Molly Picon, star of 1920s Yiddish theater, plays the daughter of a rich, assimilated American who is invited to a family celebration in an Eastern European shtetl. Thoughher brash behavior alienates her from the locals, she is admired by a shy orthodox Talmudic scholar. Molly realizes too late that, in the course of a wedding that she thinks is a joke, she has actually been married. This entertaining comedy, which like many works of Yiddish cinema has only survivedin fragmentary versions, was reconstructed by the Filmarchiv Austria.
EAST AND WEST was unlike any previous Jewish film. E. G. Fried, a Viennese (and presumably Jewish) newspaperman, began his favourable review by confessing the heordinarily went out of his way to avoid those “badly costumed, ridiculously sentimental” Jewish-subject films which, most likely produced by Otto Kreisler, were “permeated with pogroms, Sabbath tales, and all manner of poorly acted nonsense.” But EAST AND WEST, to which Fried was drawn solely on the basis of Picon’s reputation, was something else. This film “breathes true Jewish character”, even though “it does not satisfy – one might say, thank God – high literary expectations.”
In addition toextolling Picon’s “natural grace” and “humor” Fried cites the authenticity ofthe musical accompaniment, which drew on Jewish folk motifs; he also praisesthe actors many recruited from Fray Yidishe Folksbiene, for eschewing“exaggerated pathos” and “cloying sentimentality”. Revealingly, he complimentsthe more for conveying “true sentiments”, rather than Jewish militance. EASTAND WEST was hardly a Zionist statement. By arguing for adaptation as well asunderstanding, it suggests that beneath the Ostjude‘s beard an kapote is amodern European to be liberated.
Jim Hoberman: Bridge of Light. New York 1991