Exodus (1960 film)

Exodus is a 1960 American epic film on the founding of the modern State of Israel. It was made by Alpha and Carlyle Productions and distributed by United Artists. Produced and directed by Otto Preminger, the film was based on the 1958 novel Exodus by Leon Uris. The screenplay was written by Dalton Trumbo. The film features an ensemble cast, and its celebrated soundtrack music was written by Ernest Gold.

Theatrical release film poster by Saul Bass
Directed byOtto Preminger
Produced byOtto Preminger
Screenplay byDalton Trumbo
Based onExodus
by Leon Uris
StarringPaul Newman
Eva Marie Saint
Ralph Richardson
Peter Lawford
Sal Mineo
Jill Haworth
Lee J. Cobb
John Derek
Music byErnest Gold
CinematographySam Leavitt
Edited byLouis R. Loeffler
Carlyle-Alpina, S.A.
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
Running time
208 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$4.5 million[3]
Box office$8,700,000 (US/ Canada)[4]
$20 million (worldwide)[3]

Often characterized as a "Zionist epic",[5][6] the film has been identified by many commentators as having been enormously influential in stimulating Zionism and support for Israel in the United States.[7][8][9] While Preminger's film softened the anti-British and anti-Arab sentiment of the novel, the film remains contentious for its depiction of the Arab–Israeli conflict. Preminger openly hired screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who had been on the Hollywood blacklist for over a decade for being a communist and forced to work under assumed names. Together with Spartacus, also written by Trumbo, Exodus is credited with ending the practice of Blacklisting in the motion picture industry.

Plot summary

Nurse Katherine "Kitty" Fremont is an American volunteer at the Karaolos internment camp on Cyprus, where thousands of Jews—Holocaust survivors—are being held by the British, who will not let them go to Palestine. They anxiously wait for the day they will be liberated.

Ari Ben Canaan, a Haganah rebel who had been a decorated captain in the Jewish Brigade of the British Army in the Second World War, obtains a cargo ship and smuggles 611 Jewish inmates out of the camp for an illegal voyage to Mandate Palestine before being discovered by military authorities. When the British learn the refugees are in a ship in the harbor of Famagusta, they blockade the harbor and prevent it from sailing. The refugees stage a hunger strike, during which the camp's doctor dies, and Ari threatens to blow up the ship and the refugees. The British relent and allow the Exodus safe passage.

Kitty has grown very fond of Karen Hansen Clement, a young Danish-Jewish girl searching for the father from whom she was separated during the war. She has taken up the Zionist cause, much to the chagrin of Kitty, who had hoped to adopt Karen and take her to America to begin a new life.

During this time, opposition to the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states is heating up. Karen's young beau Dov Landau proclaims his desire to join the Irgun, a radical Zionist resistance group. Dov goes to an address given him by an Irgun recruiter, only to be caught in a police trap. After he is released, he is contacted by members of the Irgun and is interviewed by Ari Ben Canaan's uncle Akiva, who is the head of the Irgun. Before swearing Dov in, Akiva forces the boy to confess that he was a Sonderkommando in Auschwitz, and that he was sodomized by Nazis. Due to his activities, Akiva has been disowned by Ari's father, Barak, who heads the mainstream Jewish Agency trying to create a Jewish state through political and diplomatic means. He fears that the Irgun will derail his efforts, especially as the British have put a price on Akiva's head.

Karen has gone to live at Gan Dafna, a fictional Jewish kibbutz near Mount Tabor near the moshav where Ari was raised.[10] Kitty and Ari have fallen in love, but Kitty pulls back, feeling like an outsider after meeting Ari's family and learning of his previous love: Dafna, a young woman kidnapped, tortured, and murdered by Arabs, who is the namesake of the Gan Dafna kibbutz.

Leaving Kitty, Ari promises to help find Karen's father. Dr. Clement is eventually found in a mental hospital in Jerusalem. He is in a dissociative state, withdrawn to a degree that borders on the vegetative. Because of the horrors he experienced in a concentration camp, he has completely disconnected from the outside world. He does not recognize Karen, who is devastated.

When the Irgun bombs the King David Hotel in an act of terrorism resulting in dozens of fatalities, Akiva is arrested, imprisoned in Acre fortress, and sentenced to hang. Seeking to save Akiva's life, as well as to free the Haganah and Irgun fighters imprisoned by the British, Ari organizes an escape plan for the prisoners. Dov, who eluded the soldiers who captured Akiva, turns himself in so he can use his knowledge of explosives to facilitate the Acre Prison break.

All goes according to plan. Hundreds of prisoners, including Akiva, escape from the prison. Akiva is mortally wounded by British soldiers while evading a roadblock set up to catch the escapees. Ari is also badly wounded. He makes his way to Gan Dafna, where Dr. Lieberman, head of the village, removes a bullet from his right lung. With the British on Ari's trail, he is taken to Abu Yesha, an Arab village near Gan Dafna, where his lifelong friend, Taha, is the mukhtar. Kitty goes with him and provides postoperative treatment that saves his life. The romance between Ari and Kitty is rekindled as a result. Meanwhile, Dr. Lieberman is arrested by the British when they learn the camp has stored illegal weapons within the children's village.

An independent Israel is now in plain view, but Arab nationals commanded by Mohammad Amin al-Husayni, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, plot to attack Gan Dafna and massacre the Jews, including the children. Ari receives prior warning of this attack from Taha, even as Taha reluctantly decides he must join the Grand Mufti in fighting the establishment of Israel. Ben Canaan spirits the younger children to safety in a nighttime evacuation as a small detachment of Palmach troops arrives to reinforce the defenses of Gan Dafna.

Karen, ecstatic over the prospect of the new nation, finds Dov (who was on patrol outside Gan Dafna) and proclaims her love for him. Dov assures her that they will marry as soon as the war is over. As Karen returns to Gan Dafna, she is ambushed and murdered by a gang of Arab thugs. Dov discovers her lifeless body the following morning.

The same day, the body of Taha is found hanging in his village, killed by ex-Nazis working for the Grand Mufti. A Star of David is carved on his body. A swastika and a sign saying "Jude" is written on the walls of the village, indicating the Arabs' hatred of the Jews.

Karen and Taha are buried together in one grave. At the burial ceremony, Ari swears on their bodies that someday, Jews and Arabs will live together and share the land in peace; not only in death, but also in life. While the others each add a shovelful of dirt to the grave, Dov angrily steps on the shovel and leaves, refusing to accept Karen's death. The movie ends with Ari, Kitty, Dov, and a Palmach contingent boarding trucks, heading off to battle.



Exodus was filmed on location in Israel and Cyprus. However, relations between the director and actors were difficult, particularly with the male lead, Paul Newman.[11] After Newman's suggested changes to the script were rejected by Preminger, and the actor given a dressing down for making the suggestions, Newman hid a mannequin on a high balcony on which he was due to play out a fight scene. At the end of the scene, Newman pretended to stumble, and threw the mannequin over the balcony. Not realising this was a practical joke, Preminger collapsed and required medical attention. At other times, Preminger and Newman were barely on speaking terms.[12]

Although filming key elements of Exodus on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus was authentic, as it was the location of the British internment camps for Jewish refugees trying to reach Palestine, it was difficult, as the island was in the middle of a Greek insurgency against British rule, led by the Greek nationalist organisation EOKA. EOKA was considered a terrorist organisation by the British authorities in Cyprus, and they were opposed to the filming of a movie on the island that seemed to combine anti-British sentiments with a storyline that appeared to show terrorist action could be successful. As a result, the British military refused to help Preminger with the logistical side of filming. The only assistance given by the British authorities was the placing of an armed guard on the large number of decommissioned rifles used as props in the film, to prevent them falling into the hands of EOKA and being recommissioned.[13]


Bosley Crowther of The New York Times described the film as a "dazzling, eye-filling, nerve-tingling display of a wide variety of individual and mass reactions to awesome challenges and, in some of its sharpest personal details, a fine reflection of experience that rips the heart." The film's "principal weakness," Crowther wrote, "is that it has so much churning around in it that no deep or solid stream of interest evolves—save a vague rooting interest in the survival of all the nice people involved."[1] Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times described the film as "a kaleidoscopic yet memorable impression of highlights from the long-time best seller by Leon Uris," with a "generally excellent" screenplay by Trumbo.[14] Variety declared, "There is room to criticize 'Exodus'—its length might be shortened to advantage; perhaps Preminger tried to crowd too much incident from the book for dramatic clarity, and some individual scenes could be sharpened through tighter editing. But the good outweighs the shortcomings. Preminger can take pride in having brought to the screen a Twentieth Century birth of a nation."[15] Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post stated that the film "has this vitality of the immediate and will be of incalculable influence in reaching those unfamiliar with the background of Israel ... It is safe to say that in several years, when this film will have played much of the world, its influence will have become critical."[16] The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote, "Exodus lacks the historical imagination to cope with its theme on one level, the human awareness to dramatise it on the other. At the end of three and a half hours, its approach remains more exhausting than exhaustive. And the determination to be fair to all sides—almost the only character the script is prepared to dislike is the Nazi leader of the Arab terrorists—produces some strange consequences."[17] Roger Angell of The New Yorker wrote, "Such a bubbling pot of intrigue, violence, and hatred would almost seem to guarantee a lively film, but Mr. Preminger has approached his task with a painstaking reverence that would have been more suitable if he had been filming the original work of this title. He permits nearly everyone in his large cast to state his ideological and political convictions before and after each new turn of events, and the result is an awesome talkfest that is all too rarely interrupted by the popping of rifles."[18]

The film holds a score of 64% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 14 reviews.[19]

Awards and honors

Academy Awards

Composer Ernest Gold won the Academy Award for Best Original Score at the 1960 Oscars.

The film was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Sal Mineo), and for Best Cinematography (Sam Leavitt).

Golden Globe

Sal Mineo won the Best Supporting Actor Award

Grammy Award

Ernest Gold won Best Soundtrack Album and Song of the Year at the Grammy Awards of 1961 for the soundtrack and theme to Exodus, respectively. It is the only instrumental song ever to receive that award to date.

Cannes Film Festival

The film was screened at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival, but was not entered into the competition for the Golden Palm.[20]

Other honors

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


The main theme from the film has been widely remixed and covered by many artists. A version by Ferrante & Teicher made number 2 on the Billboard Singles Chart. Another version was recorded by jazz saxophonist Eddie Harris. Other versions were recorded by Mantovani, Grant Green, Manny Albam, Andy Williams, Peter Nero, Connie Francis, Quincy Jones, the 1960s British instrumental band the Eagles, and the Duprees, who sang the theme with lyrics written by Pat Boone. Other artists include gospel pianist Anthony Burger (in the Gaither Vocal Band's "I Do Believe"), singer Edith Piaf (who sang French lyrics), and classical pianist Maksim Mrvica. Davy Graham reinvented the main theme on his 1963 album The Guitar Player. Trey Spruance of the Secret Chiefs 3 re-scored the theme for "surf band and orchestra" on the album 2004 Book of Horizons. Howard Stern uses it for comedic effect when discussing aspects of Jewish life. A portion of the theme was covered live by '70s Southern Rock band Black Oak Arkansas, whose 3 lead guitarists used eBows to play the theme in harmony, embedded into a cover of the Buddy Holly song "Not Fade Away".[23]

Different samples of the Exodus theme have been used in several hip-hop songs, including Ice-T's song "Ice's Exodus" from the album The Seventh Deadly Sin, Nas's song "You're Da Man" from the album Stillmatic, and T.I.'s song "Bankhead" from the album King. A portion of the main title was included in a montage arranged by composer John Williams and performed at the 2002 Academy Awards ceremony. The artist Nina Paley used the entire theme song to satirical effect in her animated short, titled after the lyrics, "This Land is Mine" (2012), which depicts thousands of years of violent struggles to control the Holy Land.[24] Although not in an official film soundtrack, a Chopin Nocturne was played while General Sutherland and Kitty Fremont discussed the future of Jews and Palestine.[25]

See also


  1. Crowther, Bosley (December 16, 1960). Screen: A Long 'Exodus'". The New York Times. 44.
  2. "Exodus - Details". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  3. Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p. 133
  4. "All-time top film grossers", Variety January 8, 1964 p. 37. Please note this figure is rentals accruing to film distributors, not total money earned at the box office..
  5. Cinema and the Shoah: an art confronts the tragedy of the twentieth century. Jean-Michel Frodon, Anna Harrison. page 175
  6. Envisioning Israel: the changing ideals and images of North American Jews. Allôn Gal. page 297
  7. Said, Edward. Propaganda and War.
  8. Omer Bartov. The "Jew" in cinema. page 189
  9. Roland Boer. Political Myth: On the Use and Abuse of Biblical Themes. 2009, page 152. See also Weissbrod 1989
  10. An actual kibbutz named Dafna is located near the present Lebanese border.
  11. Foster Hirsch, Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King (New York: Knopf, 2007)
  12. A. E. Hotchner, Paul and Me: 53 Years of Adventures and Misadventures with Paul Newman (London: Simon & Schuster, 2014)
  13. Tony Shaw, Cinematic Terror: A Global History of Terrorism on Film (London: Bloomsbury, 2014) p. 67
  14. Scheuer, Philip K. (December 22, 1960). "'Exodus' Stirring But Uneven Epic". Los Angeles Times. Part III, p. 9.
  15. "Film Reviews: Exodus". Variety. December 14, 1960. 6.
  16. Coe, Richard L. (March 5, 1961). "Fact Helps Fiction On Current Screen". The Washington Post. G1.
  17. "Exodus". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 28 (329): 75. June 1961.
  18. Angell, Roger (December 17, 1960). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. 136.
  19. "Exodus". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  20. "Festival de Cannes: Exodus". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved February 22, 2009.
  21. "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 14, 2016.
  22. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 14, 2016.
  23. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkJKP3KQ93c#t=329
  24. Paley, Nina. "This Land is Mine". Retrieved October 4, 2012.
  25. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0053804/soundtrack
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