Cast & Crew
In Vilna, Russia, in 1892, David Mosheles, a devout, but highly excitable Jewish father, presides over a Purim feast, during which he gives jewelry to his three daughters, Etelle, Gitelle and Toibelle. While her sisters bless their father, Toibelle, supported by her sweetheart, Mr. Joffe, a self-proclaimed epicure, renounces the gift saying that nature, not ornament, makes people beautiful. David announces that he will entrust his fortune to Etelle's husband, Abraham Chariff, to divide equally among his daughters and go with his wife, Hanna Lear, to Jerusalem. David then tells Toibelle that Chariff will select a husband for her, but Toibelle calls Chariff false and begs her father not to trust him, which provokes David to order her out of his house. Before Joffe leaves with Toibelle, he calls David "the Jewish King Lear." Two months later, after Chariff refuses to pay Toibelle the stipend promised by Hanna Lear, she goes with Joffe to St. Petersburg, where they study to be doctors. When David learns of Chariff's refusal and realizes that Chariff intends also to end payments to him, he and Hanna Lear return home. Soon Etelle imperially gives orders to her mother and David's clowning servant Shomoi, locks up the food and feeds David radishes and bread. Chariff sells his property to his brother so that he can keep it from David, while Gitelle's husband, Moses Chorid, spends his time drinking. Although Toibelle returns with Joffe, David refuses to forgive her. After Chariff orders Toibelle out and also tells Hanna Lear to get out when she cries, David leaves with Shomoi. Having lost his eyesight, David wanders with Shomoi asking charity. Later, at Joffe and Toibelle's wedding, Joffe refuses Chariff's gift of a gold watch and chain and orders him to leave when Chariff derides Toibelle's dream of building a hospital for the poor. After Gitelle and her husband arrive and the ceremony begins, David and Shomoi enter the house to rest. The family is reconciled and a doctor gives the opinion that David's eyesight could be restored through a slight operation. After Etelle and Chariff report that Chariff's brother has thrown them out, David forgives everyone and says that he will see that their wealth will be restored.
The opening screen credits read "Lear Pictures Inc. presents The Immortal Jacob Gordin's Classic The Yiddish King Lear." Gordin's play was derived from The Tragedy of King Lear by William Shakespeare (26 December 1606). Modern sources state that the Gordin play, as produced by Harry Thomashefsky, was performed throughout 1935 by the Federal Theater Project's Yiddish Drama Unit and that the picture was a filmed version of that production.
A Hollywood Reporter news item dated August 28, 1935 stated that Johnnie Walker planned to produce Jewish King Lear in the East, but the production dates and location have not been located. While written screen credits in English list Rose Rosen as playing a servant, spoken credits in Yiddish and modern sources give Rose Schwartzberg. Modern sources state that the film's New York opening was delayed until February 1936. Other films based on Shakespeare's play include the 1909 Vitagraph one-reeler entitled Shakespeare's Tragedy King Lear; the 1916 Thanhouser Film Corp. five-reeler starring Frederick Warde (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.2354); the 1970 British-Danish-U.S. co-production directed by Peter Brook and starring Paul Scofield; the 1970 Russian Lenfilm production Korol Lir, directed by Grigori Kozintzev and starring Yuri Yarvet; the 1983 British television production starring Sir Laurence Olivier; and the 1985 Japanese production Ran, directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Tatsuya Nakadai.