Angel Levine, The (1970): Jan (Shop on Main Street) Kadar Directs Zero Mostel and Harry Belafonte

Czech filmmaker Jan Kadar, better known for the 1965 Oscar winning film, The Shop on Main Street, directed this misbegotten movie, a faithful (to a fault) adaptation of Bernard Malamud’s short story.

The story was adapted by Emmy nominated writer Ronald Ribman and Bill Gunn, who had scripted in the same year the far superior Hal Ashby’s interracial satire, The Landlord.

A curio item, The Angel Levine hovers between literature and cinema, suffering from a tale that’s replete with racial stereotypes and ethnic clichés.  The movie could only have been made in the 1970s—by the company of Harry Belafonte, who also stars in the titular role, after a decade of absence from the big screen.

Zero Mostel, riding high after the success of “The Producers,” plays a poor Jewish tailor, unable to work due to health problems, and facing financial problems due to the illness of his bed-ridden wife (Ida Kaminska, who was Oscar nominated for theBest Actress for her performance in “The Shop on Main Street”).

The tailor’s faith is challenged when a man calling himself Alexander Levine (Harry Belafonte) comes into his life as a guardian angel. But it’s not easy to make the tailor believe in his mission, even after the angel’s claim that his very wings depend on the tailor’s. 

Well-intentioned, no doubt, in its liberal ideology, the film is nonetheless an artistic misfire, slow-paced, staid, and lacking any energy. 

The main reason to see this listless feature is Zero Mostel, a gifted actor who was blacklisted in the 1950s but made a comeback in the mid-1960s.

Intertextuality:

The ploy bears a striking resemblance to Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Note:

TCM showed the movie as part of a tribute to Harry Belafonte, April 8, 2020.

Credits:
Directed by Ján Kadár
Produced by Harry Belafonte
Screenplay by Bill Gunn, Ronald Ribman, story by Bernard Malamud
Music by Zdeněk Liška
Cinematography Richard C. Kratina
Edited by Carl Lerner
Distributed by United Artists
Release date 1970
Running time 106 minutes