Main UWE Website
about   •   Michael Klinger   •   catalogue   •   interviews   •   documents   •   images   •   Publications   •   conference / events   •   links   •   contact   •   home


Andrew Spicer, University of the West of England: ‘Producing the Goods: Michael Klinger, Britain’s Forgotten Jewish Mogul’
Paper Given at Davar (The Jewish Institute in Bristol and the South West), Gloucester Road, Bristol, 8 March 2011

- Thanks to Joav on behalf of Davar for the opportunity to talk about
‘The Jewish Producer: Michael Klinger and Rachel’s Man’ which I’ve been looking forward to eagerly but with a certain trepidation because of the subject matter. I need to set the talk briefly into its context which is that it forms part of my current research project. Two year AHRC-funded Research Grant of c. £195,000 that started on 1 Feb. 2010 and will finish on 31 Jan. 2012. So we’re just over mid-way, with a conference on the producer in Bristol in April (sheet). My Research Associate, Dr Anthony McKenna, has now completed the catalogue that will go public at the end of this month. We will add to this gradually with interviews and selected documents so that it becomes not just a catalogue but a scholarly resource. Although, as I say on the summary, it contains rich material - extensive correspondence, production files, contracts, distribution rights, and company profit and loss accounts, the Klinger Papers are incomplete. There is nothing on Klinger’s earlier career, including his two films with Roman Polanski. No files on Get Carter, and gross imbalances: comprehensive material on some films, almost nothing on others. Michael Klinger’s son, Tony has told me, on several occasions, that he rescued the material from a bonfire that his mother had started after his father’s death in 1989 that had been burning for two days before he arrived. But why did Mrs Klinger start with the Get Carter files?! Be that as it may, what we have is a substantial resource, not only to catalogue but to interpret, moving towards the authoritative account of Michael Klinger’s career to be published by I.B. Tauris in the ‘Cinema and Society’ series. This study of Klinger is part of a larger project on the role of the film producer in British cinema that I explored previously through my work on Sydney Box (MUP, 2006), which, I’m happy to say is due out in paperback in April, so retailing for £15.00 instead of £47.50!

-Thus today’s talk is very much, as you’ll appreciate, work-in-progress and is not intended to be comprehensive, but to raise some issues and, hopefully, to arouse interest in this important but neglected figure and to stimulate discussion. I’ll begin with a very brief overview of Michael Klinger’s career, before focusing on one particular aspect: Klinger as a Jewish producer. I do so for 3 reasons:

Michael Klinger’s son, Tony, who has kindly loaned his father’s papers to UWE, stressed that the key to understanding his father was his Jewishness
I want to demonstrate the importance of the archive in being able to get at issues that would otherwise be invisible or lost; ones that cannot be derived from analysing Rachel’s Man (1976), however attentive one might be.
I wish to raise some more general issues about the Jewish entrepreneur in the British entertainment industries which have not, to my knowledge, been broached before

An alternative focus would have been the Jewish war epic that never was,
Green Beach, that Michael Klinger failed to produce over a 20 year period (1967-87). But I’ve written about this elsewhere - in the New Review of Film and Television Studies and as this was an unproduced film - there’s no visual material, always fatal for a talk, I’ve found. I have, as you’ll see, an abundance of visual material for Rachel’s Man, a selection of brief extracts from the film and also some high-definition slides made from production stills from the film that are in the archive.

So: who was Michael Klinger. As you can see from the first slide he’s a showman, a film producer not aversed to blowing his own trumpet.
Klinger News was designed for the trade: to tell distributors, agents and potential investors just what a dynamic and resourceful chap he was. About 4 editions came out, as far as I can tell, when Klinger was at the height of his powers in the mid-1970s. He’d just made the highly profitable Gold and was looking to promote himself as the leading British independent producer.

As Michael Klinger is a ‘lost’ figure, I’ll sketch out his career very briefly. The son of Polish Jewish immigrants who had settled in London’s West End, Klinger’s entry into the film industry came via his ownership of two Soho strip clubs, the
Nell Gwynn and the Gargoyle - that were used for promotional events such as the Miss Cinema competition and by film impresarios such as James Carreras - and through an alliance with a fellow Jewish entrepreneur Tony Tenser. In October 1960 they set up Compton Films which owned the Compton Cinema Club, that showed, to anyone over twenty-one, nudist and other uncertificated, often foreign, films, Compton Film Distributors and Compton-Tekli productions. The initial fare was low-brow sexploitation and genre films but the two Roman Polanski films, Repulsion (1965) and Cul-de-sac (1966), fired Klinger’s cultural ambitions and led to the break-up of the partnership in October 1966. When Klinger set up a new company, Avton Films, he continued to promote young, talented but unproven directors capable of making fresh and challenging features: Peter Collinson’s absurdist/surrealist thriller The Penthouse (1967); Alastair Reid’s Baby Love (1968), another film that focused on a sexually precocious young female, but with an ambitious narrative style that included flashbacks and nightmare sequences.

The key to Klinger’s success in the 1970's was his ability to tap into various markets: he continued to make low-budget sexploitation films with the
“Confessions” series (Window Cleaner/Pop Performer/Driving Instructor/Holiday Camp, 1974-78) for which he acted as executive producer; medium budget thrillers including Mike Hodges’s ambitious and brutal thriller Get Carter (1971) and the parodic follow-up, Hodges’ Pulp (1972) - But his main energies were big-budget action-adventure films - Gold (1974) and Shout at the Devil (1976) - aimed at the international market, which Klinger saw as the route to survival for the British film industry. However, he could no longer rely, as he had done for Get Carter and Pulp, on American finance and had to go to South African financiers for money before trying to negotiate a distribution deal. It is within this precarious, fraught context that Rachel’s Man has its idiosyncratic place.

Section 2: Rachel’s Man (1976)
Rachel’s Man is a curiosity, a Biblical love story filmed in Israel shortly after the Yom Kippur war in 1973, starring Mickey Rooney! Why on earth is Klinger, at the most commercially successful point in his career, making such a film?! It doesn’t seem to fit my conceptual framework of someone adroitly constructing a varied portfolio of projects to sustain a career in turbulent times. But oddities, of course, are important precisely because they throw into relief a range of issues that otherwise remain implicit or hidden, in this case Klinger’s Jewishness. There is extensive material on the film in the archive, but I’ve also recently completed an interview with the film’s director Moshe Mizrahi, now living in Tel Aviv, no longer making movies, but working part-time at the University there. Unfortunately, my research budget wouldn’t stretch to a flight out, so the interview was by telephone and e-mail. I also interviewed Tony Klinger who was production manager. But first a taste of the film.

(a clip of the film is shown to the talk's audience)

That was a brief look at what is a ‘lost’ film, not even mentioned in books on Biblical films or in studies of Israeli cinema. You can obtain it on DVD, but that version has been cut down from 115 to 92 minutes; the longer version only exists on a deleted VHS tape that I managed to get on e-bay. What has been excised, unsurprisingly perhaps, is several of the slower moving and more lyrical moments, which compromises the artistry of the film and also gives less emphasis to Rachel’s complex feelings of resentment and bitterness.

The first thing to say is that this is an Israeli film and was designed partly to support the nascent Israeli film industry and the precarious Israeli state. Klinger knew that he could obtain finance from the Israeli Film Center if the film qualified: an original script, an Israeli writer, and shot in Israel. It was also a project in which he could unite a Zionist sentiment and an appeal to the wealthy South African Jewish businessmen who had funded Gold. It’s worth mentioning that Klinger never obtained any production finance from British sources, so in this sense,
Rachel’s Man is, in fact, typical. Klinger wrote to his South African ‘associates’ that Rachel’s Man was an ‘important project’ whose production will ‘advance our national film industry and the development of the cinematic art in Israel ... a terrific vehicle for helping Israel and God knows she needs all the help she can get’. Klinger is hustling, as ever, but not in order to make a quick profit, rather, as he sees it, fulfilling a diasporic duty to the Jewish homeland.

Rachel’s Man also fits Klinger’s consistent commitment to up and coming directors. Klinger was impressed by Mizrahi’s previous films: The House on Chelouche Street (1972) set against the tensions during the period of the British mandate, an autobiographical tale of the conflicting pressures on a young man growing up, including a tender love story between him and an older, educated and independent woman; Daughters, Daughters (1973), a satire of male chauvinism about a prosperous man with eight daughters, the youngest of whom is independent and determined to go her own way; and I Love You Rosa (1974) that explores the results of the legal requirement that a widow must marry her husband's brother. He was also impressed by the awards they’d garnered: two Oscar nominations and two official entries at Cannes. He wanted to work with Israel’s best and most high profile director.

From the material in the archive - which documents the process of making the film rather than its genesis - I had rather assumed that the choice of topic, a Biblical love story, was Mizrahi’s. I think I was guilty of slipping into the auteur-director convention:
Rachel’s Man was Mizrahi’s ‘vision’. However, what became crystal clear from the interview with Mizrahi was that the conception was entirely Klinger’s: ‘He thought that I had a special talent to tell unusual love stories’, Mizrahi recalled and that Klinger had urged Mizrahi to tackle the oldest and greatest love story, the story of Jacob and Rachel. Mizrahi recollected his surprise at this ‘romantic side’ to Klinger, and also that Klinger was prepared to pursue this conception over two years from their first meeting at Cannes in March 1972 through to the completion of the screenplay in spring 1974. Klinger summarily rejected Mizrahi’s thriller, Quietus, a completed screenplay and a much more obviously box-office proposition. However, Klinger, as befitted his status and self-conception, wanted an international production so filming was to be in English with a British principal crew including John Mitchell as sound recordist and Ousama Rawi as cinematographer, both of whom had worked on Gold. Mizrahi was responsible for assembling the supporting actors and the general crew members, Klinger the international stars: Leonard Whiting (Zeffirelli’s Romeo) as Jacob; Rita Tushingham as Leah, Rachel’s sister, and Mickey Rooney as Laban - Rooney had starred in Pulp (1972). Rachel was to be played by the Israeli actress Michal Bat-Adam, Mizrahi’s partner, who had taken the lead role in his three previous films.

Scripting and Production
However, although Mizrahi falls in with Klinger’s wishes, two things start to destabilise the production. The first is that there appears to have been little discussion of the script. Mizrahi wrote, initially at least, in French and Klinger is preoccupied first with post-production work on
Gold and then with the organisation of his largest and most expensive film, Shout at the Devil. These projects demanded most of his attention and occasioned extended periods in Africa.

We do have a script that has some annotations and several deletions, but although it’s undated, my impression is that this is a final script that Klinger is then trying, slightly desperately, to shape. So he’s deleting and making comments on using cuts rather than inserts, a quick fix, but there is no sense that he is engaged in a dialogue with Mizrahi and his co-writer
Rachel Fabien in order for them to re-write. It was too late in the day. Thus, although the idea is Klinger’s, the conception and execution becomes, indisputably, Mizrahi’s. As his thinking developed, Mizrahi had decided that he did not want to make a straightforward adaptation of the Biblical story, but to reinterpret it. As he recalled in interview:
    I said to myself: why couldn’t I replace the Jacob and Rachel story in the context of the underlying mythological content that exists in Genesis. I remembered Robert Graves’s postulation in
    The White Goddess
    that the name 'Israel', that was given to Jacob after his fight with the angel at the crossing of the Yabbok River, came from 'Ish Rahel', the Hebrew words for 'Rachel's Man'.
    A practice, common to the old matriarchal religions of the Middle East, was to give a new name to the man who marries the woman representing the Goddess. At that moment I had a 'poetic'
    title for the story. I became convinced that I could then try to film not only the love story but build a new narrative and an original way to treat the Genesis story. I wanted to give a new meaning
    to the story and avoid the monotheistic narrative that after all evolved much later with Moses, who founded what was to be the Jewish religion as we know it today.
Thus part of Mizrahi’s conception was to eschew the formulaic action-epic Hollywood treatment of the Bible The Ten Commandments or Moses the Lawgiver, a television mini-series starring Burt Lancaster released just before Rachel’s Man, with its emphasis on patrilineal masculine heroism. In Hollywood’s conventional gender politics, women are temptresses: Samson and Delilah, David and Bathsheba. Mizrahi’s feminist conception, deeply congruent with his earlier films, also necessitated a particular visual style - as we saw - avoiding the ‘desert cliché of the Biblical films’, by representing ‘a new visual conception more in accord to [sic] a vision of a “Land of milk and honey” ... I needed virgin landscapes without agriculture, modern buildings, or electrical pylons ... I needed mountains, trees, running waters, and springs. I chose to look for them in the Golan Heights and Upper Galilee.’

Thus there are two problems here. The first is the mismatch between Mizrahi’s overtly intellectual, art house conception of the film which is at odds with its internationalism and, to a degree with Klinger’s romantic love story. This is not, I hasten to add, a question of the artistic director versus the Philistine producer. Klinger, as mentioned, had sought out Mizrahi as a talented director who might, like Polanski, win him an award at Cannes or Berlin. As Tony Klinger remarked in interview, his father loved the ‘café society’ that the cosmopolitan Mizrahi, Egyptian-born and living in Paris, represented. It was that at this point in his career, Michael Klinger is an international producer, and has to be seen as such.

The second problem is that in addition to choosing inaccessible locations in which it was difficult to film, the Golan Heights, of course, had been a war zone until quite recently and was still a very dangerous place. Tony Klinger, who was temporarily in charge of on location production before his father arrived from Africa recalled the dangers vividly in interview, as did John Mitchell in his memoirs: avoiding roads that may still be mined, the interruptions to the shoot by low flying Mirage fighters and even the possibility of the production being attacked by Syrian forces! Klinger’s security bill for the production was colossal. The Israeli crew was inexperienced and, despite wishing to aid Israel, Klinger found himself exploited as a wealthy overseas businessman. Mitchell recalled that Klinger became ‘obsessed with the sharp practices and shady deals he was getting from the Israelis which drew the complaint: “I wouldn’t mind so much if they were gentiles who were taking me for a ride - but they are my own people”’.

Rachel’s Man was completed, Klinger became incensed when the Israeli Film Committee only placed it in the middle category of films that receive special benefits from their income in Israel while Diamonds, the Golan and Globus crime thriller, had been placed in the top category. Klinger wrote to Ze’ev Birger the head of the Israeli Film Center: ‘I must say that the grading between these two films is quite ludicrous and is an insult to the most important directing talent to have come out of Israel, namely Mizrahi. Furthermore, it does not encourage me as an overseas producer to be concerned about further production in Israel.’ Klinger went on to argue that the purpose of such grading is usually to encourage ‘those films which do not have the same obvious commercial possibilities as others. In other words it is an attempt to encourage the more artistic type of product. There is no doubt that Diamonds is a straightforward, good, commercial picture. Rachel’s Man is quite clearly a highly artistic and individual kind of picture and is exactly the sort of film which should get the maximum encouragement.’

Post-Production, Distribution and Reception
Throughout its gestation, RM’s costs escalated; what was to have been a modestly budgeted film gradually became an expensive one, rising from £72,000 to £254,417. The original estimate, by Mizrahi, was never realistic and Klinger knew this. However, because he was so keen to make the film, Tony Klinger describes his father as being almost wilfully blind to the economics of the production, stressing in his interview that they did not apply the same commercial logic to
Rachel’s Man as to their usual productions. Indeed, at one point in his correspondence, Klinger describes Rachel’s Man as a labour of love. Hence the budget was never really under control, nor was the film costed in a way that took cognisance of its probable box office returns. Mizrahi’s original estimate, for instance, took no account of the cost of the international cast, always part of the equation for Michael Klinger.

The substantial cost - rising with indirect costs to over £400,000 - left Klinger with a dilemma as to how to distribute and market the film that was in essence an art house film but one whose costs had to be recouped through mainstream exposure. As with his earlier 1970s films, Klinger tried to interest the big American studios -
Warner Bros, Universal and Columbia but the reaction of the Jewish executive David A. Matalon at Columbia - which was financing and distributing the ‘Confessions’ series) - was representative. He declined to distribute the film ‘even at a reduced fee’ because his brother in Tel Aviv felt it was too risky commercially even for Israel itself and therefore he cannot accept minimum guarantees. Eventually Allied Artists agreed a distribution deal but it is clear that they did so because they had handled Gold profitably and expected to distribute Shout at the Devil, already in production which they could see as a much more straightforward commercial proposition. Allied Artists’ attitude was mirrored by the UK distributors Hemdale: which took on Rachel’s Man in order to secure Klinger’s more commercial films.

Klinger complained repeatedly about both companies’ insensitivity and ham-fisted handling of Rachel’s Man, lacking the ‘special type of promotion’ he felt the film needed, and deserved. He also became irritated by
Rachel’s Man’s inept promotion by both his overseas sales agent Paul Kitzer and his European one Alain Katz, noting that if the latter ‘wants to handle my big pictures he has to bust his gut a little bit on the more difficult ones … We have an important investment at stake in Rachel’s Man by people who will continue to invest provided we make our best efforts.’ Throughout, MK insisted that he has ‘faith and confidence in this beautiful film and distributors have often been wrong before. I think if the public gets to see it they will love it, and we must take a very strong line with our customers who want Shout at the Devil, Green Beach, Eagle in the Sky etc. and they just have to buy this picture.’ Unfortunately the ‘strong line’ cut no ice with overseas exhibitors, many of whom declined to screen it. Joe Sando, the head of Ster Films in Jo’burg, was prepared to make the effort because of South Africa’s extensive Jewish population. But he wrote to Klinger:

    As you can see, [the reviews] were not very good, and even though we went flat out to promote the film with Jewish organisations, special previews, etc., the initial result has been very disappointing.
    We will obviously suffer a very considerable financial loss. I really do not know how this problem can be overcome but we are contemplating to repeat the film in smaller houses - perhaps you can
    come up with some suggestions. Even at special screenings for Jewish community leaders the film was unfortunately not well received. They found the film slow in the main.

Despite arguing that Rachel’s Man would be a ‘good film for raising money for Israel’, Klinger did not have much success in rallying British Jewish organisations to support the film. Again, the reaction at special premiers was lukewarm. Klinger had also delayed releasing RM because he hoped it would be showcased as Cannes, but was frustrated by the Israeli government’s decision not to put Rachel’s Man forward as its official entry because Mizrahi’s last film, Daughters, Daughters, had been selected the previous year.

Rachel’s Man limped out on release in Spring 1976 with little publicity or promotion and generally received dismal reviews. They were not necessarily unperceptive - there was some recognition of what Mizrahi was trying to achieve. Patrick Gibbs in the DT thought Rachel’s Man was ‘at least original in attempting an Old Testament story on an intimate rather than epic scale’ and some reviewers picked up on its use of Graves’s mythology. But even those who were vaguely sympathetic considered Rachel’s Man to be uneven, the dialogue occasionally inept, that it hovered uneasily between an overt allegory and a realistic, intimate portrait of a love story. There was more-or-less unanimity that it was disastrously slow-moving: ‘lumbering’ and ‘leaden’ being favoured adjectives.

Mizrahi's own retrospective judgement is shrewd: unusual film and perhaps ahead of its time. I also think that perhaps there were too many things in it, and that each one of them, could, if developed, sustain a whole film. One, the poetic and
    romantic love story. Then, the mythological story that replaces the Bible narrative and baffled the audience. Finally the unusual situation comedy that arises from the tribulations of Jacob, torn
    between his four women and the wiles of Laban. I also think, that despite the brilliant performances of the cast, the English language of the film and the different origins of the cast didn't give to the
    film a unity [in] the dialogue.
Mizrahi recalled that Klinger was ‘very much surprised when we screened the final cut of the film. I understood that this was not the film he expected. But I also must say that he didn't interfere at all with the result.’ However, if Klinger was, as his son avers, bitterly disappointed by Rachel’s Man, he never expressed this to anyone and remained intensely loyal. I believe that he felt that he had tried, honourably, to do his bit for Israel and its film industry, that he had championed an exciting talent, and that Rachel’s Man was an unfortunate, and expensive, failure. Tony Klinger, who seems to have been quite badly scarred by Rachel’s Man, feels it was a strangely nightmarish way of making a substantial donation to a Jewish charity!

Conclusion: the Jewish entrepreneur
I hope that the story of
Rachel’s Man was of interest. Although, as I’ve shown, its production tells us many things about the nature of the British and Israeli film industries, and about domestic and international distribution and exhibition during this period, its provocation to me as a researcher was how to explain its place within Klinger’s oeuvre. It’s a curiosity to be sure, and a failure, but it was part of Klinger’s sense of himself as an international rather than solely British independent producer, a champion of directorial talent and above all as a Jewish film-maker, aiding the cause of the beleaguered homeland.

This analysis of Klinger’s Jewishness has become part of a wider project investigating the role of Jewish producers in the British film industry that would encompass, to name some of the obvious ones.

Michael Balcon at Gainsborough and Ealing; Sidney Bernstein and the Granada chain of cinemas and television franchise; Nat Cohen and Stuart Levy who set up Anglo-Amalgamated in 1942; after Levy's death in 1966, Cohen went on to become head of Anglo-EMI; Oscar Deutsch who established the Odeon cinema chain - his son David Deutsch became a producer; Yoram Globus & Menahem Golan and their Cannon Film Group; Lew Grade and his brother Bernard Delfont whose reach extended from television and light entertainment into film in the 1970s and 1980s; Phil and Syd Hyam, former cinema owners who ran the production-distribution outfit Eros Films; Alexander Korda, a Hungarian Jew who set up London Films in 1932; the Ostrer brothers who founded Gaumont British Picture Corporation in 1927, known in the trade as ‘Gaumont-Yiddish’; Tony Tenser, Klinger’s former partner who went on to be head of Tigon Films; C.M. Woolf in film distribution and his sons John and James who founded Romulus Films.

Although one cannot, in my view, construct a British equivalent to
Neal Gabler’s famous study of the Jewish dominance of Hollywood, An Empire of Their Own, the persons mentioned, together with Klinger, of course, had, individually and collectively, a major impact on the development of British cinema. Of course, I can’t attempt to trace that impact now, but just raise the key question: why are Jews drawn to the financial rather than the straightforwardly ‘creative’ roles (obviously the director)? [John Schlesinger; Michael Winner] How does this accord with certain historic and deep-seated conceptions of Jewish entrepreneurialism? I remember asking Tony Klinger if his father ever aspired to be a director. He looked surprised. ‘He wanted to be the guy who wrote the cheques’, was his response.

Of course, this is difficult territory for dispassionate discussion because the pejorative stereotype of Jews as the archetypal greedy usurer, a stereotype with deep historical roots, is so entrenched in many cultures, as
Abraham Foxman, Director of the Anti-Defamation League, has discussed at length in his recent study, Jews and Money (2010). Famous British examples would include Shylock in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, or Dickens’ Fagin in Oliver Twist. In Jews and Money: The Myths and the Reality Gerald Krefetz argues that the Jews’ historical experience predisposed them to ‘independence and self-sufficiency since they usually lived in a hostile or indifferent society’ and thus they were drawn to ‘progressive industries where innovation was rewarded’ and rapid expansion possible (11-12). This experience generated an ‘entrepreneurial spirit and tradition of risk-taking [that] has led [Jews] into the peripheral, marginal, creative, and novel areas of existence’. The film industry would therefore be highly attractive.

Jerry Z. Muller, in Capitalism and the Jews, identifies them as a ‘diasporic merchant minority’ (7) with a predisposition towards the ‘rationalistic and calculative mentality so characteristic of capitalism’ (58). Muller argues that their social exclusion and diasporic circumstances are the key factors in accounting for why Jews have tended to be drawn to the financial and commercial rather than the bureaucratic or industrial aspects of capitalist economies (53, 77) even as this made them parasitic in popular prejudice (61). This predisposition worked well for Jews in America, but created deep resentment in hierarchical, class-bound cultures such as Britain where they were stigmatised as pushy and aggressive parvenus. But as the Mirror Group owner
Cecil King (1901-87) observed, without a public school education or powerful social connections they had no pull, only push (Aris: 10). Understandably, Jewish community networking was correspondingly strong. As Stephen Aris remarks pithily in his British-based study The Jews in Business, ‘Jews preferred to do business with other Jews’.

In his study of British Jewry,
Geoffrey Alderman observes that the Jewish workers’ outlook ‘differed fundamentally from the British craft tradition; they saw themselves ... as potentially upwardly mobile, not as perpetual members of the proletariat’ (184). Aris argues that their energy and dynamism had a profound effect on the development of British commercial life, driving force in the revolutionary consumer boom of late Victorian England that, in the course of two generations, established the ‘whole machinery for feeding, clothing and entertaining the increasingly prosperous working class’.

Thus we need to place Jewish involvement in the British film industry within this wider context. And we also need to see Klinger’s desire to help the Israeli film industry as part of a longer history of Zionism, an international movement that sought, from the mid-1880s, to engineer the return of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland, the Land of Israel, encouraging Jews to define themselves as a nation seeking its own sovereignty and ending the near two millennia of exile.
Sidney Bernstein, for instance, was prominent in the Jewish Israel Association, and Jewish organisations such as the long-established Jewish National Fund, were particularly active during the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 (Bermant: 113-15). These broader contexts remind us, if we need reminding, that we cannot understand a film such as Rachel’s Man outside of these wider historical processes.

Rachel’s Man (1976) - Synopsis
[From Distributor’s ‘Fact Sheet’:
Rachel’s Man is first and foremost a powerful love story. The two young lovers - Rachel (Michal Bat-Adam) and Jacob (Leonard Whiting) - happen to step out from the pages of the Bible, but this in no way diminishes the drama, the sensuousness, the tenderness, the emotional violence and the frustrations of their relationship. It is the first love story ever told, and it has never been bettered.]

An unnamed narrator informs us that Isaac’s wife Rebecca eventually bore twins, Jacob and Esau. Because Jacob follows Esau from the womb, clutching at his brother’s foot, Rebecca names him: ‘the one of the sacred heel’. Encouraged by Rebecca, Jacob fools the blind Isaac into giving him the blessing intended for the first-born. Jacob has to flee from Esau who has sworn to kill him for his treachery.

Journeying to the land of Rebecca’s brother Laban, Jacob encounters the Cainites, who with their third eye see into the future, and witnesses a young man made lame in a ritual ceremony. He falls asleep near a waterfall and is found by Rachel who reveals that she is his cousin and names him
Ish-Rahel - Rachel’s Man. Her father Laban is bitterly disappointed that Jacob has arrived penniless but is warned by his household gods that he must not harm Jacob who has a gift that causes everything he touches to prosper and multiply.

Jacob and Rachel have fallen in love and although she would rather go away with him, Jacob asks Laban for her hand in marriage. Laban strikes a bargain that if Jacob works for him for seven years, his payment will be Rachel. Rachel warns Jacob of her father’s dishonesty and that it is the custom to have the bride heavily veiled and to consummate the marriage in darkest night. The couple devise a secret sign whereby Jacob will know it is Rachel on the wedding night.

However, when Jacob wakes on the morning after the wedding night, it is Leah, Rachel’s sister, who lies beside him. Jacob, feeling bitter and betrayed, runs away. Laban goes after him and persuades him that he could not marry the younger sister before the elder and that if he works another seven years, he can have Rachel. Rachel reveals to Jacob that she told Leah of the secret sign in order to save her from embarrassment.

Leah bears Jacob four sons, but his relationship with Rachel remains childless. Rachel give Jacob her bondmaiden, Bilha, who bears him two sons. The jealous Leah gives him her bondmaiden, Zilpah, who bears him two further sons. Jacob agrees to a work seven years more for Laban, provided that he has half his herd, those which are spotted or black. Jacob’s herds prosper. The sisters are reconciled and Rachel bears Jacob a son, Joseph.

After 21 years working for Laban, Jacob sees his mother in a dream and knows he must return home. Jacob crosses the River Yabbok and is attacked by a giant stranger who dislocates his hip joint in a violent struggle. Jacob now walks with a limp, his heel never touching the ground. As his life completes a circle, ‘he of the sacred heel’ is now Israel,
Ish-Rahel, Rachel’s Man. All the kings of Israel will have the same sacred limp as do pagan heroes sacred to the Mother Goddess.

Rachel is pregnant again and Jacob stops the caravan at Ephrat (later Bethlehem). Rachel gives birth to another boy, Benjamin, but dies. Jacob buries her at the cross-roads, piling stones on her tomb in a conical-shaped pillar.
The unnamed narrator relates that Joseph’s life will be stranger than Jacob’s, but that is another story ...

[Only 1 review on Internet Movie Database: An attempt to portray Jacob in his quest for a wife fell flat on its rear end. Whiting with his heavy and stiff English accent, while others spoke more American English, was almost laughable. The plot was known, so not much to go on there, however, the acting was terrible by all and would not even rate a B movie acclaim. Don't waste you time on this one.]

Thank you.

Top of page