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ON A HEYM
(WITHOUT A HOME)

based on Jacob Gordin
's drama
directed by Aleksander Marten
screenplay by Alter Kaczyne
music by Iso Szajewicz
released in the U.S. on March 21, 1939
black & white
90 minutes

This silent, black-and-white film was shown at the Garden Theatre, Brooklyn, New York, for one night only on Monday, September 21, 1942.
Below is the synopsis of the film, as it appeared in the program for the film, as well as six photographs that were included within this program.

"A powerful dramatic story on a big theme full of gripping situations."

The last Yiddish feature made in Poland before WWII, this 1939 film was based on a 1907 play by the prolific playwright Jacob Gordin. Best known for his folksy didacticism and moralism, Gordin brought the common life of the Lower East Side to the Yiddish stage. With over 100 plays to his credit, Gordin was a formative influence on modern Yiddish theater. He was so popular among theatergoers that reportedly a quarter of a million people attended his funeral in New York City. Without a Home is the story of the separation and hardships faced by immigrants in America at the turn of the century. Its touching portrayal of the hardships of immigrant life enthralled Jewish theater audiences and it became part of the standard Yiddish stage repertoire in America and Poland. The film provides a poignant and dramatic picture of a difficult era, focusing on the bleak prospects for the survival of traditional Jewish family values. When the eldest son of the Rivkin family is drowned, the father leaves his family in Europe to go to America. There he finds only financial hardship and loneliness, struggling to find a way to bring the rest of his family over. The stellar cast includes stage actress Ida Kaminska and the hilarious comedy duo, Dzigan and Shumacher, who provide a healthy measure of comic relief. The title, Without a Home, intended by Gordin to symbolize the uprooted Jewish immigrant family and by extension, the Jewish people, was a particularly poignant one for Jewish film audiences in Poland on the eve of WWII. The film underscored the growing sense among Polish Jews facing the Nazi threat and increasing anti-Semitism in Poland that they too might soon be "without a home."
-- from Anonymous, www.imdb.com

 

Here is a review of the film, which first appeared in the Yiddish Forward (Forverts) newspaper on April 7, 1939. The review was written by B. Levitin:
 

"WITHOUT A HOME," A NEW YIDDISH TALKIE

The film is made from Jacob Gordin's drama with the same name.

-- The main role is played by Ida Kaminska, the daughter of Esther Rachel Kaminska.


To the family of Yiddish talkies is now added another Yiddish film. The name is "Without a Home." The talkie is adapted from Jacob Gordin's famous play with the same name, which thirty years back was strongly popular among the Jewish audiences. The film now will be shown in the Clinton Theatre in Downtown Manhattan, and in a series of movie houses in the Bronx and Brownsville.

The story as it is told in the film is a little different than the contents of Jacob Gordin's drama, and here the change ruins the whole drama. The soul was taken out of it, and what remains is as colorless as an incomprehensible event.

In Gordin's drama it was about an intelligent, Jewish immigrant who quickly Americanized in the time that his wife remained an old-fashioned Jew who could not absorb the spirit of the new life in America. The young man met a singer, who was a lovely and lively girl, and whose moral feelings did not prevent her from taking a husband from his wife. The intelligent young man sees for himself the contrast between the two women. On the one hand, the beautiful American singer flirts with him, which draws him more and more to the stream of American life, and from the other side for him stands his old-fashioned wife, who doesn't want to shake off the spirit of the old country, from which he wanted to flee, where pepper grows. The young man feels unhappy in his own home. This means that he will find happiness with the singer, and he goes away to live with her.

The young man leaves his home, but not alone. He has a young son, whom he takes with him to his lover, because he wants him to be liberated from the influence of his old-fashioned mother. You can see that the mother feels unhappy. She feels that she doesn't deserve such cruelty of fate, to lose both her husband and her child. She takes it strongly to heart, and finally, she is moved by madness and is taken to an insane asylum. The wife has thus lost her home.

But the husband also finds a home with his lover. The first couple of years, when he was still drunk with love to the younger singer, he tried to forget his unhappy wife. He also forgot to pay proper attention to his child, which he took with him to his sweetheart. The young boy becomes acquainted with bad friends and goes down the same [bad] path.

Several years passes. His wife recovers from her attack of insanity, and she gets so much better that she is allowed to go home. When the singer learns that her lover's wife is returning from the hospital, she does not want to be with her lover any more. The husband returns home, but this child was already so much alienated from the mother that he doesn't want to stay. Meanwhile, the young boy becomes implicated in a serious crime and is arrested.

The terrible news of her child's arrest brings on her a new attack of craziness, and she is again taken to the insane asylum. There this is now her place. She has no other home. The bottom line is that the whole family remains without a home. The wife is in the insane asylum, and the son is in prison. And the husband goes around not having a place to bury his head. Jacob Gordin took the theme for his drama from the "Bintel Brief" in the "Forward." The drama thus was founded on an ordinary event in life. It has been staged by several artists, such as Jacob P. Adler, Sara Adler, Peter Graf, and others. It is therefore no wonder that the stage had put on a strong drama that kept the entire audience excited.

The directors of the film, "Without a Home," openly wanted to improve Jacob Gordin's drama, but besides the name, they left little of Gordin's work.

The action begins in the old country. Here lives a poor Jewish family of fishermen. The leader of the fishing friends is Abe Rivkin. A storm comes, and it destroys the boats and their nets. The fishermen remain without an income. Abe Rivkin, a strong, ignorant young man, travels to America. There he finds a job as a dishwasher in a restaurant. In this restaurant there works a young girl with the name of Bessie, who sings Yiddish songs heartily. The songs have a magnetic effect on the yearning heart of the former fisherman. He yearns for the old country, and he still yearns for his wife and child.

Bessie notices that the dishwasher goes around like a mourner, a dreamer. She finds out about his bankruptcy and about his wife and child, and she lends him money so that he can bring his family here. The wife and child, and also his father, come to America. But the young man who so longed for his wife and child seldom comes home. He works all nights in a restaurant. He is enchanted with Bessie's songs.

Bessie is portrayed as a true angel. She does everything so that the dishwasher could go home and live happily with his wife. When he gives her a hint, in a very naive manner, that he is in love with her, she rebukes him without telling him to go to his wife. The young boy lives with his mother and with his grandparents. He works hard selling newspapers, and he does everything possible so that his father could come home. The father comes, but not really. Why not? It is not entirely clear. He has his child, he has the courage of his wife. The beautiful Bessie laughs out loud from his declarations of love. In his ignorant condition he has more in common with his old-fashioned wife than with the beautiful singer. Why doesn't he come home today? About that question, the film does not answer.

And because there is no understandable declaration of the unhappy family life of the former fisherman Abe Rifkin. These types have no life, and they shine around having a purpose and a goal. The only tragic figure, who has a reason to be unhappy, is Abe Rifkin's wife, Bas Sheva. The role is played by Ida Kaminska, the daughter of the deceased actress Esther Rachel Kaminska. She conducts herself in the role very well.

The film ends with this, that the wife leaves the insane asylum, and Abe Rifkin with his son remain without a home.

It is really a shame that the directors spoiled such a good drama. In the last years there were produced several first-class Yiddish films, with which one did not have to contend with American films, both in content, as well as in the art of the acting, as well as the photography of the scenes. Unfortunately one can not say this about the new film. With the directors' changes to the content, they weakened the drama, and the film did not bring out the mother's import within the drama, "Without a Home."

The actors in the film are: Abe Rifkin, played by Alex Marten; The Old Fisherman -- Adam Domb; The Younger Fisherman -- Sh. Dzigan; Bas Sheva Rifkin -- Ida Kaminska; Philip Weiss; Y. Shumacher; Bessie -- Wiera Gran; Lina -- Dora Fakiel; Production, Adolph Mann; Director, A. Marten; Distribution -- United Films Arts Corporation.
 

  The Cast:    
       

Aleksander Marten ... Abram 'Awrejmel' Rivkin
Ida Kaminska ... Bas Sheva
Adam Domb ... Jakub Elchanan Rivkin
Mae Schoenfeld Ben Zuker ... Henoch, the son
Shimon Dzigan ... Motele
Yisroel Shumacher ... Fisele 
Wiera Gran ... Bessie, the singer
Dora Fakiel ... Lina
Muriel Gruber ... Woman

No photo description available.

 

 
 

Here is a film clip from "On a heym (Without a Home)":


 

 

 

 



Advertisement courtesy of "Yiddish Cinematheque."


 

Cast listings courtesy of www.imdb.com.
 

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