Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 7:30pm
Edgar G. Ulmer's The Singing Blacksmith

177 Livingston Street, Brooklyn

Introduced by J. Hoberman

The Singing Blacksmith (Yankl der Schmid)
Edgar G. Ulmer, 1938, 105 mins, Yiddish with new English subtitles

Low-budget noir-iste, master of the seven-day shoot, and king of poverty row, Edgar G. Ulmer was also America’s leading director of Yiddish-language talkies—inaugurating the form’s short-lived Golden Age with his lyrical folk drama Green Fields (1937). His follow-up would be a vehicle for the Yiddish pop star, Moishe Oysher: The Singing Blacksmith (1938).

Most Yiddish movie actors were well-known stage performers. Oysher was the exception—his reputation was created by radio. Born in a Bessarabian village around 1906, he was descended from seven generations of cantors, immigrated to Canada as a teenager and made his Second Avenue debut in 1935. After the Orthodox congregations where he served as cantor objected to his theatrics, Oysher left the stage in to become a certified khazn and also play one in the movies. The Cantor’s Son (1937) dramatized the situation of a Jewish entertainer caught between tradition and modernity.

Flush with the success of Green Fields and mindful of The Cantor’s Son’s popularity Ulmer and his producer Roman Rebush created a synthesis of the two, recasting a serious drama, David Pinski’s Yankl the Smith, as a vehicle for Oysher. The Singing Blacksmith has its share of bravura, chest-baring performances—not to mention a scene in which Oysher demonstrates that he can vocalize while cracking and eating nuts and another number in which he and his real-life wife Florence Weiss scat-sing their current hit “Khasidl in New York.” A progressive operetta with something for everyone, The Singing Blacksmith not only celebrates Yankl’s vital life-force but expresses a leftist point of view.

With his usual resourcefulness, Ulmer built a plywood shtetl in rural New Jersey, using land belonging to a Catholic monastery; he combined The Singing Blacksmith with a Ukrainian-language production and shot both pictures simultaneously. That his set was located between a nudist colony and a training camp run by the pro-Nazi German-American Bund inspired some useful publicity when The New York Mirror ran a color spread on New Jersey’s “Hollywood in Miniature.” - JH

J. Hoberman is senior film critic at the Village Voice. Bridge of Light, his definitive history of Yiddish cinema, has recently been reprinted by University Press of New England.

Film provided by The Center for Jewish Film.

Tickets - $7, available at door.