The Singing Blacksmith
Cast & Crew
Edgar G. Ulmer
The blacksmith Bendet's argument with his wife, Sprintze-Gnesye, is interrupted by the entrance into his shop of Simche with his son Yankel, who at nearly fifteen has lost interest in his studies. Hoping that the blacksmith will take the boy on as an apprentice, Simche agrees to Bendet's terms of three years work with no wages and the right to slap Yankel if he deserves it. After they seal the contract with a drink, Yankel promises to keep his father's wish that he grow up to be a good Jew. The years pass and Bendet, whose wife and son have died, presents Yankel with the smithy, then takes his bottle and goes on his way. Yankel lives a lustful life of singing, drinking heavily and cavorting with women. At matchmaker Chaye-Peshe's meeting place for the young, Rivke, a woman recently married to Raffuel, a sheepish man whom she met through a matchmaker, sees Yankel. When she reminds him that they once danced together at Chaika's Inn, a somewhat disreputable gathering place for travelers, they dance again, but Raffuel interrupts them and insults Yankel. The men are about to fight, when Chaye-Peshe stops them, and Yankel then goes off with another woman. Sometime later, at the dressmaker's shop, where Yankel is a frequent visitor, Rivke flirts with him, and they sing together, but Raffuel arrives and tells her to come home. When Chaye-Peshe encourages Yankel to settle down with a wife, the lothario replies, "Why eat stale bread when I can get fresh rolls." He is soon attracted to a new customer at the dressmaker's, Tamara, an orphan living with a mean aunt, who treats her worse than a servant. Seeing his interest in Tamara, Rivke tells him that Raffuel won't be coming today, but Yankel refuses her offer of company. At night, Yankel walks and sings, thinking of Tamara, and she lies in bed thinking of him. He goes to Chaye-Peshe and, despite her skepticism because of his reputation with women, convinces her to arrange a match for him with Tamara. When Tamara learns that Yankel wants to marry her, she accepts. Reb Aaron, Tamara's uncle, is not happy with the match, but Tamara stops him from insulting Yankel and says that she prefers him to the yeshive bocher , or student, who earlier courted her. She vows to make a man of Yankel. When they are alone, Tamara asks Yankel what made him want to marry her, and he confesses that since he met her, he has become ashamed of himself. He promises that he will become a new man and that she will be his princess. After they marry, Tamara, whose friends have deserted her because they think she married beneath her class, lets Yankel know that she is pregnant, and he is overjoyed. Meanwhile, Rivke tells Raffuel that she no longer can live with him and vows to force him to divorce her. She moves out and asks Yankel's parents if they will rent her a room. They refuse, not trusting their son, and when Rivke tauntingly says they are afraid she will lead Yankel astray, Tamara, taken aback, shows her the room. When Yankel, in defiance of his parents, agrees to give Rivke the room, his parents leave in disgust. Yankel, greatly agitated, says to Tamara that they don't really know him or her. She then asks him if he knows himself and resignedly states that people know so little of themselves. Yankel suspects Tamara is testing him by allowing Rivke to live in the house. After Tamara gives birth to a son, Rivke visits Yankel, who has had a few drinks to celebrate, in his shop. Although Yankel calls her a temptress, she seductively removes her shawl and they kiss. His parents then come and see them drunkenly dancing, and when Tamara enters, she quietly asks him to go, and Yankel leaves in shame. He wanders in despair and finds Bendet, who tells him that Tamara will understand if he says he is sorry and urges him, using himself as an example, not to break up his family and ruin his life. Rivke, meanwhile, tells Tamara about the kiss and vows to fight for Yankel. Tamara is about to leave, but Yankel interrupts them and tells Rivke to go. When Reb Aaron tries to persuade Rivke to go with Raffuel to the country, she agrees and mysteriously says she wants to go where there is a mill and a deep river. Tamara is hurt and Yankel is ashamed, but she comforts him and says that a man who feels shame is not yet lost. They kiss and then look at their son.
Edgar G. Ulmer
William J. Kelley
William J. Miller
The Singing Blacksmith
The Singing Blacksmith (1938), Ulmer's second Yiddish film, is a musical about a blacksmith living in an Eastern European Jewish village, known as a shtetl. Yankel is a drinker and womanizer, who falls in love and vows to change his ways. However, marriage and fatherhood don't keep him from being tempted back to his wayward habits.
Ulmer, a native of Czechoslovakia, who had worked in Vienna and Berlin before coming to the United States, was ethnically, but not religiously, Jewish. When he went to New York as a theatrical designer for Max Reinhardt in 1923, Yiddish theater was in its heyday. Ulmer saw several productions of the Jewish Art Theater during that first trip to the city, and was entranced. More than a decade later, with work slow in Hollywood, Ulmer went back to New York. Eventually, he was selected to direct the film version of one of the most successful Yiddish plays, Green Fields (1937), on the condition that the star of the original stage production, Jacob Ben-Ami, co-direct, since Ulmer didn't speak Yiddish. The film was a success, and the following year, Ulmer was allowed to direct The Singing Blacksmith on his own.
Moyshe Oysher, a leading singer/actor of the Yiddish stage, played the blacksmith. Oysher, the son and grandson of cantors, became a cantor himself, as well as an actor. Oysher's wife, Florence Weiss, also had a role in the film, as did fifteen-year old Herschel Bernardi, who would go on to become a well-known film, television, and theater actor in the 1950's and '60's.
By the time he made The Singing Blacksmith, Ulmer had become well-known for making films on a shoestring, but this film posed a particular challenge. He had to build the entire shtetl, and needed a rural area, without roads or visible utility poles. However, his minuscule budget did not allow for electric generators. So the location had to be near electricity where he could tap into existing power. As Ulmer told Peter Bogdanovich in an interview shortly before his death, he scouted locations with a staff consisting of "two boys and four old Jews," and found some suitable estates in Westchester County, New York, about an hour outside of New York City. But anti-Semitism was rampant in those prewar days, and the German-American Bund, which supported the ambitions of Nazi Germany, was powerful in the region. Ulmer claimed that as soon as the landowners heard that he wanted to make a Jewish film, they refused to allow it. In New Jersey, he finally found an ideal location - a Catholic monastery with extensive grounds. The monks not only agreed, but since all of them were bearded, offered themselves as extras in The Singing Blacksmith, playing bearded Jewish residents of the shtetl. Ulmer also claimed that next to the monastery was "...Camp Ziegfried, the camp of the (Nazi) Bund. And on the left side was a nudist camp! So that nothing should happen to the sets as we built them, the academicians and their pupils stood at night with guns, so the Bund couldn't do anything to our construction." (Bogdanovich noted in his introduction to the interview that Ulmer has been accused of having a tendency to exaggerate.) The Singing Blacksmith was a big hit, and "the entire Catholic clergy of New Jersey arrived in full regalia to see the picture," according to Ulmer.
Ulmer made two more Yiddish films. All four were made quickly, on tiny budgets - Green Fields cost eight thousand dollars, and was shot in five days, with a shooting ratio of less than two to one - and all four made handsome profits. Today, they provide an invaluable record of a vanished theatrical tradition and a look at Jewish life prior to World War II.
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Producer: Ludwig Landy, Roman Rebush
Screenplay: David Pinski
Cinematography: William Miller
Editor: Jack Kemp
Costume Design: Nathan Gaiptman
Music: Jacob Weinberg, Yasha Fishberg, Musical Director
Principal Cast: Moyshe Oysher (Yankel), Miriam Riselle (Tamara), Florence Weiss (Rivke), Anna Appel (Chaya Peshe), Ben-Zri Baratoff (Bendet), Herschel Bernardi (Yankel as a boy).
by Margarita Landazuri
The Singing Blacksmith
The Yiddish title of this film was Yankel der Schmid and its working title was Jacob the Blacksmith. According to Variety, the play was "one of the greatest works in Yiddish dramaturgy" and "served to give David Kessler, the late great Jewish tragedian, one of his outstanding roles." This was the second film of Collective Film Producers, whose film Green Fields was a success the previous year. Variety notes that cast members Ben-Zvi Baratoff, Michael Goldstein and Anna Appel were members of the Yiddish Art Players. According to New York Mirror, the film was shot near Newton, NJ in Sussex County, five miles from Camp Nordland, a Nazi camp, and close to both a nudist camp and the Shrine of the Little Flower at the Monastery of the Benedictine Order. In an interview, director Edgar G. Ulmer stated that while looking for a suitable location in which to build both a Jewish shtetl, or village, for this film and Ukrainian backgrounds for his film Cossacks in Exile (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F2.0820), he found some land and a lake that were ideal, which belonged to the monastery. The monk he dealt with was exceedingly cooperative and offered the use of the monastery's brothers, who had beards, for extras. Ulmer stated that he shot Cossacks in Exile right after this film. Although the film includes songs, no information concerning their identity has been located.