Green Fields (1937):
(Grine Felder)

"Lyricism" is usually another ideal to shrivel up in the shadows of Edgar G. Ulmer's despairing universe, yet this adaptation of Peretz Hirschbein's Yiddish stage chestnut is marinated in an open-air sunshine that exists only (if at all) in fragments in the director's other work. The narrative is a contemporary transplantation of the wandering Jew plunging ahead equipped only with a quote from the Torah ("A man without land is not a man") -- a pensive young scholar (Michael Goldstein) trades synagogue for countryside in search of "true Jews," finding shelter and love (with barefoot spunkster Helen Beverley) with a peasant clan. Virtually a catalogue of Yiddish tradition staples (sparring bearded patriarchs, kvetching mothers, skittery maidens), the story paints an idyll of popular regeneration, the young scholar's ascetic piety blending into the family's hands-in-the-dirt practicality for a culminating feeling of cultural wholeness. Sharing directing credit with Yiddish theatre doyen Jacob Ben-Ami, Ulmer's fragile ethnic pastoral is no less personal for being so uncharacteristically light -- the outsider, cultural as well as individual, has always held a particular interest to the émigré artist, and the film is the closest Ulmer's blackish vision ever came to utopian harmony. (In his second, more complex Yiddish picture, The Light Ahead, the same traditions treasured here are revealed to carry the germs of a literally crippling oppression.) With Isidore Cashier, Anna Appel, Leo Noimi, Dena Drute, Max Vodnoy, Saul Levine, and a young Herschell Bernardi. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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