Cast & Crew
In 1949, Jewish refugees from all parts of post-war Europe arrive in Israel via the port of Haifa. At the King David camp, German refugee and former world-renowned vaudevillian and juggler Hans Muller soothes Susy, a young girl distressed by the camp's rough surroundings. Hans is unnerved by a woman speaking German to her children and mistakes them for his dead wife and daughters. An acquaintance, Willy Schmidt, calms Hans, but later, the juggler grows despondent when he realizes that he has no practical skills to offer the flourishing camp. Willy asks Dr. Traube to see Hans, who angrily rejects the physician's suggestion that he consult a psychiatrist to help him adjust to his war-time experiences and the loss of his family. Agitated, Hans leaves the camp for downtown Haifa, but panics when innocently questioned by police officer Kogan. When Kogan persists, Hans calls him a Nazi, beats him severely and flees as bystander Emile Halevy accuses him of murder. The following day, police detective Karni interviews Halevy and a search for Hans starts. Asleep in a park, Hans is awakened by some boys playing soccer and tells them that he is an American. One of the boys, Yehoshua Bresler, offers to guide Hans to Nazareth. Nervous about the army patrol, Hans agrees, dubbing Yehoshua "Josh." At a newsstand later that day, Hans learns that Kogan is alive, but in serious condition, and that his attacker is being sought. Led to the immigration camp by information provided by Kogan, Karni interviews Traube and later, in Jerusalem, speaks with Willy and gets a photograph of Hans, which Hans had given to Susy. On their trek, Josh informs Hans that he lost his parents in the war and is proud of being a "Sabrah," an Israeli native, hardened and strong. Josh is impressed by Hans's juggling skill and Hans agrees to teach him the trade. Near the Hill of Galilee kibbutz, Hans and Josh ignore a warning bell and inadvertently stumble into an active mine field, where Josh is injured when a mine detonates. Waiting to learn of Josh's condition, Hans accepts the hospitality of a single young woman, Ya'El, who explains the workings of the cooperative community which, without electricity, remains entirely isolated yet self-sufficient. Kibbutz leader Mordecai invites Hans to remain in the community, but upon learning that Josh has only suffered a broken leg, Hans plans to depart, despite the boy's emotional protest. Ya'El agrees to lead Hans to the nearest bus stop along the Syrian border, but warns Hans of the danger in the area. On their hike to the bus stop the following day, Ya'El notes the concentration camp tattoo on Hans's arm and asks him about his experience. Hans reveals that his family perished in the camp and admits that he believed that being a famous German would save him. He also describes his terrible guilt for having survived. When Ya'El and Hans spot the Syrian army patrol, Hans grabs Ya'El's rifle, but she prevents him from firing. Sensing Hans's great inner torment, Ya'El suggests that he remain at the kibbutz to try and regain some inner peace. Hans warns Ya'El of his instability, but promises to stay as long as he is able. Back at the kibbutz, a supply truck brings newspapers, and Hans distracts Mordecai from reading about his attack on Kogan. Meanwhile, Karni continues to track Hans and Josh's movements and nears Galilee. Hans attempts to settle into the kibbutz, which is in the midst of a large seasonal celebration, but the juggler admits to Ya'El that despite his growing affection for her, he still feels he must move on. Ya'El returns Hans's feelings and pleads with him to remain. Hans again reluctantly agrees and continues to teach juggling to the recovering Josh. On the night that Hans and Josh agree to participate in a show for the community, Karni and other policemen arrive. Panicked, Hans flees and when others in the community give chase, the juggler hides in Ya'El's cabin with a gun. Terrified by being surrounded, Hans refuses to come out and threatens suicide. Ya'El asks Karni to allow her to help and she beseeches Hans to give himself up. Hans eventually comes out of the house, brandishing the rifle before collapsing in Ya'El's embrace and appealing for help.
Leah Thomas Farah
Richard La Mar
Carter Dehaven Jr.
Frank [a.] Tuttle
We're still seven years from the moment Douglas insisted on naming ex-con Dalton Trumbo as the screenwriter of Spartacus (1960), beginning the end for the blacklist. In Dmytryk's case (as opposed to others, such as those of Adolphe Menjou and Elia Kazan), it's hard to be certain and judgmental at this distance, but The Juggler is also a movie so devoid of politics you can smell Dmytryk's apologetic timidity all over it. The story, from a forgotten novel by screenwriter Michael Blankfort (who himself served as a "front" for blacklisted writer Arthur Maltz), confronts a relocated concentration camp survivor (Douglas) unable to overcome his war-borne fears and neuroses, and who is also the titular entertainer/clown/magician. If you've ever wondered whence came the peculiar notion of making films about the Holocaust as seen through the eyes of clowns (Jerry Lewis's still-unseen The Day the Clown Cried , Adam Resurrected ), violinists (Playing for Time ), mimes (The Last Butterfly ), boxers (Triumph of the Spirit ) and comedic buffoons (Jakob the Liar , Life Is Beautiful ), it might've been here. Thank goodness The Juggler features no flashbacks to clown-faced shenanigans in Auschwitz, and generally the film wears its affectation lightly, preferring to focus instead on the manic-depressive tribulations of Douglas's Hans, as he is thrust into the arms of the new Israel but cannot for the life of him trust society in any shape or form.
It's a refugee's tribulation, as Hans climbs off his first Israeli bus to a ma'abarot (immigrant camp) in Haifa and immediately bristles at the hands-on manner of the new system for handling the massive influx of European Jews. There is cause for worry at first, as Hans entertains little refugee kids with a cheesy ventriloquist act, but then, as he passionately, fiercely (as only Douglas could do passionate and fierce) mistakes a transient woman and her children for his own, long-vanished wife and kids, we understand that Hans, for all of his boisterous good humor up-front, is close to being insane. All the new-homeland coddling simply triggers the man's panicky flight mechanism, and Hans runs from the camp, seethingly paranoid and eventually assaulting a cop. From there, Douglas's lost man is a fugitive, indulging the best wishes of Milly Vitale's blonde camp-worker hottie and fleeing from the avuncular if stern pursuit of police captain Paul Stewart.
Douglas, in the kind of role more or less invented by John Garfield back home, is subdued by the film's ulterior propaganda purposes, but any occasion will do for a chance to visit the dangerous realm that is Kirkistan. He's still one of Hollywood's least respected, least beloved stars, and it's easy to see why: he chafes, he spits bile, he's a human dynamo perpetually on the verge of a meltdown. Watching Douglas act in his prime can be harrowing - he's so in your face you can taste his sweat and feel his body heat and fear his possible instability. It's something of a miracle he was a star. In the '50s and early '60s most moviegoers preferred the cool, mild-mannered mountainsides of Lancaster or Wayne or Hudson, but Douglas was for the meat-eaters in the crowd, saying nuts to compromise in film after film and laying bare so much painful hostility and agon that it made Method actors seem positively dainty. There's never been anyone like him.
The Juggler dallies in odd arenas for Douglas, including a supposedly heartwarming mass dance around a giant campfire that can seem a little cultish and creepy nowadays, and the obligatory clown show Hans puts on for relocated children, but rest assured the story winds around to a faceoff in which the tormented pilgrim is trapped in a hyperventilating box of his own existential devising. The film itself manages to sell the Israeli ideal without so much as mentioning Arabs or Palestine's native population; insofar as Israel exists politically as a force in opposition, here it is only battling against the legacies and memories of the Holocaust, a safe and definitive villain safely and definitively vanquished, if still lingering as ghosts in Hans's traumatized brainpan. Whether or not you bristle yourself at the Israeli hard-sell will depend on how you interpret some details, as in when Stewart's investigating cop, addressing a defiant little girl in possession of a photo of Hans, says, "Sometimes for the sake of the law we have to give up our friends." How this astonishing line could have made as much practical sense in Berlin in 1938 (not to mention virtually any Eastern European city during the Cold War, and in the chairs having the HUAC council) is a question left uncomfortably lingering in the air. Coming from the mouth of a sympathetic, New Frontier Israeli policeman, was it a defensive gesture on Dmytryk's part? And how sour does that taste today?
Because of all of the historical compromises that surround it, The Juggler is something of a looking glass on its sociopolitical moment, with all of its betrayals and nightmares and unintended echoes, while meaning to be simply a movie about how wonderful Israel is, and how victims of persecution can find refuge there. As Israeli culture has found in the decades since, life and politics are never as easy as that, and the lines between good and evil, if there are lines at all, are never easy to draw straight.
Producer: Stanley Kramer
Director: Edward Dmytryk
Screenplay: Michael Blankfort (screenplay and novel)
Cinematography: Roy Hunt
Art Direction: Robert Peterson
Music: George Antheil
Film Editing: Harry W. Gerstad, Aaron Stell
Cast: Kirk Douglas (Hans Muller), Milly Vitale (Ya'El), Paul Stewart (Detective Karni), Joey Walsh (Yehoshua Bresler), Alf Kjellin (Daniel), Beverly Washburn (Susy), Charles Lane (Rosenberg), John Banner (Emile Halevy), Richard Benedict (Police Officer Kogan), Oskar Karlweis (Willy Schmidt).
by Michael Atkinson
As noted in a February 1952 Daily Variety item, producer Stanley Kramer originally assigned author Michael Blankfort to direct the adaptation of his novel The Juggler. According to a May 1952 Daily Variety news item, Blankfort was refused a passport for travel to Israel by the United States State Department because of testimony by Louis Budenz before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) that Blankfort had been a Communist many years earlier. Kramer reassigned the film to Edward Dmytryk, one of a group of filmmakers who became known as "The Hollywood Ten." Dmytryk served nearly a year in prison in 1948 after being convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to divulge his political affiliations. After his release from prison, Dmytryk moved to England where he directed two films (Give Us This Day and The Hidden Room). In 1951, Dmytryk returned to the U.S. and gave testimony in the second round of HUAC hearings and, as a result, was removed from the industry "blacklist."
The Juggler marked Italian actress Milly Vitale's American film debut. A Hollywood Reporter news item indicates that Harold Gordon was cast in the film, but his appearance in the finished film has not been confirmed. Although Kramer intended to shoot the entire picture in Israel, due to inadequate facilities there, the interiors were filmed in Hollywood.
Released in United States Spring May 1953
Released in United States Spring May 1953