at the Warsaw Opera. Modeled like an MGM biopic but produced on a modest budget in Hudson Heights, this film marked the end of an era. Released at the height of WWII, Overture to Glory's cautionary tale about the evils of assimilation was a fitting (although abrupt) ending to the Yiddish-American film industry.

runtime: 77 min format: 35mm


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