Welcome to today’s show, Cast a Giant Shadow (1966), my name is John. As always you can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follow the links to social media in the podcast show notes. You can also go to classicmovierev.com to read notes, bios, and other random movie thoughts. Remember this show is completely free and independent. All I ask is that you jump over to iTunes and give me a review.
Today’s movie is Cast a Giant Shadow (1966). I literally love this movie because it has the two things I want from all of the movies I watch: 1) The characters face overwhelming odds and 2) they don’t sit around crying and go to work. This is a super fictionalized version of the formation of the State of Israel. It is a lot of fun to watch and it has a lot of star power. Many show veterans are in this movie so let’s get going.
So, let’ jump right into the actors, many of whom of show veterans.
Yul Brynner played Asher Gonen based on the eye-patched wearing Moshe Dayan. Brynner was covered in Episode 68 – The Buccaneer (1958).
James Donald played Israeli Maj. Safir. Donald was covered in Episode 18 – The Vikings (1958).
Luther Adler played Jacob Zion as he channeled David Ben-Gurion with the teased-out hair. Adler was covered in Episode 48 – D.O.A. (1950) and remember that this former Yiddish actor played Hitler three times as well as the head of the Jewish state.
Senta Berger played Magda Simon, a sexually liberated fighter, basically her only American character. Berger was first covered in Episode 105 – The Glory Guys (1965).
Frank Sinatra played pilot Vince Talmadge in a very small part. Sinatra was covered in Episode 112 – From Here to Eternity (1953).
Angie Dickinson played Emma Marcus, the lonely wife of Col. Marcus. Dickinson was born in North Dakota in 1931. When Angie was 11 her family moved to California. After High School, Angie won some beauty contest and went to college. After college, she worked in an airplane factory until 1953, when she placed second in the local Miss. America contest. Later that year, she won an NBC beauty contest and started appearing on variety shows. She started doing bit parts in films for MGM in 1954.
Her first big movie break came in Rio Bravo (1959) with Dean Martin and John Wayne, with Dickinson played the role of Feathers. Of course, this is the early version of El Dorado (1967). Angie played the wife in Ocean’s 11 (1960) that starred the Rat Pack and it did not have Matt Damon. She had a small role as a military wife in Cast a Giant Shadow (1966). Angie had the title role in the rollicking adventure film Big Bad Mama (1974). That same year she starred in a television show that would make her famous, “Police Woman” 1974-1978 where she played the smoking hot Pepper Anderson.
Angie continued her film work with movies like Dressed to Kill (1980) co-starring, Michael Caine. She reprised her role Wilma in Big Bad Mama (1987). As she aged, Dickinson continued to make movies playing mothers and grandmothers in films like Duets (2000) and Pay it Forward (2000). She even had a nice cameo in Ocean’s Eleven (2001). Dickenson is still alive but is no longer working.
Topol played Bedouin Abou Ibn Kader. Topol was born in Tel Aviv in 1935. Topol is only known for a few movies, but he is very recognizable. Topol was the main character in Fiddler on the Roof (1971), a smuggler in the Bond film For Your Eyes Only (1981), and a mad scientist in Flash Gordon (1980). Topol is still living in Israel.
This is a super fictionalized account of the birth of the nation of Israel following World War II and one of the men that helped, Colonel David “Mickey” Marcus, who commanded part of the IDF during the Arab-Israeli War of 1948.
The credits from the film role and show scenes from West Point and World War II. The movie begins in New York in 1947. Now released from active duty and in the Army Reserve, lawyer David ‘Mickey’ Marcus (Kirk Douglas) is followed by a Hagenah (Israeli CIA type) agent, Major Safir (James Donald). Safir makes contact with Mickey inside Macy’s. He says that when Israel declares independence they will be attacked by 6 Arab nations. They ask Mickey to come as their military advisor. Safir mentions that Mickey is a Jew and should want to help.
When Mickey gets home, he tells his wife Emma Marcus (Angie Dickinson) that he is leaving for Palestine. She feels it’s a fool mission and he will die. She flashes back to World War II when he was leaving for D-Day and the invasion of Europe. Colonel Marcus approaches a General (John Wayne) about getting to France. The General refuses to let Mickey go on the initial landing. Undeterred, Mickey joins a stick of paratroopers that were dropped the night before the invasion.
When the General lands, he finds Mickey on the ground with the 101st Airborne Division. The General is pissed. A Nazi sniper almost gets Mickey and the General. The General has Mickey arrested.
They flashback to current times. Emma mocks Mickey and says they should get a divorce. She doesn’t want him to go but she knows she can’t keep him from the war. She asks for a baby. Although she is smoking they start the process.
Mickey goes to The Pentagon and meets with the General. They refuse to allow him to go as an Army officer. The General orders him not to go and Mickey goes as a civilian under the name Michael Stone. He arrives in Palestine in February with independence set for May.
Travelling under a fake name, with Major Safir by his side, Mickey is meet at the British customs desk by his “relative” Magda Simon (Senta Berger) who kisses him warmly. She also works for the Hagenah. As he leaves, the customs officer calls him by his true name and rank. Magda says her husband is an officer in Palmach, the fighting force of the Haganah, but it is okay if Mickey tries to sleep with her.
Young Israelis get on the bus and begin assembling machine guns. They drop iron plates over the windows and are attacked by Arabs when they pass through a town. Back at the command center Asher Gonen (Yul Brynner) shows that Israel is outnumbered 60 to 1 for the coming fight. Asher doesn’t like Mickey because he was primarily a staff officer and lacks military command time. Mickey does a good job explaining that organization wins wars and that is what he is good at.
They are interrupted by news that the British are moving to intercept the refugee ship, the Ascalon. Mickey goes to help. The ship is loaded with refugees from Europe and survivors of the Holocaust. The British blockade the beach with the statement that they are not Gestapo but laws must be followed. A huge crowd of people runs on the beach to mix with the immigrants. They then decide to exchange clothes. This was most likely done so Senta Berger could be shown in her underwear. The British commander orders a volley of rifle fire over the refuges heads. They stand firm. He does a countdown to 10 but doesn’t order his men to fire. The Lt. says I guess now we find out if we’re bloody Nazis. The British allow the people to pass. Asher tells Mickey that the refugees are his army.
Mickey and Magda go on a mission and she complains of bad sex with her husband. Mickey flashes back to helping liberate and cares for the first concentration camp they liberate. He takes the General to see the camp and the horrors. When the General sees the camp, he gives Mickey everything he needs from the 3rd Division, Patton’s instead of from the 101st like the patches they are wearing.
They meet up with Magda’s husband and meet a young military commander Ram. Ram has a rather large chip. They are taken to the Palmach training camp which is filled with young enthusiastic people. Soldiers dressed as Arabs make it into the camp.
An Arab chieftain Bedouin Abou Ibn Kader (Topol) wants to meet Mickey about fighting on the Israeli side. Kader knows Ram from when he was a child. Mickey makes the case against the Hussein family. Kader tells Ram where a supply camp that can be raided is located. Against his better judgment, Mickey convinces Ram to attack and destroy the supplies.
They put together a raid and Mickey goes along. The commandos make it through the wire but Magda’s husband is killed. Using dynamite and Molotov cocktails, the raid is successful. Mickey saves Ram’s life and at the same time sees what the determined army can accomplish. Magda finds out that her husband is dead.
Mickey meets with Jacob Zion (Luther Adler) minister of Defense for Israel who is modeled after David Ben-Gurion. Mickey tells them they need to unify command. He also tells them that he served under Patton in World War II, but the General wears a 101st Airborne patch. Mickey writes training and operational manuals and works as an advisor when he wants full command.
Back in America, Emma’s mother is giving her the business about her husband running around with Magda. Emma suddenly has a miscarriage.
Mickey joins a convey to Jerusalem. The convoy is shelled by Arab cannons and some trucks are lost. Magda’s truck is temporarily stopped by shell fire. After she loses her driver, she tries to catch-up with the convoy. When her truck is trapped Mickey goes back for her. He shouts her name while she has a break down in the truck. In the weakest part of the movie, the Arab attackers mock her by calling her name over and over. Mickey makes it back and gets the truck going. Magda completely breaks down.
Finding out about the miscarriage and frustrated by the lack of attention to his ideas, Mickey leaves for New York. Jacob Zion wants him to intercede on behalf of Israel. When Mickey gets home they are having a huge party for him. He gets a letter from the British embassy. He goes to the embassy and they give him a medal. The British ambassador asks Mickey to have the Israelis delay their independence and let the British stay. The General is at the embassy and says the US will stand with the Arab’s because they have the oil. He then shames Mickey for coming back.
Back in Israel, a plane, with arms secretly lands. The pilot is Vince Talmadge (Frank Sinatra) and Mickey on board as well. They have accepted all of Mickey’s recommendations. The government goes ahead with independence even though they know they will be attacked. They receive word that the United States has recognized them officially. The General is back in DC monitoring the events.
Mickey goes to see Magda and they have a reunion as the crowds celebrate. The air raid sirens go off and the attack begins. Mickey goes to the command center with Asher, Ram, Safir, and Zion. Mickey convinces them to attack and not fight a defensive war. They take anti-aircraft guns and mount them vertically on half-tracks to attack the Egyptian tanks pouring out of the Sinai. Zion insists they defend Jerusalem.
The jeeps and half-tracks hit the tanks just before they arrive at a kibbutz. The jeeps cut down the infantry and the half-tracks work against the tanks. They take a few loses as Talmadge flies aircover in a Piper Cub and drops seltzer bombs to make noise and cause confusion. Talmadge is shot out of the sky by an enemy airplane.
Zion calls Mickey back and lets him know that the Arabs have occupied the town of Latrun and Jerusalem is cut-off. When the UN ceasefire goes into effect on June 11th the lines will be frozen and the town will be starved out. They give Mickey overall command of all forces and call him Aluf (General).
The situation is so bad that they are sending men directly from the refugee ships into battle. Asher and Ram make a battle plan and Mickey tells him they would have all gotten an “A” at West Point.
They attempt a four-part attack on the fort over Latrun. The commanders are given a stripe of cloth for a rank badge. Of course, they don’t have any for Mickey. The attack trucks make it into the compound and are using flamethrowers to great effect. However, some of the other attacks are forced back and trucks are cut off. The Arabs use flamethrowers to destroy the truck. Although the attack failed Mickey sees hope because of the bravery of the fighter. Mickey finally uses the term “we” when talking about the Jews.
Abou Ibn Kader comes in and snarkily gives advice on the terrain. He shows them a route that they can move supplies through. Engineer James MacAfee (Gordon Jackson) steps up and explains how they will need switchbacks. Mickey gives him a week to build the road using older refugees. The workers are occasionally under attack but they keep on working.
Mickey gets word from his wife that she will give him a divorce.
UN inspectors show up to inspect the road. Mickey jumps in one of the trucks and completes the drive marking the road as open. The rest of the convoy moves along to Jerusalem. Mickey talks to a guard in the garden in English because he doesn’t speak Hebrew. That guard is replaced by a young nervous guard.
Mickey meets Magda in the garden and tells her that he is going back to his wife and America. He kisses Magda goodbye and heads back inside. When he approaches the guard, he thinks it’s the same one as before. The guard, not understanding English, shoots and kills Mickey.
They take his body back down the road in a wooden coffin and Ram pins a strip of rank on the side.
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Beware the moors