Exodus, which runs at a massive 3 hours and 28 minutes, is based on the novel of the same name by Leon Uris, and tells the epic story of a group of Jewish refugees imprisoned at a British internment camp at Cyprus, their successful attempt to reach Palestine by stealing a ship (which they rename the Exodus), and their experiences in Palestine’s sectarian, conflict-ridden political landscape leading up to Israeli War of Independence. The film focuses on the exploits of a leader in the Jewish Haganah named Ari Ben-Canaan, played by the dashing Paul Newman, and an American nurse named Kitty Fremont, played by the ethereal Eva Marie Saint, who eventually becomes Ari’s lover despite originally “feeling uncomfortable” around Jews. It also follows the story of Dov Landau, played by Sal Mineo, a bitter Auschwitz survivor who joins the more militant Irgun, and Karen, an idealistic young girl played by Jill Heworth.
When Exodus opened on December 21, 1960, the premiere was attended by a wide array of celebrities, including Adlai Stevenson and Leonard Bernstein. The film went on to win an Oscar for best music and was nominated for best cinematography. Sal Mineo was also nominated for best actor in a supporting role.
Yes, this film, if made today would be called an outrage, and America’s views have clearly changed since 1960, but as far as movies go, Exodus was brillantly made, directed and the score was one of the best of the decade (not withstanding West Side Story, which was released several years later). One of my favorite stars was Sal Mineo’s portrayal of the Auschwits survivor, and his story.