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    Expediting Exodus

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Even as he was busy promoting his two prestigious 1959 releases, Porgy and Bess and Anatomy of a Murder, which opened within two weeks of each other that summer, producer-director Otto Preminger was already embedded in his next project, an adaptation of Leon Uris’s massive 1958 novel about the tumultuous birth of the nation of Israel, Exodus (1960). Originally, he wanted Uris (who had previously adapted his own World War II chronicle Battle Cry (1955) as well as Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) for the screen) to pen the script, but their approaches to the material differed so dramatically that Preminger removed Uris and shifted his focus to Albert Maltz, an expatriate victim of the Hollywood Blacklist who, despite weeks of research activity, hadn’t gotten into the actual writing quickly enough to keep the film on schedule. Preminger’s literary agent brother (later producer) Ingo suggested another blacklisted scribe possessing greater experience, storytelling flair and already – though in secret, due to his circumstances – the publicly unacknowledged winner of two Academy Awards® for his screenwriting work on Roman Holiday and The Brave One: Dalton Trumbo. Because Trumbo was not Jewish, Preminger felt he could best strike the balance of objectivity the director wanted in telling this epic tale of repatriation, resistance and recovery, encompassing and dramatizing all sides of the conflict. Hired in July and working quickly while Preminger spent the balance of the summer scouting locations in Israel and finalizing production logistics, Trumbo had a draft ready for he and Preminger to rework and revise when the director returned. Over what Preminger biographer Foster Hirsch called “forty-four intense days in September and October,” their collaboration, with Preminger commuting daily from Beverly Hills to Trumbo’s Pasadena home, produced “not a single tremor” between the two strong-willed talents. Trumbo would later tell the New York Post: “I’m verbose and sentimental, Otto has a sharpshooter’s eye for verbosity and knows how to assassinate sentimentality. [He was] most helpful in construction. He knew how to keep the story moving and how to balance all of its elements.” Hirsch writes in Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King that “their almost biblical labor of forty days and forty nights” concluded so satisfactorily that “during production he would not change a word.” When Preminger told The New York Times in January 1960 that Trumbo was indeed its screenwriter and would be credited on screen for his work, it delivered a fatal blow to the insidious Blacklist. Typical of Preminger productions, there would be on-set tensions and difficulties, as certain actors triggered the director’s wrath while others received his loving care, but the 208-minute Super Panavision 70 result was epic filmmaking at its most intelligent, visually striking and emotionally involving. The cast of stellar talents ran deep: Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint, Ralph Richardson, Jill Haworth, Peter Lawford, Lee J. Cobb, Sal Mineo (a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award® nominee and Golden Globe® winner), John Derek, Hugh Griffith, David Opatoshu, Gregory Ratoff, Felix Aylmer, Marius Goring, Alexandra Stewart, Michael Wager and George Maharis. Oscar® nominee Sam Leavitt was the cinematographer, the incomparable Saul Bass provided the stirring titles and ad campaign, and Ernest Gold’s fiery and iconic score won the Oscar®. All told, a controversial chronicle emerged triumphantly on the expert foundation laid by Uris, Trumbo and Blacklist breaker Preminger. Exodus arrives on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray March 15. Preorders open March 3.