Follow TV Tropes


Film / Exodus (1960)
aka: Exodus

Go To

Exodus is a 1960 epic film directed and produced by Otto Preminger with a screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, based on a 1958 novel by Leon Uris about the founding of the modern state of Israel. The story follows a collection of characters in 1947 and 1948 as they fight the British (in order to gain independence for Israel and support for the Partition Plan) and then the Arabs (to keep their newly-established nation).

The main characters are as follows:

  • Ari Ben Canaan (Paul Newman): a leader of the Haganah (Jewish paramilitary organization fighting for Israeli independence) born in Palestine, a former member of the Jewish Corps that fought for the British during World War II, now using those skills to smuggle Jews into Palestine and fight to create an independent Jewish state. The mastermind of the Exodus plan that takes up the first hour or so of the film.
  • Advertisement:
  • Kitty Fremont (Eva Marie Saint): a widowed American nurse who happens to be visiting her husband's friend General Sutherland when the Exodus plan is enacted. Serves as an intermediary between Ben Canaan and the General, and later falls in love with him and follows him to Palestine. Feels a motherly instinct towards Karen Hansen, and wants to adopt her and bring her back to America with her.
  • Karen Hansen (Jill Haworth): a German Jew whose family managed to smuggle her into Denmark where she safely hid out during the Holocaust. Her mother and two brothers died in the camps, but her father may have survived and she was going to Palestine on the Star of David to find out. One of the 611 Jews to escape from Cyprus on the Exodus. In love with Dov Landau.
  • Dov Landau (Sal Mineo): an angry Polish Jew who survived the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and Auschwitz. Like Karen, was on the Star of David trying to get to Palestine and manages to get there on the Exodus. Once in Palestine joins the Irgun.
  • Advertisement:
  • General Sutherland (Ralph Richardson): British general in command of the Cyprus detention camp where Jews attempting to get to Palestine are held. Doesn't want to send them back to Germany (which his underling Major Caldwell suggests to him), but under orders not to let the Jews get to Palestine as they wish. Sympathetic to the Jews, and therefore suspected of being of Jewish descent himself.
  • Akiva Ben Canaan (David Opatoshu): Ari's uncle and a commander of the Irgun. A relatively affable man for the leader of a terrorist organization.
  • Taha (John Derek): the leader of the Arabic village next to the kibbutz of Gan Dafna. Friendly with the kibbutzniks, but troubled by the prospect of Israeli independence.

Ernest Gold's original music score won an Oscar, beating out other celebrated scores such as Spartacus, The Alamo, and The Magnificent Seven.

Not to be confused with the Book of Exodus (though the allusion to it in the title is very intentional) nor one of its adaptations, Exodus: Gods and Kings.

Tropes in Exodus:

  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Poor Dov. Bad enough in the book that he lost his entire family (either to the death camps or the Warsaw Ghetto uprising). Worse that he also, in the book, was forced to work as a Sonderkommando in Auschwitz. The film adds Rape as Backstory. And at the start of the both the film and book, he's only seventeen years old.
  • Adaptational Dumbass: Dov Landau. Here he's portrayed as merely Hot-Blooded, albeit with experience in demolitions. While he is definitely Hot-Blooded in the novel (and doesn't have much of a formal education, thanks to his working-class background and well, being a Holocaust survivor), he's also a Street Smart Gadgeteer Genius, an expert pickpocket, and talented forger with a preternatural sense of direction - all thanks to his background as Street Urchin in the Warsaw Ghetto. At the end of the novel, he's offered a scholarship to MIT.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Taha is much more likeable and sympathetic in the film than the book - to the point of becoming a Sacrificial Lion for Arab-Israeli friendship. And Major Caldwell is much more of a Jerkass in the novel, where his antisemitsm leads him to murder a Jewish prisoner.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Jordana, who doesn't get a lot screentime, is far nicer in the film. In the book she's a massive bitch to Kitty (mostly due to being insanely close to her brother). She does soften over time, and by the end of the novel they're close Fire-Forged Friends.
  • Adaptational Wimp: Sarah. In the film she's a fairly stereotypical Jewish Mother, and granted, by the beginning of the film she's pretty old, but in the novel, the Backstory reveals her to be just as much of a badass as Barak - a full on Action Girl who can work a farm and handle a gun just as well as a man, and a Determinator who endures three full days of torture at the hands of the Turkish police - while seven months pregnant. By the beginning of the novel, she's aged into a tough as nails Apron Matron.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Dov Landau, a fair-skinned, blue eyed blond in the novel, is played by swarthy, dark haired Sal Mineo. And Karen, a brunette in the novel, is played by the blonde Jill Haworth.
  • Adaptation Name Change: In the novel, the Jewish terrorist organization is clearly an Expy of the Irgun but called the Maccabees. In the film, it's just called the Irgun.
  • Affably Evil: Akiva isn't portrayed as evil per se, but Ari and the other Haganah members definitely view him and the Irgun as being nothing but terrorists.
  • Age Lift: Barak is, at the beginning of the novel, about 80 years old, and Akiva is only two years younger. They were respectively played by Lee J. Cobb and David Opatoshu, who were 49 and 40 respectively (though both actors were well-known for being Younger than They Look, they don't look anywhere near 80).
  • All Jews Are Ashkenazi: Played depressingly straight in the film; all the main Jewish characters are Ashkenazi (and they add a few very stereotypical ones in). In the novel there are a few Mizrahi and Sephardi supporting characters and the massive emigration of Yemenite and Iraqi Jews to Israel post-1948 is highlighted.
  • Animal Theme Naming: We have Ari (a nickname for Aryeh, which means "lion"), Zev ("wolf"), and Dov ("bear").
  • Author Avatar: A minor one in the novel; Mark (who acts as Deuteragonist for Part One of the novel) is a journalist, much like Leon Uris was.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The movie ends with Israel gaining its independence, but full-scale war breaks out between the Jews and Arabs, and Karen and Taha have both been murdered. The novel ends on this as well: Barak has just passed away from cancer, Karen is murdered, and Jordana is heartbroken after the death of David Ben-Ami. But Dov has a bright future as an engineer - he's been offered a scholarship to MIT. General Sutherland embraces the Jewish faith. Ari and Kitty will probably end up staying together. All of them, with Ari's mother, have joined together in a Family of Choice. The book ends with a Passover seder, led by General Sutherland - specifically, with Dov, the youngest present, asking the Four Questions.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Ari has Nerves of Steel but one of the few indicators that he's nervous in the novel? He rolls a cigarette and lights up.
  • Compressed Adaptation: A necessity; the book is quite the Doorstopper and the film still clocks in at just under three and a half hours. The film leaves out or only briefly alludes to the backstories of numerous characters, including Kitty, Ari, Barak and Akiva, Karen, Dov, and General Sutherland - which take up hundreds of pages in the novel. And the film ends at barely the halfway point of the novel, which ends in approximately 1951 (while the film ends in late 1947, at the very beginning of the War of Independence).
  • Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Jordana in the novel. She loves her cognac and is always down to party.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: It's kinda weird to hear Zionist Jews being referred to as "Palestinians".
  • Hospital Hottie: Kitty is a nurse, and over the course of the novel, Karen trains to become one.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink:
    • In the novel, when Kitty and Jordana are waiting to learn if the children from Gan Dafna have been evacuated safely, Jordana breaks out the cognac under her bed. Kitty is more than glad to share it, and this is when they bond and become Fire-Forged Friends.
    • Taken up to eleven in the novel when Kitty is operating on Ari, assisted by Karen. She has to take a swig of booze in the midst of the operation to steady her nerves.
  • Informed Judaism: In the film, bar Akiva asking if Barak still says prayers for the dead for him, no one really mentions Jewish practice. Stereotypes aplenty, but no actual practice of Judaism. The novel is better about this; the film was written by a non-Jew while the novel was written by a secular Jew.
  • Jerkass: Major Caldwell, a Smug Snake Anti-Semetic asshole who has nothing but contempt for the Jews he's imprisoning on Cyprus and his commander who he thinks is too soft on them. Also the British soldiers at Fort Esther who refuse to return Gan Dafna's guns despite the very real threat of being attacked by their Arabic neighbors.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Ari may be somewhat cold and brusque, but he really does care about his people.
  • The Lad-ette: Jordana in the novel. It's implied that she can drink anyone under the table (she hides a bottle of cognac under her bed), she's a crack shot, and she's far more comfortable around men than women.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Played for tragedy in the novel. Zev Gilboa and David Ben-Ami both die in suicidal charges.
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: Ari and Kitty in the film, though there's a Sexy Discretion Shot. In the novel, David and Jordana sneak away from a bonfire for some outdoor nookie.
  • Matzo Fever: Kitty falls for Ari pretty quickly. It helps that in the film he's played by Paul Newman and in the novel he's described as Tall, Dark, and Handsome and a Cultured Badass.
  • Meaningful Rename: In the backstory, Barak and Akiva do this. They were born, respectively, Yossi and Yakov Rabinsky. The rename also coincides with their decision to stop speaking Yiddish and speak only Modern Hebrew.
  • Nice Jewish Boy: Deconstructed; Barak and Akiva start out as this, then become the archetype of Badass Israeli and raise a generation of same. At the end of the novel Barak, dying of cancer, regrets this. Leon Uris was notably contemptuous of the more extreme stereotypes based on this trope.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Ari Ben Canaan is loosely based on Yitzhak Aronwicz, the real-life captain of the Exodus who later became an Israeli military official and businessmen. Aronwicz disliked both the book and film, saying that they were "neither history nor literature." He also has elements of Moshe Dayan in his backstory. Harriet Saltzman is loosely based on Henrietta Szold.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Jill Haworth appears to have been the only member of the cast to actually attempt to speak with the accent her character would have. It is incredibly obvious that Ari, Dov, Taha, Akiva, and most of the rest of the Arabs and Israelis are played by Americans. Ari does fake a British accent while pretending to be a British officer during his plan to smuggle the 611 Jews to Palestine.
  • National Anthem: "Hatikvah" appears three times in the score. The first time is when the passengers hoist the Magen David flag on the ship and throw the food overboard at the beginning of the hunger strike. The second time, a jazz-influenced arrangement plays on the car radio during Akiva's death. The last time, it's a joyous, a cappella crowd song after the Partition plan is voted on.
  • Omniglot: Most of the main characters, but justified by their backgrounds. Ari is mentioned as fluent in English, French, German, and Arabic in addition to his native Hebrew. Karen is fluent in English and Danish in addition to her native German, and becomes fluent in Hebrew over the course of the novel. Barak's mother tongue is Yiddish, but he reverts completely to speaking Hebrew after making aliyah, and is also fluent in Arabic and English. Dov Laundau's language ability is never mentioned, but given he was a working-class Jew from Warsaw, his mother tongue was probably Yiddish, with fluency in Polish and modern Hebrew (as his father in the novel is mentioned as being an ardent Zionist).
  • Race Lift: General Sutherland is half-Jewish in the novel (his mother converted to Christianity to marry his father), and embraces his mother's faith at the end, leading a Passover seder with all the surviving main characters. In the film, he's fully English, and the rumor that he's half-Jewish is untrue.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Downplayed, but in the novel Ari is a good dancer and loves classical music and opera. And General Sutherland is a keen gardener and in retirement spends a lot time fussing over his roses.
  • Real Women Don't Wear Dresses: In the novel, Jordana believes this, right up until Kitty operates on her brother and removes a bullet from his leg with a flashlight, a razor blade, tweezers, and a bottle of brandy for disinfectant and anesthetic. After that her opinion begins to change.
  • Refuge in Audacity: How Ari plans on escaping from Cyprus with 611 Jewish internees. Also, the Acre prison breakout.
    • And even more so, in the middle of the plan when Major Caldwell tells him he can spot a Jew from a mile away, Ari pretends to have something in his eye and asks Caldwell to check and see what it is, necessitating Caldwell getting within a few inches of his face.
    • The Acre Prison breakout also counts. How to get two people out of prison? Break into a bathhouse, blow up the wall, and send every prisoner scattering in every direction. It (mostly) works.
  • Second Love: Kitty and Ari to each other. Kitty is widowed (in the film her husband was a war correspondent; in the novel a Marine killed in World War II), and Ari's childhood sweetheart Dafna was murdered by Arabs.
  • Shiksa Goddess: Kitty. In the novel Jordana is less than amused, though not so much by Kitty being a gentile American as by Kitty being interested in her brother and very feminine.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: The novel is far more cynical than the film. This might be because Leon Uris had actually spent quite a bit of time in Israel.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Major Caldwell, who gets gruesomely murdered by the Maccabees in the novel. Mind, since the only reason he got murdered by them was because he murdered a helpless prisoner who was a Maccabee...well, let's just say that it's hard to have any sympathy for him. David Ben-Ami snuffs it the novel as well - making a suicidal charge to retake Jerusalem in the War of Independence - but is spared because the film ends before his death. And near the end of the novel, after the end of the War of Independence, Barak - at this point well over 80 - dies of cancer.
  • Starcrossed Lovers: Dov and Karen finally admit that they love each other, only for Karen to be killed by Arabs. In the novel, we have additional examples. Ari and Dafna are this in the Backstory. David Ben-Ami and Jordana are this in the novel; he's killed trying to retake Jerusalem in the War of Independence. Ari and Kitty are shaping up to be this in the novel, but wind up together at the end.
  • Take That!: The refugees in Cyprus (in the novel) take numerous potshots at then-Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin. They even hang up a sign in front of the British soldiers that says (in English) "Welcome To Bergen-Bevin." And the latrine is marked Bevingrad.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: In the novel, Kitty and Jordana exchange these. Kitty actually gets the better of the younger, less mature, Hot-Blooded Jordana.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: The Holocaust hangs over the entire film, with most of the main characters either having survived it (Karen, Dov), fought in World War II (Ari, General Sutherland) or both. Within the story itself, a Nazi refugee shows up at the end acting as a trainer/enforcer for the Grand Mufti's anti-Israel forces and refuses Taha's pleas to negotiate with the Jews.
  • Token Good Teammate: General Sutherland is one of the few British characters to treat the Jews with any respect. During the novel, he retires, embraces his Jewish background, and does a Heel–Faith Turn. Taha serves as this for the Arabs later in the movie.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: The Haganah and the Irgun do not like or trust each other, even though both are nominally striving for the same goal, just using different tactics. Ari and Akiva, being family, are more able to put aside their differences. Ari also manages to convince the Irgun to help him break several hundred Irgun and Haganah members out of Acre Prison, as well. In the novel they also collaborate a few other times.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Jill Haworth attempts a foreign accent but fails at the accent of a native speaker of German and Danish and ends up with "vaguely Eurotrash." David Opatoshu, however, in his role as Akiva, comfortably speaks Yiddish-inflected English (a subtle bit of Translation Convention as Yiddish would have been Akiva's mother tongue). Yiddish was Opatoshu's first language.
  • Whip It Good: In the novel, both Barak and Ari, while quite thoroughly proficient with and comfortable using firearms, are skillful with a bullwhip.
  • Working-Class Hero: Barak and Akiva, and also Dov Landau. Barak and Akiva's father was a shoemaker, Dov Landau's father a baker.
  • World of Snark: Everyone gets a bit of snark in.
  • Your Normal Is Our Taboo: Kitty in the novel is more than a little shocked with the somewhat relaxed attitude toward sex demonstrated by Ari and Jordana. Ari calls her out on this, pointing out that what with their living incredibly close to death, having premarital sex in an exclusive relationship is hardly the worst thing someone can do, and is incredibly offended that she considers Jordana slutty for sleeping with her longtime sweetheart. Also doubles as Values Dissonance - to modern readers, Kitty comes off as incredibly prudish and uptight, but for an American woman in the late '40s she's pretty typical.

Alternative Title(s): Exodus