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    Melting Pots

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    In advance of this week’s hi-def arrival of Robin Williams as a Moscovite musician who decides to defect to America while shopping in Bloomingdale’s Manhattan flagship store in Paul Mazursky’s soulful and open-hearted comedy/drama Moscow on the Hudson (1984), other richly rendered tales of émigrés facing hardship and blowback in their adoptive lands woven into the Twilight Time Blu-ray tapestry warrant special mention, especially as the topic of immigration played such a crucial role in the recent national election campaigns. As these movies show, the immigration question has always been and will be an abiding concern for indigenous and newly relocated populations. True events inspired director Louis Malle and Oscar®-nominated Silkwood screenwriter Alice Arlen to shape the melodramatic and politically charged story of Alamo Bay (1985, available here: http://www.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/25711/ALAMO-BAY-1985/), centered on the racially-inflamed clashes that erupt in a small Texas coastal community between the working-class locals engaged in the once thriving shrimp-fishing industry – many of whom were Vietnam veterans – and an influx of entrepreneurial Vietnamese refugees competing to eke out their living in the same trade. The nativist Ku Klux Klan gains a demonizing foothold, simmering tensions reach a violent flashpoint and simple strivers of the American Dream (passionately played by Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Ho Nguyen, Donald Moffat and Truyen V. Tran) find themselves rent from within and without on opposite sides of an ugly, deep divide, acutely and unflinchingly focused in a way that perhaps only an artful outsider like Malle can offer. The intersection of cultural assimilation and commerce in a once pristine paradise is at the center of a more conventional period epic, The Hawaiians (1970), adapted by James R. Webb and directed by Tom Gries from portions of James A. Michener’s wildly popular historical novel Hawaii. The promise of a better life and economic opportunity attracts waves of Asian immigrants as well as one larger-than-life maverick, American mariner Whip Hoxworth (Charlton Heston), who pioneers the rise of the pineapple-growing industry while exploiting the labor and expertise of two particular Chinese indentured servants (poignantly played by Tisa Chen and Mako) who struggle to maintain ancient traditions and yet gradually adapt to the overwhelming tides of social change. Determined to live in their ancestral homeland once again after generations of displacement, the Jewish migrants (including brutalized Nazi prisoners during World War II) who rebel against British and Arab forces to occupy and defend their Palestine territory are the compelling displaced protagonists of producer/director Otto Preminger’s Exodus (1960). While the 208-minute, Super Panavision 70 epic can be summed up in simple terms as “a stirring and heroic film that beautifully chronicles Israel’s struggle for independence in 1947 when most of the world left the infant nation naked in a manger ringed with hostile bayonets” (The Motion Picture Guide), “the key to the work is to trace the way in which the prolonged partisanship of the Leon Uris novel has passed through the hands of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo and then through Preminger’s subtle mise-en-scène to make a study in ambivalence,” historian David Thomson wrote in his essential Have You Seen…?: A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films. “Yes, the central characters in Exodus are Jewish (or Zionist), and the film’s central task is to show the foundation of the Israeli state. But this is not a film that makes a travesty of the Arab or Palestinian point of view. There are good and bad men on both sides…[and the film] is far more objective and balanced than anyone had reason to hope.” The all-star cast – Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint, Ralph Richardson, Peter Lawford, Lee J. Cobb, Sal Mineo, John Derek, Hugh Griffith, Gregory Ratoff, Felix Aylmer, David Opatoshu, Jill Haworth and Marius Goring – makes the geopolitical bracingly human. And in the tradition of the most memorable immigrant screen sagas exploring differences and commonalities among races and nationalities, Alamo Bay, The Hawaiians and Exodus on TT hi-def Blu-ray are powerfully personal and inclusive.